SEE ALSO: Subaru Buyer's Guide
Subaru may be best known for all-wheel drive station wagons. The company has been making the unique vehicles for a long time. They have had an enthusiastic following, particularly in the more inclement regions of the country. Following a period in which it attempted mainstream appeal, Subaru is returning to its roots with Outback versions of its station wagons. These combine Subaru all-wheel drive versatility with sporty styling to carve their own automotive niche.
An "Outback" model of the Legacy wagon has been available for a couple of years now, and is being aggressively marketed with TV ads featuring Australian actor Paul Hogan. The Legacy Outback is joined for 1996 by an Impreza Outback wagon. Like its larger sibling, the Impreza Outback offers the advantages of all-wheel drive for the conditions in which most people may find themselves. The Subaru Outbacks have some of the popular sport-utility styling cues without the fuel economy and comfort disadvantages of many sport-utes.
The Subaru Impreza Outback is at the top of the Impreza line and has all of the popular comfort, convenience, and safety features as standard equipment. A rarity in the automotive world, the headlights turn off automatically with the ignition - great protection against a dead battery.
At this point in its existence, the Impreza Outback is no off- road machine. With passenger-car ground clearance and no 4-wheel drive low range, it's no substitute for a serious 4-wheel drive beast. However, it is perfectly suited to the uses that most sport-utilities get in the real world, where "off-road" means a muddy parking lot or driveway. Dirt and gravel roads present no problems. A week behind the wheel showed the Impreza Outback to be a thoroughly enjoyable small car that was surprisingly quick and had much better fuel economy and road manners than any sport-utility vehicle.
APPEARANCE: The basic Subaru Impreza wagon is a handsome subcompact station wagon. The styling is conservative for Subaru, but definitely Subaru. Wraparound multi-element headlights flank the traditional Subaru grille. The short, tall, parallelogram-shaped window behind the C-pillar and angled hatch make the wagon look much like a sedan with a fanny pack. The door glass is frameless, and there is no chrome trim. The Outback can be told from a standard Impreza wagon by a two-tone color scheme, roof rack, mudguards, and a rear bumper splash guard.
COMFORT: The Impreza Outback is very comprehensively equipped. Standard features include power windows, door locks, and mirrors, air conditioning, a rear window defogger and wiper, a rear storage area cover, and a good 4-speaker AM/FM/cassette sound system. The cloth-covered front bucket seats are sporty-looking and offer good lateral support. They recline all the way for car camping. The rear seat folds down with a 60/40 split for extra cargo or camping gear storage, and the cushion can be removed for a flat storage area. The climate control system fills the cabin quickly with cool or warm air as needed. The Impreza Outback is small, but can make a comfortable, useful vehicle for an outback tour.
SAFETY: The Subaru Impreza Outback has dual airbags, antilock 4-wheel disc brakes, side impact door beams, and child safety locks on the rear doors.
ROADABILITY: Both front and rear-wheel drive have their benefits and drawbacks. All-wheel drive has advantages over both. Power is transmitted to the wheels that can best use it. This has obvious advantages on wet, slippery, or gravelly roads. It also makes for grippy maneuverability in dry weather. The Impreza chassis benefits from Subaru's successful involvement in the World Rally Championship to provide the everyday driver with responsive handling and very good cornering abilities. Four-wheel antilock disc brakes ensure quick stops. The Impreza Outback is a small station wagon that is actually fun to drive.
PERFORMANCE: The Impreza Outback, like all Subarus, is powered by an overhead cam, horizontally-opposed engine. This design is compact, balanced for smoothness, and has a low center of gravity. The Impreza Outback has a 2.2-liter, 4-cylinder version with 135 horsepower. A 5-speed manual transmission is standard. My test car had the optional 4-speed electronically-controlled automatic. The engine has enough low-speed torque to work well with this transmission. I never really missed having a 5-speed, especially in the rush-hour jungle.
CONCLUSIONS: With the new Impreza Outback wagon, Subaru has another modern example of the vehicle that put it on the map in America - the all-wheel drive station wagon.
SPECIFICATIONS 1996 Subaru Impreza Outback Wagon Base Price $ 17,595 Price As Tested $ 18,963 Engine Type horizontally-opposed SOHC 16-valve 4 cylinder Engine Size 2.2 liters / 135 cu. in. Horsepower 135 @ 5400 Torque (lb-ft) 140 @ 4400 Transmission 4-speed electronically-controlled automatic Wheelbase / Length 99.2 in. / 172.2 in. Curb Weight 2,890 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 21.4 Fuel Capacity 13.2 gal. Fuel Requirement unleaded regular Tires P185/70HR14 Bridgestone Potenza Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson strut / independent MacPherson strut Drivetrain front engine, all-wheel drive PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 22/29/25 0 to 60 mph 10.0 sec 1/4 mile (E.T.) 18.1 sec Coefficient of Drag (cd) 0.31