Text: Iñigo S. Roces / Photos: Iñigo S. Roces | posted June 30, 2008 00:00
The Wagon You Have to Be Seen In
"OK, but no drag racing."
Drag racing? A station wagon? Who in their right mind would have the gall to do that?
Of course, this was back in the ‘70's when muscle cars roamed the streets proudly a few short years before the middle east oil embargo that quickly shot up fuel prices. Why bother with a station wagon when muscle cars were a dime a dozen?
Fast forward to the next millennium where Japanese brands have overtaken Americans a few oil crises later. European brands where quick to follow Volvo's station wagon dominance and have created their own fair share of autobahn storming estates. Audi created the RS4 shooting break that managed to shame many judgmental sports car owners. Then came Fuji Heavy Industries (the parent company of Subaru) and their crazy idea of putting a flat four, all-wheel drive and a spoiler on an estate. All of a sudden, the idea of slapping racing livery and mud skirts on a wagon doesn't seem so far-fetched anymore.
It's hard to trace just exactly how a wagon suddenly became the multi-disciplinary race car it is today, but what's for sure is, it's only going to get better.
Subaru, for one, seems to enjoy Kaizening it and it shows in the Legacy's improvement over the years. The first Legacy began as a strictly road going car with a punchy flat four, all-wheel drive and large brakes all around. It was a great compromise as the wives loved the space at the back, the quiet ride and the fact that the all-wheel drive could even hide the feeling of a flat tire. The husbands, on the other hand, loved the flat four burble, the all-wheel drive handling and that rally-winning badge.
Subaru being the understanding "family car" providers that they are lovingly updated the Legacy with a high clearance off-road model - the Outback 3.0 R.
The punchy two liter has been updated with a horizontally opposed 6, for a lower center of gravity. The exterior is still distinctly Legacy, save for the scratch proof bottom kit and higher ground clearance. All of the station wagon cues like roof railings, sunroof, capacious rear and lifting rear hatch are still present. In fact, the only indication that this is a faster-than-you-average-estate is a set of twin pipes peeking out the back. The façade continues inside with a tastefully sedate interior with an excellent choice of materials, showing very few sporting aspirations besides the very complicated looking steering wheel.
While classified as a crossover or SUV, the Outback is still a true station wagon in most respects. The high clearance does little to diminish this car's on road handling. The suspension may be a bit harsh for those used to less sporty station wagons, but the difference is certainly felt in the handling. In fact, for an "off-roader" it handles exceptionally well on the road. It's quiet, comfortable and feels just as planted as any sports car. Off-road, the car's clearance is more than enough to roll over any rutted path. It may be a bit jarring on rocks and gravel, but on mud and sand, the all-wheel drive pulls the car through with ease and comfort.
The Outback's cheekiest trick lies in its SI-Drive. It's a circular knob right beside the handbrake and also a button on the lower left of the steering wheel. It works like a preset switch for the engine that adjusts its response depending on how you want it to perform. To truly feel the difference, it's best to keep the foot lightly on the throttle while switching to the different settings. The first of which is the Intelligent [I] mode. The engine takes a while to respond to throttle, shifting early, and generally keeping revs low for better economy. It's a preset best used for the city and with heavy traffic, what with the 3.0 liter being quite thirsty. The second setting is Sport [S]. This returns quicker feedback and higher revs throughout all the gears. It may eat a chunk more gasoline, but it's the preset that certainly makes you believe you've got a 3.0 liter under the hood. The last, Sport # [S#], is definitely the most enjoyable. The response is instant and the engine will rev all the way to the redline. The engine roars to life like a lion let out of its cage and the formerly tame estate turns into a predator. The abrupt power bump suddenly becomes quite a lot to reign in.
All told, if there's anything wrong with the Outback, it's that it has everything in excess: power, handling and abilities. If a demanding buyer needed an SUV, sedan and sports car all-in-one, this car would certainly be it. It may not look like it, but then again, Subaru's have proven to be masters of disguise.
Perhaps if that Brady Bunch movie were remade today, the eldest son might have a harder time resisting the temptation to drag race had his mom owned an Outback. Who knows, he might even come home with a pink slip or two.
It's official, the station wagon's cool factor has certainly gone up.