- The Washington Times - Friday, January 31, 2003

Some consumers just want a useful, no-fuss kind of car and, since the mid-1990s, many have found it in Subaru's Outback vehicles.
Today, the Outbacks they now number seven models feature more standard equipment than ever, improved suspension and slightly retouched front styling.
Even heated seats are standard on all Outback wagons for 2003.
Many consumers aren't aware of where the Outback, driven in off-road situations in past Subaru ads by actor Paul Hogan of "Crocodile Dundee" fame, ranks in the Subaru family.
Outbacks are the company's best-selling nameplate each year, and an Outback the midsize H6-3.0 VDC is the flagship of the entire Subaru line.
Like its Outback siblings, this top model rides on a raised, heavy-duty suspension and comes standard with all-wheel drive that's on all the time. The H6-3.0 VDC also has a station-wagon body style with up to 68.6 cubic feet of cargo space.
But where the base Outback wagon has a 165-horsepower, 2.5-liter four-cylinder under the hood and a very competitive starting price under $24,000, the H6-3.0 VDC wagon has a 212-horse, 3-liter six and a starting price of more than $32,000.
The more powerful engine isn't the only thing that boosts the price.
The H6-3.0 VDC comes with a four-speed automatic transmission, a standard high-end McIntosh sound system, leather seats, mahogany wood trim, two sunroofs and Subaru's most sophisticated mix of vehicle-control systems including Vehicle Dynamics Control, among other things.
Yes, the H6-3.0 VDC sounds a lot like a luxury car.
But don't worry. Because this model has the same regular station-wagon looks as other Outback wagons, it blends right in with other mainstream vehicles on the roads.
To some buyers, that's a plus. To others, it could be a bit of a disappointment.
The six-cylinder engine does provide more torque a maximum 210 foot-pounds at 4,400 rpm compared with 166 at 4,000 rpm in four-cylinder-powered Outbacks.
But in the test car, even the six-cylinder lost its steam somewhat in mountain terrain and didn't respond to acceleration demands as readily as expected.
I had to watch for a big opening in traffic to get out and around a stopped bus.
The Outback just didn't seem to provide the same low-end, quick zip as I'd expect in a Passat wagon with four-cylinder turbo.
On occasion, there were noticeable jerks in the test car when the four-speed electronic transmission shifted.
Note that the Outback, even this $32,000 model, doesn't offer a "manumatic" transmission that would allow drivers to shift gears themselves, sans clutch pedal, for personalized performance.
The Volkswagen Passat station wagon does.
Premium fuel is recommended for maximum performance in the six-cylinder Outbacks there's an L.L. Bean version, too, with a slightly lower price. But Subaru says 87 octane gasoline can be used, also.
Commendably, fuel economy is decent in this six-cylinder model, with an estimated 19 miles a gallon in city driving and 26 mpg on the highway.
Subaru officials said all 2003 Outbacks, as well as other Subaru models, have "enhanced brake pedal feel" because the pedal lever ratio is updated.
I doubt many consumers will note the new front fascia on the Outback, as it's a subtle change.
But the ride is quite comfortable, and a higher-than-normal ride height for a station wagon makes entry and exit easy.
Visibility is good in all directions, and legroom in the front seats, in particular, is exemplary at 43.3 inches. The Outback wagon back seat is a close fit for three adults, but even the middle person has a soft resting spot.
The two sunroofs one over the back-seat floor add an airy sense inside.
Too bad, though, that the test car had some annoying wind noise coming from either the sunroofs or the standard roof rack.
It appeared at highway speeds and no amount of opening and reclosing the sunroofs would eliminate it.

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