Auto Service World
Feature   March 1, 2005   by Brian Harper

Stiff Competition For SUVs

Given that Baddeck was home to Alexander Graham Bell -- a genius, a visionary and one of the greatest inventors of the late 19th century -- Subaru's choice of location to debut its newest Outback migh...

Given that Baddeck was home to Alexander Graham Bell — a genius, a visionary and one of the greatest inventors of the late 19th century — Subaru’s choice of location to debut its newest Outback might be more than happenstance.

Yes, it’s taking liberties — after all, Subaru didn’t exactly invent the car, although it can lay claim to the first sport-utility wagon, which is what the original Outback was termed when it was first introduced in 1995.

In simplest terms, it was a jacked-up Legacy wagon, macho’d with some aggressive body cladding and off-road tires. From a marketing perspective it was indicative of Subaru’s ingenuity — and luck — as it recognized the unyielding strength of the SUV segment while providing something of a more civilized alternative.

The completely redesigned 2005 Outback (with both a longer wheelbase and more overall length) builds on that leadership: slightly bigger, better and with new model choices and boxer engines of varied potency. The lineup starts with the base 168-hp 2.5i and 2.5i Limited, moves to the sporty, turbocharged 2.5XT and finishes up with the 3.0R and high-end 3.0R VDC, powered by the second generation of Subaru’s 3.0-litre, six-cylinder boxer.

The turbocharged 2.5XT is the most interesting, with Subaru trying to parlay more of its World Rally Championship rep with another performance model. With the Forester XT accounting for 20% to 24% of that model’s sales, the idea of a performance Outback to attract a younger customer is obviously appealing.

A functional hood scoop identifies the new 2.5XT, powered by an intercooled and turbocharged 2.5L four-cylinder engine that produces 250 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 250 pound-feet of torque at 3,600 rpm. As such, it has the same power and more torque than the 3.0R’s 3.0L six — and at lower rpm. Subaru also claims the XT with its standard five-speed manual transmission will get to 100 kilometres an hour in 6.1 seconds, bloody quick for a 1,585-kilogram wagon.

For trailer towing, the engine of choice is the DOHC six in the 3.0R, reworked to put out 250 hp and 219 lb-ft of torque. With the six, the Outback can pull 1,364 kilograms (as opposed to 1,227 kg for other models).

The 2.5XT turbo comes standard with a five-speed manual ($42,895) or a Sportshift five-speed manumatic ($44,395) with steering wheel-mounted shift buttons. The 3.0R ($38,995) and 3.0R VDC ($44,995) are also equipped with the five-speed manumatic, but without the steering wheel shifters.

A quick jaunt on a rutted, mud-filled dirt path, further eroded by spring runoff, validates the Outback’s off-road worthiness. With its ground clearance increased by 28 millimetres to 213 (221 on the XT) and Subaru’s renowned Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive system finding grip on the most tenuous surfaces, the Outback is capable of the sort of off-roadability that 99% of urban SUV owners would never think of subjecting their vehicles to. And its on-road handling are totally car-like in nature.

Inside, the Outback is redesigned with greater emphasis on higher-quality materials. Flush surface treatments, a soft-foam upper dashboard and door trim, and aluminum side sill covers provide a more upscale ambience. The 2.5i and 3.0R have cloth interiors; all the other models are swaddled in leather. All but the XT are trimmed with nice wood and titanium accents. Heated front seats are standard across the line.

Since its genesis, the Outback has proven a more workable alternative to SUVs. The ’05 Outback, though, has morphed beyond the novel. It has a newfound maturity that is sure to translate into increased sales.

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