- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 26, 2004

Car dynamics. Wagon space. AWD utility. Subaru’s Outback has consistently blended these attributes with ease. In fact, this Japanese automaker invented this segment of the automotive industry — a station wagon with ground clearance — in 1995.

For 2005, however, a new characteristic will enter the mix: Sports performance.

Like the all-new Legacy, the all-new Outback is designed with nimbleness and performance in mind. A more wedgelike shape, a functional hood scoop (on turbocharged models), and up to 17-inch alloy wheels and tires highlight the rally-bred, sports philosophy that backs many recent Subaru products. The potent nature of the Impreza WRX, revealed in 2002, seems to be contagious.

New Outbacks are available in several configurations. Three engines — two naturally aspirated and one turbocharged — are offered. The Limited edition treatment offers more luxurious amenities and can be applied to all engine configurations. A special L.L. Bean Edition is also offered.

Badged as a 2.5i or 2.5i Limited, the Outback burns fuel via a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine. Power output of this naturally aspirated mill is 168 horsepower. However, a turbocharging system bumps horsepower and foot-pounds of torque to 250 each. Active valve control is employed by the high-output engine and is meant to enhance low- and midrange torque. Both four-cylinder engines use electronic throttle control, Subaru’s version of the industry’s newly emerging “drive-by-wire” systems. A third power plant, a 3-liter six-cylinder, yields 250 horsepower and 219 foot-pounds of torque, and is found in Outback versions labeled 3.0 R.

Both 2.5i and 2.5 XT Outbacks offer either a five-speed manual or one of two automatic boxes. A four-speed automatic is available behind the 168-horsepower engine, while a new five-speed automatic gearbox backs the turbocharged version. Both autos arrive with sportshift manual control that functions by either pivoting the shift handle or pushing steering wheel buttons (comes on the Outback 2.5 XT, with five-speed units). In addition, the five-speed automatic uses a lateral-G sensor to hold gears during hard cornering. It will also downshift on inclines when traction is lost.

The transfer of power to the wheels, however, is Subaru’s consistent mark of excellence. Its symmetrical all-wheel drive systems use longitudinally mounted engines that deliver power to both the front and rear wheels on near-horizontal paths. In 2005, the Outback will be offered with three distinct versions of this AWD system.

The five-speed manual transmission is chosen, the system uses a locking center differential that normally distributes power 50/50 front to rear. When the wheels start to slip at either end, more energy is routed in the other direction. Bolt in the five-speed automatic, and a variable torque distribution system uses a planetary center differential and a continuously variable transfer clutch to direct power flow. Under normal driving circumstances most power is sent to the back to increase handling potential, but the system is capable of sending more torque up front, depending on road conditions. Outback 2.5i or 2.5i Limited models equipped with a four-speed automatic get a simpler AWD system that uses a continuously variable transfer clutch to monitor power distribution.

One model, the Outback 3.0 R VDC Limited, uses a stability system (vehicle dynamics control) to operate the variable torque distribution system. All-speed, all-wheel traction control is included.

Subaru’s impressive underpinnings are not limited, however, to fancy AWD systems. The ring-shaped reinforcement frame structure found in other Subarus is utilized in the 2005 Outback. MacPherson type front struts use new components, including aluminum lower L-arms, and a multilink setup in the back with a new hydroformed subframe improves handling and rigidity. Four-wheel disc brakes with ABS and electronic brake-force distribution peek out behind the standard 17-inch alloy wheels on XT and 3.0 R models and 16-inch alloys on base versions. An updated rack-and-pinion steering system provides a quicker, more precise response.

The Outback also sees several improvements in the cockpit. A soft foam upper dashboard, new door trim, and “flush surface treatment” all around contribute to an air of refinement. Standard features on the 2.5i include an eight-way power driver’s seat, a single-disc CD player, heated front seats, cruise control, power windows/locks/mirrors, and keyless entry. Limited models add a six-disc in-dash CD player, dual-zone automatic climate control, leather upholstery, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, and a wide-opening glass moonroof.

Standard 2.5 XT and 3.0 R models get many of those same features enjoyed by the 2.5i Limited, plus body-color exterior mirrors with LED turn signals and an engine immobilizer. Special MOMO steering wheels, a four-way power front passenger seat, and sport-design electroluminescent instrumentation are also available, depending the model chosen.

Outback’s 3.0 R L.L. Bean Edition adds a front underguard, a unique wheel design, special exterior colors, and co-brand badging. The 3.0 R VDC Limited versions, aside from using the vehicle dynamics control system, also boast better speakers and a subwoofer.

All Outback models feature several standard safety features. Dual-stage driver and front passenger air bags are coupled with sensors that monitor the occupants’ weights and positions. On the passenger side, air bag deployment varies according to the amount of mass detected, and on the driver’s side a sensor determines the driver’s position and delays the release of the air bag if the driver is too close to the steering wheel. Front passengers are buffered laterally by seat-mounted side-impact air bags. Curtain air bags provide head protection for all outboard seating positions. Finally, active head restraints up front are designed to reduce whiplash.

Subaru’s 2005 Outback carries over its AWD safety and handling, versatility and utility and now adds sportiness and increased refinement.

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