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Subaru Legacy Outback H6-VDC Wagon (2001)

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by Carey Russ

With the introduction of the six-cylinder variants of the Legacy-based Outback, the VDC and the L.L. Bean Edition, Subaru is moving into the ultra-competitive entry-luxury automotive market. This is not the first time Subaru has set its sights on luxury. Its last six-cylinder car, the SVX coupe, was, at heart, a luxury car. It was also less than successful, as luxury coupe buyers didn't consider Subaru, and Subaru buyers of the time didn't want a luxury coupe. (A loss to both sides, as the SVX was one of the most under-rated cars of all time.)

The failure of the SVX prompted Subaru to reassess its goals. It was, and is, a master of all-wheel drive technology. And around that time, sport-utility vehicles were gaining popularity at the expense of wagons and sport coupes. Subaru combined an all-wheel drive wagon with extra ground clearance and SUV-inspired looks, and the Outback was born. That original Outback was one of the most influential vehicles in recent automotive history. The "crossover" concept has now been copied by many other automakers, at almost all price levels.

The latest six-cylinder Subarus fit right into the entry-luxury class based on equipment and price. And the all-new 3.0-liter six has the smoothness, power, and refinement necessary to compete in the luxury class. It was designed especially for the latest-generation Outback. It's a horizontally-opposed design like all Subaru engines, and fits easily into the Outback's engine compartment as it is less than an inch longer than the 2.5-liter four. There are only minor structural differences between four- and six-cylinder Outbacks. The VDC emphasizes technology, with its namesake "Vehicle Dynamic Control" stability control system, while the L.L. Bean Edition adds luxury with an upgraded interior.

I've just spent a week with a new Outback H6 VDC. I found it quieter and more refined than any Subaru since the late, lamented SVX coupe. It's easily the equal of any other vehicle in its price class in luxury features, and ahead of all others in useful technology. It has the ride and handling of a car on the road, but enough ground clearance for light-duty trail work, and an all-wheel drive system that can deal with almost any road or weather conditions. It's an all- places, all-year luxury car.

APPEARANCE: Other than wheel styling and badging, there is little external difference between four- and six-cylinder Outbacks. The crisper, more angular styling introduced with the newest-generation Legacy and Outback last year continues. It's basically a compact wagon with the higher ride height, contrasting lower cladding and bumpers, and roof rack popular in sport-utility styling. A Subaru Outback won't be mistaken for an SUV, but that hardly matters as the Outback has carved out its own niche.

COMFORT: Subaru has met the entry-luxury challenge in the Outback H6 VDC's interior. It's a two-tone dark-over-light design, with leather seating surfaces and woodgrain trim on the instrument panel. The Momo-designed tilt-adjustable steering wheel's rim is real wood and leather. And the sound system is by the legendary audiophile company McIntosh, and features AM, FM, and weather band radio in addition to cassette and CD players. The automatic climate control system adjusts the interior temperature quickly, and is aided by standard heated front bucket seats. Both the power- adjustable driver's seat and manual front passenger seat are comfortable and supportive. The rear bench is roomy for the size of the car, and its 60/40 split seatback aids cargo-carrying versatility. The rear cushion flips forward for more serious cargo ability. The rubber mat in the cargo area is an Outback hallmark. Dual moonroofs should make this a great vehicle for scenic vacations.

SAFETY: Passive safety features of the H6 Outbacks include the "Ring-Shaped Frame Reinforcement" body structure with integral front and rear crumple zones, three-point safety belts for all occupants, antilock disc brakes, and dual front and front side airbags.

ROADABILITY: On the road, the 2001 Outback H6 VDC is as smooth, quiet, and refined as anything in the entry-luxury sedan, wagon, or SUV classes due to the boxer-six engine, a rigid chassis, and good suspension design and tuning. Subaru's most technically- advanced all-wheel drive system, called "VTD" for "Variable Torque Distribution," is electronically and physically connected to the VDC stability control system, which in turn uses the all-speed traction control and antilock braking systems and yaw, steering wheel angle, and wheel speed sensors to determine the car's state and any deviation from the intended path. The all-wheel drive system provides maximum traction in any given situation, but, if any assistance or corrective action is deemed necessary, the VDC system can activate one specific brake to counteract understeer or oversteer, and the traction control system can help reduce wheelspin. The result is improved handling and safety in all conditions. Seven inches of ground clearance allows light-duty off-road driving and adds a margin of safety in dealing with road hazards.

PERFORMANCE: Subaru's new 3.0-liter, dual overhead cam, 24- valve flat six is most notable for what is lacks - the slight vibration of the Subaru (or any) flat four. It adds the smoothness and refinement previously missing, and gives the H6 VDC Outback a luxurious character. Performance is improved, too, with 212 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 210 lb-ft of torque at 4400 rpm, noticeably better than the 2.5-liter four's 165 hp and 166 lb-ft. The power increase is somewhat offset by 160 lbs of extra weight, but the Outback H6 VDC still pulls well from any engine speed and has very good midrange and top-end response.

CONCLUSIONS: A new six-cylinder and sophisticated electronics add refinement to the Subaru Outback H6 VDC.

SPECIFICATIONS
2001 Subaru Legacy Outback H6-VDC Wagon
Base Price              $ 31,895
Price As Tested         $ 32,390
Engine Type             horizontally-opposed dual overhead cam
                          24-valve 6-cylinder
Engine Size             3.0 liters / 183 cu. in.
Horsepower              212 @ 6,000 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)          210 @ 4,400 rpm
Transmission            4-speed electronically-controlled 
                          automatic
Wheelbase / Length      104.3 in. / 187.4 in.
Curb Weight             3,735 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower   17.6
Fuel Capacity           16.9 gal.
Fuel Requirement        87 octane regular unleaded gasoline; 
                          91 octane recommended 
Tires                   P225/60 HR16 Firestone Wilderness
Brakes, front/rear      vented disc / solid disc, antilock 
                          standard
Suspension, front/rear  independent MacPherson strut / 
                          independent multilink
Ground clearance        7.3 inches
Drivetrain              front engine, full-time all-wheel drive
PERFORMANCE
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed      20 / 27 / 21
0 to 60 mph               est 8.7  sec
Coefficient of Drag (cd)      0.32
OPTIONS AND CHARGES
Destination charge         $ 495