Those of you who refuse to acknowledge trucks as a primary mode of transport will be more than satisfied by a Subaru. This more-than-a-car-but-not-quite-a-truck offers lavish creature comforts, all-wheel drive that's perfect for light-duty towing, and a reasonable price of entry. If you don't need the bulk of a truck but want to haul a couple of waterbikes on weekends, listen up. There may be a quiz. For the 2000 model year, Subaru redesigned its mainstream Legacy line. This third-generation model is larger inside and out; it's powered by a bigger 2.5-liter engine rated at 165 horsepower; and countless engineering changes are aimed at improved over-the-road manners. The body structure has been reinforced and side air bags are now available. To check out Subaru's progress, we borrowed a top-of-the-line Legacy Outback Limited Wagon and hitched a Javelin bass boat and trailer rig behind it for a day trip around southeastern Michigan.
The Legacy offers a useful 7.3" of static ground clearance, yet it's so discreetly styled that it looks like your average station wagon (a sedan is also available). Every behind-the-wheel sensation reinforces the conclusion that there isn't a truck bone in this vehicle's body. Entry is slide-in convenient, the engine purrs like a contented cat, the ride is as smooth as maple syrup, and the mid-20s (sans bass boat) gas mileage is about 50 percent better than your average pickup or SUV.
The four-cylinder engine never whimpered - even when we exceeded the factory's tow rating by a few hundred pounds - and the electronically controlled automatic transmission willingly clicked off shifts without slippage. Bombarded by gusts of wind from the side and tugging 2,700 pounds, this Subaru held its line with firm footing. Observed fuel economy was 14 mpg, again, at least 50 percent better than what you could expect from your average rig.
A slippery launch ramp provided a stiff test for Subaru's active all-wheel-drive system, which uses a computer to send torque rearward as needed (front-wheel drive is permanently engaged). A viscous limited-slip rear differential, an additional wheel-spin countermeasure, is included as standard equipment. Even without the benefit of a low-range transfer case, our test rig dug in until its Firestone Mud and Snow radials found traction. In pursuit of more low-end torque, Subaru engineers switched from four to two overhead camshafts to clear the way for more efficient intake ports. When you nail the gas with a heavy load behind you on a grade, this four-cylinder engine puts forth the effort of a V-6.
Prices have climbed proportionally with Subaru's success, but don't be intimidated by this Legacy's high-20s sticker. The same engine and all-wheel-drive system can be found in other models priced in the low 20s.
|MODEL||Subaru Legacy Outback Limited Wagon|
|Engine||SOHC 2.5-liter flat four|
|Net torque (ft-lb/rpm)||166/4000|
|Front suspension||strut-type, coil springs|
|Rear suspension||multilink, coil springs|
|Brakes (front/rear)||vented disc/disc; standard 4-wheel ABS|
|Tires||Firestone Wilderness Mud and Snow, P225/60HR-16|
|Curb weight (lbs.)||3,565|
|Towing capacity (lbs.)||2,000|
|Cargo capacity (max. cu. ft.)||68.6|
|Fuel capacity (gal.)||16.9|
|Estimated city/highway towing fuel economy (avg. mpg)||14|
|Price (as tested)||$28,400|
LAST WORD. Towing to do but can't stand trucks? You could be Subaru material.