Auto Review: The Outback goes compact

By Bill Heald - ReminderNews
Feature Article - posted Thu., Sep. 1, 2011
- Contributed Photo

It seems like it wasn’t all that long ago (but it was actually the mid-’90s) when Subaru decided to promote its all-wheel drive station wagon using Crocodile Dundee himself, Australian actor Paul Hogan. The affable croc hunter referred to a specially-equipped Subaru as the Outback Wagon, and the campaign was not only a tremendous success, but it spawned a line of durable, versatile Subarus that continues up to the present day.

Outback, of course, refers to the desolate, rugged bush country that takes up a huge part of the Australian interior, and the implication is you need a tough, reliable car to get there and back. Outbacks are still cars, but they do have good ground clearance and Subaru’s standard symmetrical all-wheel drive that can navigate a lot of pretty sloppy situations. They also have a lot of great practical features that make already good, versatile models even more desirable.

This week, we look at the Impreza Outback Sport, the most compact (and affordable) of the Outbacks, and a lot of fun to drive.

The four-door hatchback Impreza Outback Sport is powered by a 2.5-liter Horizontally-Opposed Boxer Four, which doles out 170 horsepower. Transmission choices include a five-speed manual and a four-speed automatic, and both get the power to all four wheels in full-time fashion with different systems depending on the transmission of choice. We had the automatic, which uses active all-wheel drive with an electronically-managed, continuously variable hydraulic transfer clutch. In practice, the torque goes to where it’s needed depending on conditions, making the Impreza a great year-round choice, whether you’re negotiating slippery winter roads or dealing with summer roads covered with the debris from a recent hurricane/tropical storm (we shall not speak her name).

A lot of vehicles in this class have five- or even six-speed automatic transmissions, but the Impreza’s four-speed seemed well-suited to the Boxer engine. Both the ride quality and handling were better than most compacts, and the stout brakes hauled us down from 60 mph in an impressively short 115 feet.

Inside, the Outback has a supportive driver’s perch with good, solid fabric, and the displays are clear and attractive, while the controls are logically arrayed. But, there is one outlier in this otherwise good design. The radio interface with the optional TomTom navigation unit is difficult to “navigate” easily, and really stood out in contrast to the design of the other controls. Otherwise, room is good for a compact, with the rear seat capable of transporting a couple of adults in decent comfort. Behind the rear seat, there is 19 cubic feet of cargo space that swells to 44 cubic feet when the rear seatbacks are folded.

The Outback name has successfully created an image for Subarus that these vehicles are durable and versatile, and in the Impreza, there’s a decent amount of affordable frugality, as well.

The 2011 Subaru Outback Sport is EPA-rated 20 MPG city/26 highway and has a base price of $19,995. With options, our sticker came to $23,310.

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