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Subaru Outback H6 3.0 L.L. Bean Edition (2001)

SEE ALSO: Subaru Buyer's Guide

by John Heilig


MODEL:  Subaru Outback H6 3.0 L.L. Bean Edition 
ENGINE:  3.0-liter horizontally opposed six 
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 212 hp @ 6000 rpm/210 lb-ft @ 4400  rpm 
TRANSMISSION:  Four-speed automatic 
WHEELBASE: 104.3 in. 
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT: 187.4 x 68.7 x 63.3 in. 
STICKER PRICE:  $29,990 (base) 

Subaru, as anyone in the Northeast is aware, is the top-selling all-wheel-drive manufacturer. Since all Subarus are all-wheel-drive, every one adds to the company's reputation. They have proven to be reliable forms of transportation for people whose jobs require them to be out in all kinds of weather. I had a sports editor once who simply had to be at the paper at 5:00 a.m. His vehicle of choice was a Subaru wagon and it served him until the paper died.

For 2001, Subaru has two innovations. One is a new six-cylinder engine. This 3.0-liter unit is horizontally opposed, as are the Subaru fours and the Porsche six, and delivers 212 horsepower and 210 lb-ft of torque. It's not only one of the more powerful sixes in the industry, it is also physically flat, which means a lower profile and keeps a large portion of weight lower in the chassis, adding to the handling ability.

Subaru puts this engine into two Outback models, the Outback H6 3.0 VDC and the H6 3.0 L.L. Bean Edition. Out tester was the L.L. Bean Edition. So naturally, we'll tell you first about the VDC.

VDC is Subaru-speak for Vehicle Dynamics Control, a stability system with all-wheel, all-speed traction control. The vehicle uses Variable Torque Distribution (VTD) All-Wheel Drive and is the most advanced all-wheel drive system that /Subaru has ever offered in the United States.

The new VTD automatic transmission uses an electronically controlled hydraulic transfer clutch that works with a planetary gear-type center differential to control power distribution between the front and rear wheels. In steady state driving, the power is split 45 percent front and 55 percent rear.

The VDC system monitors vehicle stability by measuring steering angle, yaw rate and individual wheel speed. Using that input date, VDC can tell whether the car is going where the driver is steering it, detecting and correcting understeer (front-wheel drift) and oversteer (rear-wheel drift). Under certain oversteer conditions, VDC can direct the all-wheel drive system to transfer more power to the front wheels.

The L.L. bean edition incorporates the H-6 engine but not the VDC or VTD systems. But the vehicle does mark the start of a multi-year strategic marketing partnership between Subaru and L.L. Bean that makes Subaru the official car of L.L. Bean and L.L. Bean the official outfitter of Subaru. As such the L.L. Bean Edition has two-tone beige/brown leather trimmed seats embossed with the L.L. Bean insignia, an "L.L. Bean" badge on each front fender and floor mats with the Bean logo. The Edition also uses a Momo-designed mahogany wood/leather-wrapped steering wheel that had a great feel to it.

Driving the L.L. Bean Edition is akin to driving the Outbacks, with the exception of the H-6 engine. Six cylinders and 212 horses make the new Outback a potent force on the highway. For example, the new Outback has more power than an Audi A4 2.8T Avant, the VW Passat wagon or the Volvo V70 Cross Country. Subarus have never had an enviable reputation for power, but with the new H-6, the Subaru can compete with any of the more vaunted manufacturers.

We had enough power to catch up with and stay with any other vehicles on the highway. We could accelerate off entry ramps easily, with none of the panic that we weren't going to make it into the flow of traffic before that big Mack looming in our rear view mirror crushed us.

Yet the H-6 is an inherently smooth design. Unlike some fours, for example, there was no buzz or excessive noise when we asked for more power. The Subaru Outback is, of course, a street-friendly off-road capable vehicle. With four-wheel drive it is capable of almost anything the off-road can throw at it, but it's still basically a station wagon at heart. Ground clearance is 7.3 inches to allow for off-road use, but that doesn't make the Outback look ungainly.

And it is a station wagon, don't forget. With the rear seat up there are 34.3 cubic feet of cargo space; with the rear seats down that number increases to 68.6 cubic feet. The maximum floor length with the seats up is 43.5 inches; down it's 74.9 inches. So you can do some serious carrying and hauling with this vehicle if you want.

Subaru discovered its market niche a few years ago and has been faithful to that niche ever since. All its vehicles are all-wheel drive--sedans, wagons, Outacks and Foresters -- and all offer decent performance. With the new H-6 engine though, performance is no longer a stranger to Subaru wagons. People may start thinking of Subarus in a new light.