Subaru Impreza Outback Sport emerges as special can-do wagon
Date Posted: 5/10/2005
VULTURE PEAK, Ariz. -- To scale this sandstone peak that towers over the Sonoran Desert takes more than muscle, sweat and skill. It takes a sturdy 4-wheel-drive vehicle with high ground clearance to scoot through sandy washes and across cactus-litter slopes which lead several miles away from pavement to the rock-cluttered mount's climbing base.
For a recent assault on Vulture, the machine which carried me across these hot sands was a new kind of car that impresses when tackling rough terrain off-pavement due to its action-oriented equipment and can-do personality.
Yet this one also makes a tough set of mountain curves -- like the twisted chute leading into Oak Creek Canyon north of Sedona -- seem like so much pavement play.
In all, four days and eight hundred road miles were consumed when pushing this little thing through rough tests which included a dusty romp at high altitude around Zion National Park in Utah, a dash across the Colorado River at Glen Canyon and a rolling descent through Flagstaff and Prescott to Arizona's low desert at Wickenburg.
Covering freeways, by-ways, blacktop grades and even those sandy washes heading to Vulture Peak, this vehicle felt comfy, functional and fun to drive through all venues.
And everywhere I went, someone wanted to know: "What is that cute little thing?"
It's a new kind of Subaru, I would explain, with muscular off-road treatment for the Impreza hatchback station wagon. Call it Impreza Outback Sport.
Pumped up with muscular air-intake hood scoops and jacked up in suspension for higher clearance, this new car works as city machine, highway cruiser or rough-and-tumble go-anywhere sportsmobile.
The Impreza variation rolls on an abbreviated chassis lifted from Subaru's upscale Legacy wagon, which last year earned the all-wheel-drive Outback treatment.
Now comes the smaller Impreza compact with its wagon format, 4-cylinder boxer engine and sport-tuned personality.
Subaru's Outback philosophy goes like this: It can plow an uncharted track through the bush, sail over rocks and roots and streambeds, or navigate through snow like a motorized sled dog, taking you into that outback world where customary vehicles dare not tread.
At the same time, Outback functions with all of the aplomb of a cozy compact sedan, providing a firm ride quality, comfortable seating for as many as five and an array of power-charged interior perks.
Then too Outback comes with a station wagon's generous interior configuration, adding four doors plus back gate and a cargo bay behind the second tier of seats so you can haul loads of gear in addition to all in the family.
So it's a car, station wagon and sure-footed all-wheel-drive sport-utility -- three vehicles encased in one sturdy compact package with compact-class interior measurements.
And it comes from Japan's Subaru, world leader in traction technology.
Subaru, it seems, produces more all-wheel-drive vehicles than the other automakers combined. For 1997, Subaru's AWD equipment appears exclusively in all models.
With Subaru's AWD system a driver develops more confidence in driving through any road condition -- dry, wet, frozen, sandy or graveled -- because Subaru's "smart" wheels transfer power automatically from wheels that slip to those that grip.
Outback, available with a single engine but choice of sporty 5-speed manual or automatic 4-speed transmission, becomes an enhancement for the Impreza wagon.
It's beefed up with rugged body work and bigger tires, a bulging hoodline with functional yet macho appeal, and the suspension pumped to provide 6.5-inch clearance.
Dismiss the wily handling character of this short-wheelbase machine and ultimately what Outback provides is confidence to navigate any type of road surface. You know you'll be able to stick to the surface of any road, whether slick with water, mud, snow or even that desert sand -- if only you drive with caution and good judgment.
Also, I found steering Outback with its 4-wheel-drive system permanently engaged requires less elbow effort because you don't have to wrestle with the steering wheel to maintain forward progress: It doesn't exhaust you.
My trek in a prototype of Impreza Outback Sport through Utah and Arizona was entirely fun because this wagon feels more like an active sportster when steering, accelerating and maneuvering. Except when peeking in the rearview mirror to see a reflection of Outback's cargo bay, I felt like I was driving a hot little sports car.
Then when I steered Outback off pavement, traversing sandy Sonoran washes to reach Vulture Peak, it behaved like a mechanical camel, carrying me where I wanted to go with traction confidence -- but also with car-like comforts.
And that's Outback's special niche: It emulates a truck-based sport-utility in off-road maneuvers but drives more easily, like a conventional car.
Outback Impreza's wagon gets a long-stroke 4-wheel independent MacPherson strut suspension system -- the same one that led an Impreza to victory in 1995 for the rugged World Rally Championship.
Standard mechanical features include a speed-sensitive power rack and pinion steering system and 4-channel computer-controlled anti-lock brakes.
Outback's engine, mounted longitudinally, employs equal-length drive shafts to negate potential torque steer for front wheels in the 4-wheel-drive system.
The single-cam 2.2-liter horizontally-opposed four produces 137 horsepower and ties to the malleable 5-speed manual transmission or optional auto 4-speed.
Outback's AWD system never needs attention from the driver because it's always engaged -- so it's as easy to operate as a conventional 2-wheel-drive system.
The wagon also carries specific exterior elements, like new front bumper and spoiler, 15-inch all-season radial tires, foglamps and two-tone paint treatment.
Conveniences begin with a tilt steering wheel and analog instruments with tachometer but extend to power equipment for windows and doors, air conditioning and a good stereo system with cassette deck and four speakers.
1997 SUBARU IMPREZA OUTBACK SPORT
| Vehicle Specifications:
| 1997 SUBARU IMPREZA OUTBACK SPORT Specs
||Compact AWD wagon
| Model Options:
||Compact AWD wagon
| Overall Length:
| Engine Size:
||SOHC 2.2-L H-4
| Gas Mileage:
||$ 17,995 to $ 20,000