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New Car/Review

1997 Subaru Legacy Outback Limited

by Nick Hromiak


SEE ALSO: Subaru Buyer's Guide


ENGINE:  2.5-liter horizontally opposed four
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE:  165 hp @ 5600 rpm/162 ft-lbs @ 4000 rpm
TRANSMISSION:  Four-speed automatic
FUEL ECONOMY:  21 mpg city,  27 mpg highway,  20.8 mpg test
WHEELBASE:  103.5 in.
OVERALL LENGTH:  185.8 in.
OVERALL WIDTH:  67.5 in.
CURB WEIGHT:  3230 lbs 
FUEL CAPACITY:  15.9 gal.
LUGGAGE CAPACITY:  37/74 cu. ft. (rear seat up/down)
TIRES:   205/70R15
INSTRUMENTS: Speedometer, tachometer, fuel level, water temperature,
             oil pressure, battery voltage, digital clock.
EQUIPMENT: Power windows, power door locks, power mirrors,
           heated mirrors, cruise control, air conditioner,
           engine block heater, heated front seats,
           AM-FM stereo radio with cassette, anti-lock braking, 
           dual air bags.

Despite running three shifts, Subaru still can't keep up with the demand for its hot-selling Legacy Outback AWD sport utility wagon. It must be Paul Hogan's influence.

Subaru has come up with a niche vehicle that is well-suited for those who prefer a car-like appearance with the traction capability and utility of a full-blown four-wheel drive sport utility vehicle. A sampling of current owners indicates that they bought an Outback because they didn't care for the truck- like characteristics of regular sport utility vehicles, or their associated high prices.

For `97, Subaru made some enticing enhancements to the Outback, one of which was to add an upscale Limited model. The upgrade consists of a chrome grille, five-spoke gold-accent alloy wheels, heated front seats and drivers-side mirror, body color door handles/mirrors, embossed leather seats, fake wood trim around the console and power window switches, weather band radio, and gold decals denoting the Limited model and AWD capability.

All `97 Outbacks now sport a fake hood scoop, which gives the car's front end a stubby look, although the car is a tad longer than the `96 models (185.8 inches vs. 183.9 inches).

More importantly, engine power was increased by 10 horsepower and torque by seven lb-ft over the `96 Outback. If you don't think ten horses are significant, they are. When I compared my `96 Outback to the `97 Limited, I really noticed a performance difference at low and mid speeds. The car exhibits lively acceleration up to and including freeway passing encounters. With this newfound power, Subaru claims Outback has the most potent four-cylinder engine in the entire SUV class.

As the Outback Limited is the top-of-the-line model, it comes with almost every conceivable creature comfort item. I'm talking major amenities like ABS brakes, dual airbags, power windows/door locks, engine block heater, air conditioning, cruise control, heated front seats, heated outside mirror, cargo cover and storage tray, fog lamps and more. In fact, the only option on the test car was the four-speed automatic transmission ($800) and a $495 destination and delivery charge.

An interesting setup is employed with the Subaru's AWD system. For those who opt for a five- speed manual transmission (standard), the transparent system sends more power to the rear wheels under normal driving conditions. When rear wheel slippage is detected, the system automatically directs appropriate power to the front wheels.

With an automatic transmission, 90 percent of the power goes to the front wheels under normal conditions. Upon front wheel slippage, 40percent of the torque goes to the rear.

With four-wheel independent suspension, Outback Limited has a smooth and comfortable ride. I do think the leather seats are a factor and they're supple, supportive and exceptionally comfortable. The entire cabin is quiet, and because Outback is more car than truck, there's no top-heavy tippy feeling as exhibited by some mid and full-size SUVs in quick turns.

Front seats have adequate rearward travel for tall patrons and the driver's seat has a ratcheted lever to jack it higher for short-statured drivers. There's plenty of leg and head room aft with split folding seats offering expanded storage/passenger flexibility. A cargo cover hides contents from prying eyes.

Needless to say, the AWD system is flawless and I had no problems traversing foot-deep snow with it. With 7.3 inches of ground clearance, it can traverse semi-rugged off-road obstacles in addition to deep snow or water. As proof, Subaru claims their sport wagon is higher than some full-size sport utes.

Outback is unique in its class. It offers a lot of vehicle for the money. Fuel economy is equally as impressive. With an attractive price and pleasing attributes, what else could you ask for in a capable foul weather performance vehicle?