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New Car/Review


By Tom Hagin


SEE ALSO: Subaru Buyer's Guide


     Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 17,995
     Price As Tested                                    $ 19,385
     Engine Type                           2.2 Liter H4 w/SMPFI*
     Engine Size                                  135cid/2212 cc
     Horsepower                                   137 @ 5400 RPM
     Torque (lb-ft)                               145 @ 4400 RPM
     Wheelbase/Width/Length                   99.2"/67.1"/172.2"
     Transmission                           Four-speed automatic
     Curb Weight                                     2959 Pounds
     Fuel Capacity                                  13.2 gallons
     Tires  (F/R)                                     P205/60R15
     Brakes (F/R)                          Disc (ABS)/drum (ABS)
     Drive Train                    Front-engine/all-wheel-drive
     Vehicle Type                       Five-passenger/four-door
     Domestic Content                                        N/A
     Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                              0.36


     EPA Economy, miles per gallon
        city/highway/average                            23/30/26          
     0-60 MPH                                       10.0 seconds
     1/4 Mile (E.T.)                     17.5 seconds @ 77.9 mph
     Max towing capacity                             1500 pounds

     * Sequential multi-port fuel injection

With a successful formula in its popular Legacy Outback, Subaru decided to add the sporty Outback treatment to its entry-level Impreza wagon. Since sport utility vehicles still rule the auto buying public, it's no wonder Subaru is riding that wave like a seasoned surfer.

The Impreza lineup is extensive, with 10 models available, and all are well-equipped and quite capable. But none are as capable as the Outback version, with standard all-wheel-drive and lots of interior space. This week's test of the Impreza Outback Sport Wagon came during summer, but this car shines brightest when the weather turns sour.

OUTSIDE - No matter how hard it is to resist, I will try to avoid calling the Impreza Outback Sport "cute." But it is cute, yet functional and hard-working. A redesigned front bumper houses a new grille and air intake port, while a functional hood scoop and louvers gives an almost Musclecar-ish look. The Impreza steers clear of the standard "econobox" styling, and when equipped as the Outback, looks downright rugged. Wheelcovers are standard, but optional 15-inch five-spoke alloy wheels and raised white-letter tires, along with a roof rack, two-tone paint and splash guards behind each wheel complete the Outback treatment. A small strip of brightwork wraps its side windows, and bodyside molding extends between the wheel wells. Power side mirrors are standard, as are tinted glass, a rear window defroster and rear wiper/washer system.

INSIDE - The interior is assembled from rich-looking fully grained plastics and high-quality switches and knobs. The layout is superb, with rotary knobs for ventilation and easy access to the standard 80-watt AM/FM cassette stereo. The seats are covered in new cloth fabric, and are firm, but quite supportive. Standard Outback features include a tilt steering column, power windows, door locks and outside mirrors, along with air conditioning, full instrumentation which includes a tachometer, and 12-volt power outlets up front and in the rear cargo area. The rear seats fold in 60/40 fashion to reveal 62 cubic feet of cargo space, while the rooftop rack easily accepts a plethora of aftermarket luggage and sports equipment holders.

ON THE ROAD - The Outback version of the Impreza is powered by a 2.2 liter horizontally-opposed four cylinder engine, which gives 135 horsepower and 140 pound-feet of torque. This powerplant is a great improvement over the standard-issue 1.8 liter four cylinder engine found under the hoods of front-wheel-drive Impreza models. With the larger engine, power is constantly available, and its delivery is very smooth and quiet. It cruises steadily at highway speeds and above, and has plenty of power to slip effortlessly into highway traffic. We were originally disappointed that our test car came equipped with an electronically-controlled four-speed automatic transmission. Normally an automatic zaps performance from a compact car, but not in this case. It changed gears smoothly and imperceptibly, and eventually we didn't miss the standard five-speed manual gearbox.

BEHIND THE WHEEL - The Impreza Outback features more ground clearance than its siblings, and uses a fully independent MacPherson strut suspension, with a longer travel to provide light duty off-road capabilities. Coil springs are utilized front and rear, as are anti-roll bars. The car exhibits good highway manners, and it seems confident and eager to be pushed. Whether it's hustling along broken back roads or maneuvering through city traffic, the Outback won't punish its driver or passengers. And since it's equipped with Subaru's all-wheel-driving system, when the roads are covered with snow and ice, the Impreza Outback is ready and willing to handle the conditions with aplomb. Braking is handled with front discs and rear drums, but we'd like to see rear disc brakes added, like those used on the Subaru Legacy. A four-channel anti-lock braking system (ABS) is standard on Outback versions, and stopped our car straight and true on wet or dry pavement. We did feel that the brake pedal feel was somewhat mushy, however.

SAFETY - Dual airbags, ABS and side-impact beams are standard.

OPTIONS - Alloy wheels add $585; floor mats are $64.