Used car review
Subaru Legacy 2.5 Outback
Lux Estate 2001

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So what is a Legacy Outback?

Well, it’s an Estate that continues Subaru's traditional legacy of slightly oddball 4 wheel drive cars with pretensions to traverse the Australian outback.

OK, joking aside, in Subaru language it’s a crossbreed car that's been designed to meet the needs and desires of today's buyers.

It was created to appeal to those people who want the ruggedness and AWD abilities of a 4x4 off roader but who don't want the poor ride, bad fuel consumption and a large ladder climb into the cabin.   The car features AWD (type varies with transmission), aggressive looks, more ground clearance than a normal Estate car and a large interior space.  It also gets over 25 MPG on the road and rides more like a conventional saloon.  It can also outperform your average "Jeep" in speed, accident-avoidance and bad-weather manoeuvres.

Despite its off-road and bad road pretensions it looks more like a conventional Estate car.  Looks depend on your personal preference but I quite like it.  The two tone body with all the skirts and lower panels in silver is quite fetching against the metallic and aptly name Frontier Green top half.  The roof rails have a hint of Audi Avant about them and the body is neatly sculptured and has no hint of overt boxy squareness.  Again, as with so many Subarus, it looks much better in the flesh than in pictures.

The alloys appear more sporty than off-road strong and the tyres are very much road orientated with nary a nobble in sight.

The inside is well finished and inviting to a level that is convincing beyond what I would normally expect from a Japanese car.  Yes, I know Hondas are neat inside but they are also a little on the plain side.  The Subaru has a decent wood-like dash finish offsetting the curvy and well fitted plastics. 

On first sitting you seem to get faced by an array of rather scattered buttons and blanks for extras but they are all laid out fairly logically and, with the most important ones on the multifunction stalks, it does not take long to hunt out the required option.

The seats are finished with optional leather which neatly side steps any overly jazzy, eye watering patterns though, to be fair, the velour items are a decent pattern to behold.  The clocks are well appointed if rather plainly styled. The steering wheel is just old plain but pleasant to hold.

All in all it shouts Large Well Appointed Estate rather than Off Roader at you.



In the dropping temperatures of the December evening you can flick on the optional heated seats whilst adjusting the steering column seats and belt to get the perfect, cosy driving position. 

The Outback is fairly well equipped by normal car standards on road or off.  It actually looks better equipped than it probably is though, for the price, most of the money goes on lots of rather super engineering.

As a practical car it's great - roomy to the extreme and covered in bins, pockets and a funky cup holder.  There is an optional cold weather package though quite where in Britain we would need that much I'm not sure (Northern Scotland perhaps?).  The heated seats are very welcome though.

There are twin sunroofs disco style but the rear one impinges on the front one's space thus making it a tilt-only device.  Still, the twin glass panels give the interior a very light and airy feel.




Subaru are probably the last bastion of the Flat engine. They don’t claim to have invented it, it's been used by BMW bikes, Citroen 2CVs, Alfa Suds and even the mighty Ferrari 512bb although that had a rather lot more cylinders. The up side is the low centre of gravity which enables the engine mass to be centred very low down and allows a low bonnet line.

The down sides are that it's expensive to build, complex to plumb for inlet and exhaust and takes up lots of lateral space under the bonnet. Still, Subaru have been churning them out for so long that they are probably benefiting from economy of scale by now.

Strangely the 2.5 litre unit seems smoother than the 2 litre Impreza unit, though maybe it's been made to be more fitting for its purpose. There is little wrong with its performance mind, 154bhp is fair to middling for this size of unit but it's not some hamstrung, dirty great unit with killer low end torque as is usually fitted to your average off-roader (notice how the air pickup is nice and high so you can scoot through puddles/fords/small rivers with aplomb).

The engine mates to an electronically controlled automatic box that claims to be a microcomputer-controlled automatic transmission that selects shift characteristics based on data from electronic sensors which measures speed, engine load and environment. 

Yea, yea, whatever.  So it’s a smooth shifting automatic with just a hint of reluctance to change down under wide non kick-down situations.  In all other regards its unnoticeable which is how an Automatic should be. The gate is somewhat serpentined through neutral reverse park and drive though fairly straightforward in selection of manual gears.

Performance is solid for an Estate and quick for a 4x4.  The lack of barn door aerodynamics means a top end of 122mph and it zips to sixty in under 10 seconds, killing most 4x4s dead.  Yes, I know there are some big engined 4x4s that will undercut this but they can only do it twice before heading for the petrol station for a refill.  The Subaru can top 35mpg at the cruise and break 30mpg at the speed limit .

Auto gearboxes tend to disguise any lack of torque, slipping and changing its way around any flat spots and the Subaru pulls effortlessly from zero to hero without undue gear swapping and engine screaming so I guess its mid range is fairly strong.

To be honest, after a first drive I did not even suspect this was anything other than a road going Estate.  It rides, steers and corners with such aplomb that it does not ever resemble an off-roader.  To all intents and purposes you could see it as a normal road car with a bit of extra suspension travel to traverse the mountainous pot holes of urban roads.

Sure, it will roll a touch more than some when pushed but you really don’t notice anything amiss.  Looking at the chassis it's easy to see why it behaves so well compared to a real off-roader.  It does not have a pre war ladder chassis and it's missing a huge pair of live axles bouncing about and ruining the unsprung weight.


Subaru call it AWD - all wheel drive and what this means is that this is arguably one of the most complex AWD systems currently on the market and certainly the most complex on a low-to-mid-end vehicle.  The transaxle itself contains an additional set of clutch plates to distribute power between the two axles via computer control.  The split is usually 90/10 in favour of the front but when the computer senses slip it can move as much as 50% of the torque to the rear, making it 50/50 like the manual transmission model.  The torque is moved back and forth constantly as the computer senses slip and grip.  The reason for this is to prevent binding or causing slip - if a wheel or axle that didn't have power suddenly got it without releasing power from the opposing wheel, the car would get pushed harder by the wheel with higher torque and would lose control.  One exception to the 90/10 rule: if the transmission is placed in REVERSE or 1-LOW, the split is 50/50.

Incidentally, the 90/10 split is the reason why the automatic gets the same economy as the manual - since the auto is essentially a mostly FWD car under normal conditions and less energy is lost through the AWD system.

What this all adds up to is a car that enhances handling and grip on bad roads.  It's not really meant to generate outright WRC style grip and handling like the Impreza, it's just there as a backup for when the roads are less than perfect.

In use the well weighted and responsive power steering gives an easy and stable response though without the feedback and wriggle of the sports orientated systems.

The ABS assisted brakes are very sharp as I found when I forgot I was driving an Auto and attempted to depress the clutch when stopping.  I caught the brake hard with my left foot and the result was an eye ball popping instant straight stop.


Just take a peak at the gear which Subaru fits to enhance safety and security.

Engine Immobiliser, Remote Central Locking, Anti-lock Braking System, Child Locks, Front Side Air Bags, Front Twin Airbags, High Level Brake Light, Pre Tensioned Front Seat Belts, Side Impact Protection, Three Rear 3 Point Seat Belts, Front Fog Lamps, Full Time 4 Wheel Drive.

Security is not quite in the Impreza league but, then again, it probably doesn't need to be, though on a twenty grand car they could stretch to an alarm.

Safety is quite good with the added security of a big body and bumper, though I would still lay my money on a LWB Shogun in the head-on collision stakes.

What can't be qualified by the spec is how safe the 4x4 helps to make the car on less than perfect roads.




It's odd, it's different and it's great.  It in no way feels like an off-roader and, frankly, I would not take it there but there are plenty of rutted farm tracks that it's well capable of riding without upsetting the occupants or garage.  It’s a great Estate, bearing in mind that by choosing one, you have already decided to sacrifice some handling, performance and economy for practicality. 

There are a few cars now in this odd Estate niche - Volvo and Audi spring to mind but I don’t find their models quite as convincing as road cars.

Long may Subaru continue to produce cars to their own well-proven formula.  It's proving very good.  Just look at the JD power owner satisfaction surveys.

Who always comes top for owner satisfaction and reliability?

SUBARU that’s who!



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