The Truth About Cars » Subaru The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Wed, 23 Apr 2014 13:30:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Subaru Subaru: No WRX Hatch For U.S. Market Wed, 23 Apr 2014 13:00:39 +0000 Subaru Impreza WRX STi Hatchback

For those who want a Subaru WRX or WRX STi, but prefer the utility of the previous hatchback over the current sedan offerings, they should start breathing again, as Subaru will not be bringing such a beast to the United States after all.

Motor Trend reports that last month, WRX project manager Masuo Takatsu informed that Subaru “received strong interest from the US” for a hatchback variant, citing the 50 percent uptake by the U.S. market for the previous hatch. The statement came as a surprise to Subaru of America, who weren’t expecting anything more than the sedans:

We do not know about, nor do we have, any plans for a WRX hatch. Takatsu San is the product general manager of the WRX, but this is not something he has discussed with us.

One exchange between Subaru of America and Subaru of Japan later gave the final word: No WRX hatch will be forthcoming to the U.S. market, citing cost issues against producing both sedan and hatchback models.

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New York 2014: 2015 Subaru Outback Revealed Thu, 17 Apr 2014 18:21:49 +0000 2015-Subaru-Outback-06

The 2015 Subaru Outback made a stop at the 2014 New York Auto Show as the fifth-generation wagon makes its way to the showroom floor this summer.

Under the bonnet, a choice of either a 2.5-liter flat-4 or 3.6-liter flat-6 will send 175 to 256 horsepower through a standard CVT to all four corners. The Legacy-esque Outback should average 28 mpg from the flat-4, 22 with the flat-6.

As for safety, rearview camera, pre-collision braking and adaptive cruise control make up part of the overall driver-protection package on-offer from Subaru.

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2015 Subaru Legacy Revealed Tue, 04 Feb 2014 07:48:44 +0000 2015 Subaru Legacy 01

The 2015 Subaru Legacy leaked late last night. Not bad, Subie.

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Production-Ready Subaru Legacy To Make 2014 Chicago Auto Show Debut Sat, 01 Feb 2014 08:34:17 +0000 2015 Subaru Legacy Tease

After its worldwide debut as a concept at the 2013 Los Angeles Auto Show last November, the Subaru Legacy is ready to show-off its production-ready ensemble at next week’s 2014 Chicago Auto Show.

Though the teaser doesn’t offer much — as teasers are wont to do — it does offer glimpses of the sedan’s thin A-pillar, raked windscreen, and the matching LED lights up front and down back, all part of Subaru’s new design language. Judging by the lightly flared fenders, however, no 21-inch wheels — like those on the concept in LA — will be offered when the Legacy arrives in showrooms this year.

The production Legacy will debut February 6 at the Chicago Auto Show.

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Los Angeles 2013: Subaru Debuts Legacy Concept in LA Thu, 21 Nov 2013 02:24:35 +0000 Subaru Legacy Concept 01

Forget CVTs in WRXs; Subaru has dropped their Legacy Concept at the 2013 LA Auto Show, illustrating the design direction the Japanese automaker aims to take in the near future.

The Legacy Concept has a muscular, masculine appearance, particularly with the wide Taurus-esque grill and sinister LED eyes. Wide flares hug the 21-inch wheels, and the tail lights hammer the point home in aggressiveness.

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Shifting Becomes Variable For 2015 Subaru WRX Fri, 15 Nov 2013 13:00:02 +0000 2015 Subaru WRX

While those who opt for the upcoming 2015 Subaru WRX STi can still row their own, those who prefer to let the transmission do the work may (or may not) be disappointed to find a CVT in their new WRX.

In a leaked dealer document, customers who opt for either the WRX Premium standard model or the Limited with or without the sat nav/Harmon Kardon audio/keyless access triad can either row their own through a six-speed manual or Subaru’s Lineartronic CVT.

Sending the power through the CVT will be a turbocharged 2-liter flat-four, while the STi will utilize a 2.5-liter turbo flat-four and, for those who choose it, launch control.

More details to come when the WRX makes its debut at the LA Auto Show next week.

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Subaru to Unveil Levorg Concept at Tokyo Motor Show Thu, 31 Oct 2013 14:14:06 +0000 Subaru-Levorg-Concept-Teaser-1

A new gold dawn for touring cars is upon us if Subaru is to be believed. Come November, the automaker will unveil the future of the Legacy and Outback at the Tokyo Motor Show: The Levorg.

The sport tourer concept — whose name is derived from legacy, revolution and touring — comes equipped with Subaru’s next-gen EyeSight pre-crash braking system, wraparound LED headlamps, a turbocharged 1.6-liter direct-injection boxer, and other wonderful, ephemeral goodies concept cars usually receive.

The tourer (don’t call it a wagon around the hipsters lest their stretched earlobes snap) has a bit of muscle in its appearance, as well, with sculpted fender flares, a slanted backside, and a round nose with an air scoop ready to direct cold air through the engine for more power.

Subaru will also unveil the Cross Sport Design Concept at the Tokyo Motor Show, a concept with a small body for better seat access and maneuvering through the tight streets of Tokyo and, perhaps in the future, a street near you.

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New or Used? : The Unwelcomed Gift Edition Mon, 28 Oct 2013 12:00:26 +0000 mbeans
I’ve written before for “New or Used?” regarding my ’04 Scion xB 5MT that I (mistakenly) ended up trading in towards my family’s 2013 Outback 3.6R last year. Since then I’ve been driving my wife’s ’06 Accord EX-L V6, now at 105k. It’s a nice enough car to drive, but was never “my” car, if you know what I mean (and I’m sure you do).

Due to my recently starting a new job, the wife has given the go-ahead to look for something new that’s modestly priced. I became smitten with a 2013 VW GTI 6MT and was mere seconds away from signing the lease agreement. I had completed the credit application, indicated the radio stations I like, and then started examining the P&S contract, but got that funny feeling you can get and pulled the plug. I don’t know what it was. Dealer shenanigans. Fee overload. Slight indecision perhaps, as I’m only driving a grand total of 8 miles per day for my new commute. (Do I really need to change cars??) Or perhaps it was the X factor.

The X factor is my father-in-law. Due to age and health he is no longer driving. My mother-in-law recently traded his minty 1986 928S4 to their contractor for some money owed. She is offering to give me his 2006 Cayenne S with 75k miles. I’m feeling pressure from the wife to accept it. I’ve offered to take it and sell it for them, but my wife feels that there is a sentimental thing going on, and they want to see us drive it. I really would have preferred that 928.

Sure the Cayenne a nice car, but again it’s not really “me.” Although I’m 6′ 3″ I like small cars with stick shifts that I can throw around, not heavy pseudo-SUVs that get 12 MPG city/. However, am I crazy to turn down a free Cayenne?? I have concerns because (A) it’s not my kind of car, (B) the Carfax has 3 accidents on it, (C) maintenance costs are going to be crazy. Supposedly the frame is fine, but I know he had more than 3 fender-benders (he should have stopped driving years ago), and we have two small children so I would want to verify that. Also the car has been immaculately maintained. He did pretty much whatever the dealer’s service department told him to do.

Part of me thinks I should drive it for 1-2 years and then trade it towards something I want, while the other part of me would be worried about being stuck with a 10 year old SUV with a bad Carfax. And of course the third part of me (if that’s possible) is sick of driving an automatic.

I’m getting some serious pressure to act on this soon. Any advice from you, along with the best and brightest, would be greatly appreciated.

All best,

Steve Says:

Any gift that comes with strings attached is not a gift. Ever. When family members give you something that you must absolutely positively keep under the penalty of (insert snubbing method here), then what you end up with is a family tie that will bind and gag you and your family. 

I’ll give you a personal example. My MIL is a truly generous person and, one day, she decided to give me and my wife a doghouse. The only problem was that we didn’t have a dog. So about a year later, we have a garage sale. The kid down the street just got a puppy and it just so happened that they were the same folks who Freecycled a trampoline to us the year before.

So what did I do? Well of course! I gave them the doghouse!

My wife goes outside about an hour later, and invariably asks where the doghouse is. I tell her what happened and she tells me in no uncertain terms that my MIL is going to be ticked off to the nth degree.

My response was, “And??? This is our house! Just tell her we exchanged it for the trampoline. If she complains then we know it wasn’t a gift ”

Is your wife an only child? Then take the car if, and only if, it is truly a gift with no strings attached. Thank your in-laws profusely for their generosity either way it turns out, and consider yourself a lucky man. Don’t complain. Not even if it isn’t ‘your’ type of car. Just be a mensch, and when this isn’t such a hot button issue, you can sell it and set up a fund to handle any health issues for your in-law’s. By that time you will also have a better perspective on the security of your new job.

If your wife has siblings, then you can’t keep this car. Don’t even try. Let them know that you hope your father-in-law will live for a long, long time. Then you can do the right thing for everyone.

Research the true market value of the vehicle. Post the vehicle for sale online.  Handle the transaction for your in-law’s. and then finally, thank them for thinking of you and your wife.

As for your desire to buy a stickshift, I’ll let the folks here sort that part of your life out.

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Review: 2014 Subaru Forester 2.5i Limited Tue, 16 Jul 2013 13:00:43 +0000 IMG_2588
Between the A+ report card from Consumer Reports and a last-crossover-standing result for the IIHS small overlap test, even Tommy Callahan could sell somebody a Subaru Forester. “Here comes the meat wagon WEEE-OOO WEEE-OOO and the medic gets out and says, ‘Oh my God’. New guy’s around the corner puking his guts out – all because you wanted to buy a RAV4.”

Factor in some much-improved fuel economy from a continuously variable transmission, and the sales figures are like spank-tra-vision to Subie execs: up by a third year-to-date. Holy shnikes! Is this the year the lovable approach hiking shoe crosses-over from niche product to all-round segment leader? Let’s go camping.

The Fozzie new mug eschews stylish wakka-wakka in favour of an outline that could just as easily be wearing Mitsubishi’s three-pointed star. Not that the Forester has ever been a stunningly handsome machine, but this new one puts me in mind of the grafted-on noses GM once put on all their minivans to bump safety ratings.

But it’s not bad-looking – this is inoffensiveness as a styling exercise. It might not be as cutting-edge as some of the other designs out there, but it looks like it’ll age better than the toaster-shaped original, and there is one extremely exciting visual thing about this crossover: you can actually see out of it.


I’d like to get Sajeev’s scorecard on the Forester’s design, but a closer look at the thing shows all kinds of good news. There’s plenty of greenhouse, and the rear-quarter windows are, well, windows. How rare is that? There’s not too much slope to the rear glass and those are functional roof rails as-standard. Front overhang is maybe a little prow-ish, but rear is good, and ground clearance looks suitably Subaru-ish.

On the Forester’s inside, the eyeball finds less to love. Like the new Impreza, the Forester is much improved over the previous generation, and could be considered mid-pack for interior quality. However, even in this Limited-trim model, there is evidence of some cheapness.


Look at these child anchors for instance. The foam of the seats is exposed when a LATCH tie-down is in-place, and while rear-seat room and comfort is better than that of a Ford Escape, family use is going to cause some unsightly wear.


Using your Forester as a cargo hauler is going to be a mixed bag too. While the way this new, bigger version swallows gear is impressive, the seats don’t fold completely flat, and both seatbacks and the little flap that covers the gap are flimsy and look prone to tearing and/or bending. Even more annoying is the lack of proper cargo area illumination – there’s just a rinky-dinky little lamp on the bottom right that’s about as effective as a birthday candle in the Mines of Moria.


Up front, the Fozzie rates a utility-grade pass for chunky knobs and dials and a centre cargo area with plenty of room for USB chargers or power-converters. Despite this Limited’s theoretically fully-loaded layout, the Harmon/Kardon stereo could have been lifted right out of a Subaru from last year. Or last decade. Or the decade before that. It sounds okay though.


Even with not-much mileage on the clock, the door-cards and centre area on this press-loaner were beginning to look a bit scratched up. The split-level display is a bit odd (why a digital clock face?) and the backup camera is only big enough as an emergency aid. Here again though, the Forester’s rear visibility is so good, you only need refer to it when the trunk is entirely full.


Pop the hood and – hey, an engine! I remember those! Granted, the Subie’s 2.5L pancake-four looks a bit like a plastic facehugger is impregnating an industrial dishwasher, but how rare these days to see a motor in all its unshrouded glory. Look, there’s even an exposed oil-filter! Just think of the smell after spilling gallons of 5W-30 all over the engine manifold – the home-mechanic’s potpourri.

Several important things about this carry-over engine (first introduced in the Forester in 2011, the FB25): it’s chain-drive, not belt and while it retains the same 2.5L displacement and 170hp rating as the old EJ-series options, both bore and stroke are different for very slightly more low end power – 4lb/ft. I do have some concerns about overall longevity with heat-cycling the plastic manifold, and the pool of FB25-powered cars with over 100,000 miles is too small to see if the new design completely dodges the EJ’s headgasket issues (granted, Subaru resolved the bulk of these by 2005, but there are still problems cropping up as vehicles age).


Bigger news on the drivetrain front is the CVT now installed in all automatic Foresters. Continuously Terrible Transmission, rubber-band, motor-boat, whining, fun-sapping, blah blah blah. Nonsense.

While you can still buy a manual transmission Forester – now a 6-speed, huzzah! – the CVT in the base Forester is perfectly fine if you know how to drive it. Turbocharged XT models drive like a fat Nissan Juke (er, that’s intended to be a compliment), and if you’re gentle with throttle inputs and don’t push the thing, you’ll appreciate both the better fuel economy and the smoothness from the naturally aspirated motor.

And trust me, you’re not really going to want to push it. While the Impreza is reasonably fun-to-drive, the Forester is bigger, bulkier, squishier and numb-er. On-ramp acceleration is acceptable, the over-boosted steering is still okay, and the car feels extremely planted in the corners, but a Mazda CX-5 would be a much better choice for driving pleasure. Except for one thing.


This is a mancala board, a popular African game, and it’s also an excellent visual representation of the potholed gravel road I ended up on after taking a wrong turn getting out of Squamish, BC. I’d just driven the Mazda on similar, if drier, roads and my reaction on seeing a few miles of this corrugated surface – with a sleeping baby in the back and in a bit of a hurry to make it to the campsite to get a decent spot – is unprintable.

The Forester, God bless her, picked up her fancy new skirts and just glided across the bumps like a hovercraft. Yes, you expect Subarus to be good off-road in the traction department, but it was still an impressive performance – after the first couple of hundred feet I started aiming for the bigger potholes to see what would happen. No problemo.

Back on the road, some of the less-good things about Subaru DNA reasserted themselves. Anyone nostalgic for the days of frameless windows will love the way the extra-large door-mounted side mirrors impart wind noise like a Sopwith Camel strafing the trenches. Yes, my spur-of-the-moment durability experiment probably caused it, but the mild rattle issuing from somewhere in the dashboard is pure Fuji Heavy Industries maraca.


And yet, as I wound down the curving highway, loaded up with camping gear and family, there’s a lot to like about this car: excellent safety rating, decent power, CRV-pipping fuel economy, lots of utility and even a bit of mild off-roading prowess. All the usual Subaru foibles are there too, but it’s a decent rig. Way to forge ahead, Tommy.

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Review: 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek (Video) Mon, 18 Mar 2013 19:03:01 +0000

Apparently I’m a stereotypical Subaru shopper. I’m in my 30s and live on 9-acres of redwood forest in Northern California where I run a small organic egg farm. My nearest neighbor is a mile away and the closest concrete or asphalt driving surface is a 3 mile trek through the woods. During the winter I value AWD and high ground clearance, not because I need it (my 2005 Jaguar XJ has never been stuck) but like most Americans, I feel safe and secure by having a larger margin for error. I also have a special place in my heart for station wagons. It was therefore no surprise to my neighbors when I drove home one day in the Outback’s little brother, the XV Crosstrek.

Click here to view the embedded video.


If the XV looks familiar, you’re not imagining things, you have seen this body before. This is an Impreza 5-door with off-road body cladding, black wheels and a lift kit. If that sounds like the old Outback Sport, you’re half right because this time Subaru went the extra mile when “offroadifying” (like my new word there?) the Impreza. Instead of confusing shoppers with an Outback and an Outback Sport that have little to do with one another, they renamed the Impreza crossover utility wagon (CUW) for 2013 to end the confusion. In addition to the name change it gets real dirt-road cred an SUV-like 8.5 inches of ground clearance. (The Outback Sport made do with a trifling 0.2-inch height increase vs 3 in the XV.) Subaru’s corporate design elements are all at play on the XV and while it may seem plain to some, it’s unlikely to offend, except for the shocking orange paint our tester wore. (You can get your XV in shades other than orange but regardless of the hue, the wheels are always black.) Instead of the sashless windows Subaru has long been known for, the XV gets standard doors with window frames making them feel more substantial than Subaru models of the past.

Think of the XV as the Impreza’s outdoorsy brother. You know, the one that moved to the country, wears flannel on the weekend but still commutes to a day job in the city. Early crossovers had a similar mission, but demand for a car-like ride has caused the current crop of CUVs to return to car-like ride heights while warehouse shopping excursions demand minivan-like cargo holds. That’s not to say CUWs are “true off roaders,” that much is obvious by the size of the front overhang, long wheelbase and on-road tires. Instead, the mission is to provide an efficient, civilized ride for that outdoorsy brother on the way to downtown and the ability to ford that low-water-crossing on the way to his organic farm.


The XV shares interiors with the $17,895 Impreza from the seats to the soft-touch dashboard. While plastics aren’t as nice as the Outback, they do represent a significant step up from the last generation Impreza and Outback Sport and aren’t out-of-place here. The XV is $1,700 more than a similar Impreza 5-door but when you factor in the standard 17-inch wheels, body cladding and lift kit the cost difference is minimal. Starting at a reasonable $21,995 and ending at $27,290, the XV is one of the best AWD values going. Oddly however, the 2014 Subaru Forester starts at exactly the same price.

The base XV is the “Premium” trim which sports durable fabric seats in black or ivory. Ivory lovers beware, interior color is dictated by exterior color and ivory is only available with black, red, blue and white paint. Limited models spruce up the cabin with leather seating surfaces, single-zone automatic climate control and heated seats.

I found the driver’s seat extremely comfortable on my long commute, but shoppers should spend time in the car before buying as the seat’s don’t offer adjustable lumbar support and the front passenger seat doesn’t offer the same range of motion as the driver’s. I heard a number of forum complaints about the leather seats feeling “mushy” in reference to the padding but my short stint in a dealer provided vehicle left the same impression as the cloth models in my mind. Perhaps there were some early production quality issues? All models feature a manual tilt/telescoping steering wheel with a good range of motion and CVT equipped XVs get attractive shift paddles attached to the wheel, not the column.

Rear seats in the XV are firm and the seat bottom cushions are low to the floor which should be fine for children but can be tiresome for adults on long trips. Because of the XV’s mission as a mud-rut crawler and stream-forder, the door sills are high to prevent water intrusion meaning you have to lift your feet higher than you’d expect to gain entry. That combined with the sloping rear profile made me feel like I had to contort myself more to get in the XV than I had expected, and certainly more than vehicles like the RAV4 or CR-V.  Once inside, headroom proved excellent for my 6-foot frame and legroom was adequate even with a taller driver up front. If you have kids or regularly schlep folks in the rear, pony up for the Limited model, in addition to leather being easier to wipe-up than cloth, it’s the only way to get cup holders in the rear. If you don’t opt for the cow, you’ll be left with only the rear door “bottle holders” which should never be used for drive-thru style sodas.

The XV is only a few inches shorter than the Escape, CR-V or even its cousin the Forester, but the cargo area is considerably smaller thanks to the wagon profile. Our tester’s 22 cubic foot cargo area easily held a foursome’s weekend luggage as long as camping wasn’t on the agenda. While that’s a significant step up from most sedans that XV shoppers may be looking to trade out of, it’s two-thirds the cargo area provided by the Forseter or Escape. Why am I comparing these non-wagons to the XV? Because they are all a similar height and length. How is that possible you ask? Because the XV trades cargo space for ground clearance. Pick your poison.


Infotainment has long been an area where Subaru lags behind the competition and the XV is no different. Because the XV is positioned above the Impreza, things start with the optional audio system from the small Subie. The 6-speaker system features a single CD player, USB/iPod integration, Bluetooth phone integration with audio streaming and a 3.5mm AUX input jack. Limited trim XVs get Subaru’s display audio system with a 4.3-inch LCD touchscreen. The display upgrade also brings a backup camera, improved iPod/USB control, HD Radio and a greater suite of voice commands. For some reason this middle-ground head unit is not available at all on the base trim of the XV.

For $1,200 as a stand alone option on the XV Premium, and $2,000 as a bundle with the moonroof on the XV Limited model, Subaru offers an optional 6.1-inch touchscreen navigation unit. (The moonroof is a stand alone option on the Premium but only comes with the nav on the Limited.) Unless you’re buying the Premium model and want the sunroof, just save the $1,200 and spend it on an aftermarket system. While the unit isn’t as outdated as some systems on the market, the interface is strangely unintuitive, the on-screen buttons are small and the low-contrast color scheme makes it difficult to find what you’re after. On the bright side, perhaps because of Toyota’s minority investment in Subaru, the system uses the same voice command interface as Toyota and Lexus’ current product line including voice commands to control your media device.


Subaru’s fascination with boxer engines and AWD is nothing new, but the 2.0L DOHC engine under the hood is. The smaller mill replaces the old 2.5L SOHC four-cylinder found in the last generation Impreza and Outback Sport.Power drops with the displacement reduction from 170 HP to 148 at 6,200 RPM while torque takes a similar tumble from 170 lb-ft to 145 at 4,200 RPM. The smaller mill isn’t any quieter or more refined than the older engine, but it is 28% more fuel-efficient when equipped with the same manual transmission and a whopping 36% more efficient when you compare the new 2.0L/CVT combo with the old 2.5L/four-speed automatic. EPA numbers for the XV come out to 23/30/26 (City/Highway/Combined) for the 5-speed manual and 25/33/28 for the CVT. On my mixed commute I averaged 29.4MPG over 475 miles of mixed driving, 0-60 testing and soft-road shenanigans.

The three-pedal XV makes the power reduction seem more obvious while the CVT’s infinite ratios help mask the loss in power more than you might think. While AWD is standard, the AWD system is different on manual and automatic models. The 5-speed is mated to a mechanical viscus center coupling that can neither be fully coupled or uncoupled allowing a torque split range from 80/20 to 20/80 (front/rear) and normally apportions power 50/50. The CVT uses an electronically controlled multi-plate clutch pack to apportion power 60/40 under normal circumstances with the ability to completely lock when wheels slip, or when the car’s computer feels like it.


Jack anything up three inches and handling will suffer, even an Impreza. Fortunately, the XV is unusually light at 3,164lbs. In a sea of overweight crossovers, this helps the XV feel more nimble than the usual suspects but it does taker a toll on ride quality with the XV feeling less “polished” than the Outback or the heavier small-CUV competition. On the downside, a light vehicle can sometimes feel cheap, and the XV’s noisy cabin doesn’t help. Being pragmatic, I would rather spend the money on a robust AWD system than sound insulation, but on long trips the noise can be tiresome. Despite the robust AWD system and boxer engine, the XV cuts a very tight rug with 34.8 foot turning radius, something important when you’re trekking off the beaten path.

In general journalists despise CVTs but this is a hatred I have never fully understood. On my daily commute I climb a 2,200ft mountain pass, a perfect demonstration of how CVTs make less powerful cars more drivable. Cars with a typical automatic suffer from the slow down, downshift, speed up, upshift, slow down, rinse, repeat problem on steep mountain passes while CVTs maintain a constant speed and vary the engine RPM as required. Yes, the 2.0L boxer engine is vibration free but unpleasant sounding and the CVT has an uncanny ability to keep the engine at the most annoying harmonic. Even so, if given the choice I would take the CVT over a 6-speed automatic on an engine this small. Bolt a turbo to the 2.0 and I’d want the 6-speed slushbox. Speaking of speeds, all CVT equipped models come with sexy shift paddles that attempt to mimic an automatic transmission but the shifts from one ratio to another feel mushy and slow.

Designed to carve unpaved corners on weekends and paved corners on weekdays you’ll find an inherent compromise in every corner. On true dirt roads, the street rubber (Yokohama Geolander H/T G95A) lacks lateral grip allowing the rear of the XV to feel a little light (in a fun sort of way) and on pavement the tall springs allow the body to roll more than a traditional wagon shopper might expect. Despite the lean, the XV never lost its composure even when pressed to 9/10ths, a place few owners will take their granola-hauler. The always-on nature of Subaru’s AWD system makes the XV feel more confidant off-road than the sip-and-grip systems found on the competition, but there is less of a difference on road. Back on the asphalt, most of the competitor’s systems allow partial lock-up from a standstill thanks to improved electronic systems and honestly the difference in snow performance for most driving conditions is going to be fairly small.

For some reason we expect SUVs and CUVs to deliver a less exciting driving dynamic but we expect wagons to handle like sedans with a tailgate. If that describes you, the XV will disappoint. If however you’re looking for the utility of a crossover with better road manners and a low center of gravity, the XV delivers in spades. There’s just one problem: Subaru’s new Forester is the same price and staring at you from across the Subaru dealer’s lot.

Hit it

  • Subaru AWD reputation.
  • Well priced and well equipped base model.
  • I’ve always been a fan of CVTs for hill climbing.

Quit it

  • Black wheels.
  • The lack of gadgets, gizmos and options is a bummer for my inner nerd.
  • The cabin is noisier than most small crossovers.
  • Not everyone loves CVTs as much as I do.


Subaru provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review

Specifications as tested

0-30: 3.3 Seconds

0-60: 8.7 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 16.8 Seconds @ 81.5 MPH

Average Fuel Economy: 29.4 MPG over 475 miles

2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek, Exterior, Front 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek, Exterior, Front 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek, Exterior, Front, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek, Exterior, Rear, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek, Exterior, Rear, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek, Exterior, Rear, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek, Exterior, Rear 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek, Exterior, Side, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek, Exterior, Front, Picture Couretsy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek, Exterior, XV Badging, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek, Drivetrain, 2.0L Boxer Engine, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek, Drivetrain, 2.0L Boxer Engine, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek, Drivetrain, 2.0L Boxer Engine, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek, Interior, Gauges, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek, Interior, Infotainment, Navigation System, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek, Interior, Infotainment Nav System, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek, Interior, HVAC Controls, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek, Interior, Dashboard Trip Computer, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek, Interior, Dashboard and Seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek, Interior, Dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek, Interior, Dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek, Interior, Dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek, Interior, Rear Seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek, Interior, Rear Seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek, Interior, Front Seat Controls, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek, Interior, rear door sills, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek, Interior, Cargo Area, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek, Interior, Cargo Area, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek, Interior, Rear Seats Folded, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek, Exterior, Front 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]> 63
Review: Rental Legacy, By Subaru. A Future Writer Story Sun, 17 Feb 2013 12:33:31 +0000

It’s double feature Sunday: Can TTAC’s Future Writers master the tough job of a car review? During Future Writers Week, you chose the writers you want to see again on TTAC. Here is today’s second Future Writer car review. Do you like it? Do tell.

Sometimes the demographic stereotypes for particular car buyers exist for a reason. Being a current legal student that first graduated from that big Colorado university in the People’s Republic of Boulder and will almost certainly become the basic “yuppie”, Subarus have held some appeal to me. The idea of a rugged, capable, different family sedan has piqued my interest for awhile; I nearly purchased a used Subaru several years back, settling on a Volvo when I decided that the comfortable box would be a far greater companion on cross-country drives than the quirky, boxer-engined Subie. However, much of the automotive industry has been on a course of bland convergence since the late-nineties production of both of those vehicles; for Volvos that has meant the demise of the canal-boat-esque 5 cylinder sans turbo found in my old S70, but what does it mean for the Subaru Legacy? Are my stereotypes of Subaru outdated, or should I join the ranks of ex-Boulderites who slowly toil around in a stick-shift Legacy? For better or worse, an impending snow storm in Vail appeared to put a wrench in my cheapo rental car plans for my head-clearing pre-law school semester trip, and Enterprise Rent-A-Car responded with a 7500-mile Subaru Legacy.


Subaru seems to have done something quite incredible with the new Legacy: they managed to make it very ugly but managed to keep it completely anonymous. The front end is simply too busy, with the bottom bumper from a Ford Focus and the ungainly headlights cribbed from a children’s nightmare.

The center grill seems to have tried to emulate the much-maligned grill from recent Acuras, but gave up before meeting the hood. The center box is more appealing, with the rather clean lines even possibly indicative of sporting pretensions, but is still rather forgettable, stemming from wheel arches that everyone and their mother puts on cars these days (I’m looking at you, E90 3-series). The rear end either isn’t noticeable from angles beyond 45 degrees, or looks like a bad adaptation of a rear clip from a copyright-friendly Grand Theft Auto vehicle. Either way, initial impressions were weak, with the Toyota Camry parked next to the Legacy in the rental lot being both better proportioned and more attractive in general; this would become a comparison that would ring with increasing volume in my ears throughout my four day Colorado journey, but more on that later.


I remember getting into a 2012 Kia Sportage and thinking “wow, this is almost there”. Were previous Subarus as dreary inside as the Koreans used to be, I would have had a similar impression with the Legacy; unfortunately, the new car represents a considerable step back in interior build quality. The materials are at best equal to modern Kias, which still tend to be a bit worse than their competition. The Camry in comparison? Still mediocre for the class, but overall more solid and up-to-date than the Legacy. Late model Fords? If you have to ask, then you lack both sight and feel. At least the Legacy is fairly roomy, seeming larger inside than the Camry but if all one cares about is interior space, Chevrolet will be happy to sell you an Impala.

Driving Experience:

After an underwhelming impression on the rental car lot, I would like to say that the Subaru and I had a weekend of bonding, but saying that Pakistan has secure borders would be a more accurate statement. Let’s start with the positive: the Subaru has, despite fairly numb feel, quick steering. Turning into parking lots can be a bit of a laugh, as the quickness of turn-in can allow speeds that cause pedestrians to jump in fright. Exiting that parking lot, however, and the driver enters a world of problems. The power-train, for lack of a more descriptive term, is genuinely awful. The engine is surprisingly slow and hesitant to rev, but it is unlikely that you’ll notice due to how lackluster the CVT transmission is.

To be honest, I have a distinct hatred for CVTs; the unrelenting noise and unnatural feel alone would keep me from ever purchasing one new. I thought the CVT in the Toyota Prius was bad, but anyone who drives a Legacy will be in store for something on another level. The CVT attempts to simulate gears, but simply flat out fails in its mission. When accelerating to 35 from a stop one of two things will happen: either the car will sit at around 3000 rpm and then the revs will completely fall off as it finds another “gear”, and then you’ll start to slow down; or, the care will sit at 3000 rpm and then fail to find said theoretical gear, and then wind down with a noise so vile that the other passengers will begin to laugh.

Other faults? The wind noise is loud, the handbrake can only be disengaged while in drive, the AWD system is dodgy, the ride isn’t composed, and the MPG +/- gauge (which directly correlates to pedal travel, utterly useless) that replaces the coolant gauge becomes a minor disaster when the car begins to overheat (which it will on a spirited drive from Denver to Vail). Although I didn’t track MPG usage for my trip, as with my driving style it would be pointless, the vehicle indicated an overall 27 MPG, which is…acceptable. It is quite sad to say, but if one needs a roomy, AWD sedan, they would be much better served by the used Subaru I passed on years ago. After a long weekend, even I was surprised by the terribleness of the Legacy; to answer my original question of if I should join the ranks of the Boulder Subaru mafia with this entry, the answer is a resounding “no”.

Will Simonsick is a first year law student at Marquette University in Milwaukee, WI. Over the past five years, he has lived in Philadelphia, Boulder, and Brussels, Belgium, and will be spending the summer outside of Frankfurt, Germany. Family rumor has it that his first word was Chevy. He is currently living in automotive purgatory in a hand-me-down Toyota Prius second generation, remaining wistful for his previous Volvo and W-body Chevrolet.

Note: There is a poll embedded within this post, please visit the site to participate in this post's poll. ]]> 91
Review: 1968 Subaru 360, Owned By Lexus LFA Engineer Thu, 07 Jun 2012 13:33:07 +0000 “Don’t shift!!!!”

I will hear this many times today.

In the many underpowered cars that I had driven up a hill, around a bend, or towards an intersection, a well-meaning friend, instructor, or authority figure in the seat next to me inevitably yelled: “Shift!!”  This was to entice me to stir the stick, and to keep me from killing the engine either outright or in a frenzied over-rev.

This time, it is different. I am in Japan, and I sit in Japan’s first kei-car, a Summer-of-Love generation 1968 Subaru 360. Next to me sits his owner, Chiharu Tamura, and he shouts “don’t shift!!”

Tamura bought this car 4 years ago, for 250,000 yen, which converts to $3,147. Helped by an obscenely high yen, this car is a residual value miracle. When the first 360s were exported to the U.S. in 1961, the price was $1,297. Despite the bargain basement price, the car flopped. It was one of the many disasters brought to us by Malcolm Bricklin, except that his Yugo sold much better – initially. If people would have bought this car instead of the wretched Yugo, they would have doubled their money today.

A Subaru 360 is a car you would not expect from a Chiharu Tamura.

Tamura-san is Deputy Chief Engineer of the Lexus LFA, the $375,000 supercar that shifts effortlessly in 200ms through each of its 6 gears.  The Subaru delivers 20 hp, the LFA at work has 560.

“This car got 66 mpg – in the sixties,” Tamura says. “The secret to high mileage is low weight.”

I need to be very careful with the gears, No-Shift-Tamura keeps telling me. The shift pattern is a simple H. Reverse and First on the left, 2nd and 3rd on the right, that’s it.

Turning into a scenic overlook on our tour, I want to shift into First. Immediately, I am confronted with a now familiar, but this time very forceful “DON’T SHIFT!!!!” This time, don’t shift at all.

First gear has no synchromesh, I am told.

“No problem!” I shout, “I know that from the old Bug!” I go out of gear and into Neutral, pop the clutch, tap the gas, “wrrmmm-brmmm,” and …

“NO SHIFT!!!!” Tamura whispers with a pained look and a hand on the shifter.

I learn that this Subie likes its unsychronized first gear engaged only from a dead stop. While driving, there is a choice of Second and Third, and only with an ichi – ni –san  three-second intermediate pause in Neutral. There is no, zettai iranai shifting from Second into First. Wakarimashita ka?

If Ray LaHood reads this, he will demand that little Subaru for every American – it definitely demands totally undistracted driving. And the transmission must be made from tofu.

This is Japan where they drive on the left and sit on the right. To the left of me on the transmission tunnel are three levers with letters.

The C is the choke. Remember what a choke is for, and your will date yourself. This lever C aids the start of the little 2-cycle engine. When it’s  cold, you slowly feed it back into position while the engine warms up, and you do that with an ear on the engine. When the weather is balmy, as it is now, I simply move the choke back after it has done its job.

The H lever turns the heat on. The engine is air-cooled, and the heat works similarly as that in the VW Bug.

One exception: The heat adjustment is under my seat, somewhere. Did I mention that this car needs your undivided attention?

The F lever  cuts the fuel off. The Subie has no gasoline pump, the fuel is gravity-fed. If you let the car sit with the line open, you end up with a flooded carburetor, or possibly a puddle under the car. To avoid this, pull the effing F lever.

Tamura’s Subaru was a high-grade trim: It had a radio. Car reviewers who love to bitch about the “seas of hard plastic” will have no gripes with this car: The top of the mostly metal dash is covered in a minor pond of vinyl. A little Armor All®, and the naugahyde will stay soft and supple.The GPS is a recent addition.

This is the dreaded shaken sticker, next inspection by May 2013 – living proof that even a car that is 44 years old can pass –  as long as the owner is the engineer of a supercar. This car passed without seatbelts. It didn’t have any when new, it won’t have any when old.

Entering the car through its suicide doors requires the abilities of a contortion artist for a man of my heft.

As we change positions, skinny Tamura slides in effortlessly. Tamura is from a generation where men were men and women were women.

“This car is fine for two Japanese men in front and their women in the back,” Tamura says, and his shift hand bangs into the wallet in my pants.

Tamura drives the Subie only on weekends, I hear.

“So, what do you drive to work, Tamura-san?”

“My bicycle.”

If you can build the world’s most powerful car, you won’t need to buy one anymore, I guess.

Tamura Subaru 360-01- Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Tamura Subaru 360-02- Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Tamura Subaru 360-03- Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Tamura Subaru 360-04- Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Tamura Subaru 360-05- Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Tamura Subaru 360-06- Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Tamura Subaru 360-07- Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Tamura Subaru 360-08- Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Tamura Subaru 360-09- Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Tamura Subaru 360-10- Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Tamura Subaru 360-11- Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Tamura Subaru 360-12- Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Tamura Subaru 360-13- Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Tamura Subaru 360-14- Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Tamura Subaru 360-15- Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt ]]> 58
Capsule Review: 2012 Subaru Impreza Sport 5-Door Thu, 29 Mar 2012 15:51:09 +0000

Its squat boxer architecture meant a low centre of gravity, and by building in a low rate of roll and very little offset or castor in the MacPherson strut front suspension, the handling was truly revelatory, refreshingly neutral with precise steering…endlessly chuckable. [They]…were willing rather than fast, and there was more grip than the boxer engine…could ever hope to exploit…away from straight roads it still took a genuinely quick car to catch one.

Does this sound like a review of the 2012 Subaru Impreza? You may be surprised to read that the words here describe a car from a completely different country, with a culture and ethos that couldn’t be more different – but a car that may be the spiritual predecessor to the Impreza.

That quote, despite being hacked up to remove identifying details, is from Evo magazine’s retrospective on the Alfa Romeo Alfasud. The Alfasud was a scrappy little hatchback, powered by a fairly impotent boxer engine that was regarded as a supremely fun car with somewhat spotty build quality. Sound familiar?

Unlike the high-end, leather-clad sedan driven by Michael, my tester was a 5-speed hatch and the cabin was decidedly barebones. Black fabric covered the seats and the dash was also adorned in a dark, dour plastic. Subaru interiors have never been spectacular, but this car took it to new levels – while looking for the hood release, I managed to grab a handful of loose dashboard plastic that had a few inches of play to wiggle around. Unfortunately, my camera’s memory card corrupted, but Brendan’s preview drive has pictures of the exact same interior (minus the errant dash trim pieces, hopefully). The Impreza’s seats were too flat and firm for my liking, but the driving position itself is refreshingly old school. You can actually see that the hood exists, and you sit lower than most pseudo-CUV compacts these days.

Subaru decided to trim some weight out of the car in an effort to improve fuel economy (apparently they cut nearly 200 lbs from the car, which makes me wonder how it got so bloated in the first place), but the trade-off is less power compared to the outgoing model. The 2.0L boxer now puts out 148 horsepower and 145 lb-ft, and this tester came with the 5-speed manual gearbox, a rubbery, notchy unit that continues the Subaru tradition of building rubbery, notchy-feeling transmissions.

Any fears that this car would be a watered-down, slowpoke, mass market version of the old Impreza are immediately put to bed once the road opens up and John Law is absent from your rearview mirror. The steering is well-weighted, though hardly a paragon of feel or feedback. But the growl of the boxer is intoxicating, and the chassis communicates so well, it was probably tuned by a marriage counselor. Hit an on ramp in third gear and let the boxer get to its sweet spot around 4,000 RPM and the Impreza is absolutely tenacious, with endless grip allowing it to slingshot out of the corners. Oddly,the brake override system mentioned by Brendan didn’t make itself known during heel-toe downshifts, with chunky winter boots being the biggest obstacle. In a straight line, it’s no speed demon, but let the boxer wind up for just a second and the power is more than adequate for passing trucks or merging on to freeways.Compared to the Mazda3 SkyActiv or the Ford Focus, the boxer feels more robust, but only instrumented testing will determine that conclusively. All that driving yielded 24 mpg in mixed driving – poorer than Michael’s CVT equipped sedan got, but understandable given the chunky Bridgestone Blizzaks (10 percent poorer fuel economy right off the bat), the cold temperatures and the, ahem, spirited driving that the Impreza encourages.

Around town, the main drawback is the firm, unsettled ride. Even though Toronto’s roads are a tough test for any car, the Focus and Cruze feel much more composed than the Scoob, perhaps a trade-off made in the name of driving dynamics. The stereo system could also use a major overhaul, frequently sounding tinny and washed out. The hatchback bodystyle and compact footprint make it great for darting in and out of traffic, and rear seat room is fine for four average sized adults. The Impreza would be a very easy car to live with every day, but then, what current compact isn’t?

Canadian trim levels differ slightly, with the American equivalent of this car being the $20,295 (plus $750 destination) Impreza Sport Premium 5-door with the 5-speed manual. In Canada, the 5-door Sport costs $24,795 plus $1,695 for “Freight and Pre-Delivery Inspection” (our version of freight). So, $26,490 PLUS another $3,443.70 in sales taxes. Nevertheless, Subarus have a loyal following across the country. Independent analyst Timothy Cain’s sales figures for Canada shows that Impreza sales, year over year, are up a fair amount. People here are willing to pay for all-wheel drive, in a hatchback body style, and with Subaru dealers setting up shop in far-flung rural areas a few hundred kilometers away from major urban centers, the brand has established a foothold in snow-ridden areas similar to their strategy in New England. The faithful won’t be disappointed by these new revisions, but other consumers will have to ask themselves whether the higher cost of entry and reduced levels of refinement are worth it to get all-wheel drive, superb handling and the unique character not available anywhere else.

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Review: 2012 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Limited Sat, 28 Jan 2012 18:15:05 +0000

Some cars appeal to the head. Others to the heart. Judging from the marketing pitches that festooned the corporate-owned, dealer-supplied 2012 Impreza, Subaru hopes the redesigned compact will appeal to both. On the rear bumper: “The most fuel efficient All-Wheel Drive car in America at 36 MPG.” And on each front door: “Experience love that lasts.”* Will the Impreza truly “love you long time”? We went on a date to find out.

The Impreza certainly isn’t a one-night-stand sort of car, especially not when dressed in virginal white. You’re not going to lock eyes across a crowded parking lot, because you’re not going to notice it in a crowded parking lot. There’s no risk of hot-blooded lust, doomed to burn quickly but briefly. Like those of the larger Legacy it resembles, the new Impreza’s lines could have been penned by engineers. Elements that attempt to inject some character, most notably the ultra-wide bi-centric wheel arches, instead come off as clunky.

The new Impreza’s interior styling is similarly conservative to a fault. The curves that bounded across the previous Impreza’s instrument panel? Gone. Some of the materials might be a step up from the previous generation, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at them. Compared to a Ford Focus or even a Hyundai Elantra, my eyes see an appliance, and a dated one at that. Any chance the Limited’s leather seats had of suggesting luxury is obliterated by the dollar store center console and lower door panels that flank them. The black interior that attends four exterior colors, including a lusty red, should help. Beige (mandatory with the other four colors) rarely does an affordably priced car any favors.

Yet, if functionality was the predominant priority, why are the rocker switches for the heated seats located beneath your elbow? A mere afterthought, or did some human factors engineer thinking a bit far outside the box decide that this would make for one-stop-shopping when buckling up? Latch the belt and turn on the seat heater, all in one quick motion! Warm the buns of your partner while you’re at it!

Like VW, Subaru has figured out that a roomy rear seat sells cars. The new Impreza remains about the same size as the old one on the outside, yet there are a couple more inches of rear leg room on the inside. A 2005-2009 Legacy was a tighter fit. Just don’t expect adult passengers to feel much love from the rear seat on long trips: like many, its cushion is mounted too low.

So, after sampling the charms of the exterior and interior, love hasn’t bitten. Perhaps it’s the driving experience? The car’s priorities aren’t promising, as the list appears to have been headed by fuel economy, rarely a Subaru strong suit in the past. To this end, curb weight has been reduced nearly two hundred pounds, to under 3,000. Doesn’t seem light for a compact sedan? Recall that a couple hundred pounds of symmetrical all-wheel-drive goodness is standard in all Subarus…for a few more months. With less weight to motivate, fewer cc’s are required. Last year’s 170-horsepower SOHC 2.5-liter flat four-cylinder engine has been replaced by an all-new DOHC 148-horsepower 2.0-liter boxer. A five-speed manual remains standard, but those who aren’t turned on by a third pedal now get a CVT instead of an antiquated four-speed automatic. The CVT’s wider ratio spread and ability to keep the engine in its sweet spot make for decent acceleration. It’s not quick, but it’s not slow, either. A larger concern: the engine is loud, and its buzz resembles that of a garden variety inline four rather than the oddly appealing burble of a boxer. Your ears won’t find this engine’s sweet spot very sweet. The rubber band effect typical of CVTs is present, but can be avoided by employing the paddles to shift among six fixed ratios. The touted fuel economy: EPA numbers of 27 city and 36 highway, way up from the 2011’s 20/27. The trip computer reported high 20s when I cruised through suburbia with a light foot, low 20s when I got jiggy with it.

Just when all chances of love seem lost, there’s the chassis. The steering provides only modest feedback, but the seat makes up for it. The chassis tells you what it will do for you, and then does it with commendable balance, poise, and agility—that low curb weight paying some clear dividends. The all-wheel-drive system might also deserve some credit, though it’s not being called upon to manage much torque. The Imprezza’s intuitive handling makes it very easy to drive quickly and confidently along a curvy road. I enjoyed driving it far more than its specs and appearance led me to expect.

The flip side of the low weight and communicative chassis: a noisy, at times jiggly ride. Like VW and Toyota, Subaru has placed a bet opposite that of Chevrolet, Ford, and Dodge. If you’re seeking a premium feel in a $20,000 car, look elsewhere.

A base 2.0i with the manual transmission starts at $18,245. The 2.0i Limited with its mandatory CVT: $22,345. If you don’t want all-wheel-drive in your compact sedan, you’ll likely buy a different one. If you do, you have a choice between the Impreza and a slightly larger (but no roomier) Suzuki Kizashi. With a quarter-ton more curb weight to enfeeble a 180-horsepower, 2.4-liter engine, the Suzuki’s no quicker but manages only 23 / 30 in the EPA’s tests. In SE trim with leather, it lists for $26,014. Adjusting for the Kizashi’s additional amenities using TrueDelta’s car price comparison tool reduces the gap by $900, but even then there’s a nearly $2,500 difference. While one of the buff books fell in love with the Kizashi in a few days (as touted on Suzuki’s home page), car buyers still haven’t after a few years. There’s likely to be serious cash on that hood—if you can find a dealer with a pulse. Actual transaction prices won’t be so far apart.

[Update: A reader informs us that Mitsubishi recently started offering a non-turbo Lancer with AWD. At $20,990, the 168-horse, 22/29 MPG Lancer SE is priced VERY close to a similarly-equipped Impreza (Premium 2.0i, $21,045 with All-Weather Package). But you're more likely to find rebates and discounts on the Mitsubishi--if you can find a Mitsubishi dealer.]

So the Subaru wins the battle for the head. But the numbers aren’t everything. What about love? Both the Impreza and Kizashi claim to offer it. If you’re turned on by style and refinement, then you’re much more likely to find love in the Suzuki. The way the new Subaru looks, sounds, and feels recalls old style “penalty box” small cars just a bit too much. But if you’re seeking a chassis that talks to you, and that’s a willing dance partner, then the Impreza delivers. A quiet love, perhaps, but they did promise it in small lettering.

*Before you run out and similarly adorn your ride, be warned that Subaru has likely trademarked the phrase for automotive applications.

Dwyer Subaru in West Bloomfield, MI, provided the car. They can be reached at (248) 624-0400.

Michael Karesh operates, an online provider of car reliability and real-world fuel economy information.

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Review: 2012 Subaru Impreza Fri, 09 Dec 2011 16:18:31 +0000 It’s the particularly unpleasant sort of weather that Vancouver does best: temperature hovering just above zero degrees socialist, wind whipping a smirr of fine rain up and around uselessly flapping umbrellas and directly into your unprotected earhole, an all-pervading dampness seeping up from the puddled sidewalk and penetrating to the very bone. “Beautiful BC” my chilly posterior; today’s as cold and wet as a Beluga’s swim trunks.

Then again, it’s also perfect weather for testing out a new Subaru.

I’m an early arrival to this event, having popped downtown on public transit past the expected snarls of traffic, and so walk into a nearly empty press room. The usual assortment of items is laid out on the table (if I ever decide to open a lanyard n’ thumb-drive emporium, I’ve got at least a year’s worth of stock) along with a Subaru-branded toque.

A toque. How appropriate.

And how telling. During the power-point presentation, we’re shown a picture of a enormous Subaru badge mostly obscuring a silver previous-gen Impreza sedan. Besides the relief of not having to look at the carved-from-a-bar-of-Lever-2000 shape of last year’s Subie, there’s a message here.

The PR folks explain: Subaru is a brand with strong associations. Mention it and the image immediately springs to mind of a Forester with two kayaks strapped to the roof and interior perfume by wet golden retriever. Either that, or some mud-caked, flared-out STi, flinging quad-roostertails of gravel as it pop-pop-pops through the sharp turns of a forest stage, sandblasting the spots off Bambi and giving Thumper tinnitus.

Impreza? Oh, that’s the cheapest one they make. It’s sturdy, and utilitarian, and about as sexy as a tarp. It’s not particularly efficient or stylish, but those are the penalties you pay if want a small, all-wheel-drive car.

Not any more, so sayeth the Subaru sages. It’s time for the WRX/STi line to get a divorce from the Impreza, freeing the smallest Subie to be lightened and dialled in for normally-aspirated fuel economy. What’s more, it’s also time to shift design – and perception – away from “rugged” to “urban”, and by doing so, hopefully onto more small-car buyer’s shopping lists.

From a styling perspective, the Impreza is already a triumph. Discounting the rally special WRXs – box flares and hoodscoops can be a kind of stylistic panacea – there’ve been about four good-looking Subarus ever: this new Impreza is one of them.

Side-by-side with the old model, the sharp, angular lines of the Impreza go beyond “a breath of fresh air.” Front headlights have a touch of Dragonball-Z anime about them, and the Impreza wears the new corporate creases much better than the slab-sided Legacy. The multi-spoke 17” wheels of this Sport package look great, but are sure to be a huge pain in the ass to clean.

Other than that, few of the styling improvements seem to have generated compromises. Just look at the comparative size of the greenhouses in both cars. While the larger, highly-raked windshield is immediately apparent, you can also see that the belt-line’s come down somewhat, improving visibility. The big fix at the rear is, of course, getting rid of those ghastly clear tail-lights – and dig that rear spoiler – but blindspots haven’t really increased.

Inside, the cabin’s also much better. It’s a conservative layout, but quite pleasant, and the amount of soft-touch plastic has quintupled. I particularly liked the boiled-sweet appearance of the park-anywhere button and the chunky dials on the HVAC controls seem designed for easy use by gloved hands. Seats are comfier too, if perhaps not overly bolstered.

Of course, there’s still plenty of room for interior improvement – this is a Subaru after all. The tiny switchgear for the heated seats is crammed just aft of the emergency brake and tricky to use. The stereo is the old double-DIN setup, and while there’s iPod connectivity, it’s not exactly powerful – I didn’t have a chance to try out the Pioneer audio upgrade. The Multi-Function display with the AWD use read-out (put me in mind of the old XT6) is a bit of fun, but it doesn’t display iPod functions.

Cargo-wise, the hatchback takes top bill-of-lading, with seats folding mostly-flat and transforming your Impreza into a gravel-ready moving van. Better yet, both sedan and 5-door have increased rear leg room from the mildly stretched wheel-base, and the rear door openings are also larger. Fans of wind-noise-inducing frameless windows will probably want to buy a CD of didgeridoo music or something.

Anyone who’s ever tried to cram a rear-facing child-seat in the back of an older Impreza will doubtless appreciate the bigger rear portals, as well as the increased boot-space in both the sedan and hatchback variants. Subaru showed a display featuring three golfbags fitting upright in the back; fair enough, but they more usefully could have provided us with one of those enormous running strollers that are like a sand rail with handlebars. However, a quick eyeball test indicates such monstrosities should fit.

Of the dozen vehicles available for testing, only one had a manual transmission. In the interests of research and science, I Occupied it – everyone else was clustered around for show and tell on the display model.

Here’s what you need to know about the new Impreza in terms of performance: the new, long-stroke, timing-chain-driven 2.0L boxer engine has less power than the old 2.5 lump (down from 170hp to 148hp), but the new chassis is slightly stronger and lighter (by 165lbs). It is also slower than the outgoing model – at least in a straight-line.

Subaru makes a big deal about the CVT-equipped car being actually slightly quicker to 60mph than the automatic-equipped ’11, but let’s face it, the antediluvian 4EAT 4-speed wasn’t doing the previous-gen any accelerative favours. I think that thing was originally developed for use in Hannibal’s Alp-crossing four-wheel-drive elephants.

With the 5-speed manual – tweaked for fuel economy with a taller top gear – you notice the decreased low-end power immediately. Is it a problem? Not really.

It took a little time to get out of the city and onto the leaf-littered and sodden streets that run through the far Western part of West Vancouver. These are narrow little capilliaries, twisting and turning up and down the hilly coastline, looking like somebody spilled vermicelli on the map.

The Mazda3 is the current benchmark for fun-to-drive in the compact segment, right? Well, with this new Impreza, that should hold true right up until it rains.

On these wet and winding roads, this little car is an absolute gem. The steering is heavy and direct. The grip from the all-wheel-drive is phenomenal. New, fatter anti-roll bars do their job, and while I can’t claim to feel the extra bite of having disc brakes at all four corners now, the Impreza stops just fine.

Torque is a bit low, but it’s not a bother to continually shift gears to keep things on the boil. This is essentially the same transmission as the old Impreza, but it has a decent shifter feel. Cost may be an issue here, but a 6-speed with closer ratios would be better, given the very moderate power. Also, heel-and-toers take note: you can rev-match your downshifts, but a new brake-override system is going to trip up fancy footwork.

The little 2.0L lacks the lumpy character of the 2.5L, but it’s got a gruff little growl to remind you it’s a boxer, and as such, it’s fun to wring it out a little. Having said that, you will find yourself wishing for more power, but it’s only because the Impreza is so well-composed: it sticks and sticks and sticks and then very slightly washes wide.

Stepping out of the stick-shift and into a CVT-equipped Impreza, things get a little less sporting, but remain good overall. A continuously terrible transmission is never going to be the enthusiast’s choice, but banish all thoughts of the hair-scrunchie-driveline Justy from your head: Subaru’s Lineartronic CVT is actually quite good.

As there isn’t much twist below 4k from the 2.0L boxer engine (145lb/ft at 4200rpm), ascending one of the local mountains in the CVT-equipped car meant that four thousand revs was where we were hanging out. However, during stop-and-go driving, the CVT was smooth and well-behaved, and the paddle-shifters were actually a bit of fun. Not that it’s an objective term, but the car felt less “motorboaty” than the CVT-equipped ’12 Maxima I drove right afterwards.

The real story in the CVT-equipped car was not so much the transmission, which proved perfectly acceptable, but the way it handled the slushy snow we ran into. If Subaru’s 27/36mpg fuel economy figure takes the disadvantage out of AWD, then here’s the advantage: this is still a car that’s happiest when the weather gets poor.

“You’re going too fast for the conditions,” my co-driver admonished me. I backed off, somewhat abashed, but when time came to swap seats, I happened to sneak a peak at the speedo as she ran through the same section downhill – going even faster. PSA: AWD ain’t gonna help you stop with all-seasons, so slow down and use your road-sense, but the lighter, less-powerful Impreza still handles the white stuff like a tank. Make that a Sno-Cat.

Overall, splitting the WRX from the Impreza is a smart move for Subaru. I’d wager there’s not much buyer spillover from the halo effect of the turbo-nutter models anymore: if you can’t swing the payments on a new WRX, you don’t move down to a base-engined Impreza, you start shopping for a used WRX.

And, unlike the whoopsie-daisy 2008 WRX that missed the mainstream mark somewhat, Subaru has managed to add a touch of broad appeal to their small car, while still keeping it alluring to those with the stars of Pleiades in their eyes. In fact, I’m fairly sure one of the local Impreza club members is going to buy one to replace his TSD-rally-scarred ’07 Impreza sedan (he’s got a kid now).

The Subaru faithful will descend on dealerships with their clipboards and check-lists and comparison data, but they’ll inevitably like this little car, and they’ll buy it. More importantly, folks who were looking at a Mazda3, Civic or Focus might find the Impreza showing up on their radar, and if they drive it, they’ll be surprised at how agricultural it’s not.

As for myself, WRX divorce or not, there’s got to be a way to cram a EJ257 in this thing. Hello, Nordstrom? I’m going to need your largest shoe-horn…

Subaru provided the Vehicles tested, insurance, gasoline, some nice sandwiches, and the aforementioned toque which was bloody useful for the cold slog home.

The 2012 Subaru Impreza. Picture courtesy Brendan McAleer The 2012 Subaru Impreza. Picture courtesy Brendan McAleer The 2012 Subaru Impreza. Picture courtesy Brendan McAleer The 2012 Subaru Impreza. Picture courtesy Brendan McAleer The 2012 Subaru Impreza. Picture courtesy Brendan McAleer The 2012 Subaru Impreza. Picture courtesy Brendan McAleer The 2012 Subaru Impreza. Picture courtesy Brendan McAleer The 2012 Subaru Impreza. Picture courtesy Brendan McAleer The 2012 Subaru Impreza. Picture courtesy Brendan McAleer The 2012 Subaru Impreza. Picture courtesy Brendan McAleer The 2012 Subaru Impreza. Picture courtesy Brendan McAleer The 2012 Subaru Impreza. Picture courtesy Brendan McAleer The 2012 Subaru Impreza. Picture courtesy Brendan McAleer The 2012 Subaru Impreza. Picture courtesy Brendan McAleer 2012-Subaru-Impreza-thumb Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]> 99
Review: 2011 Subaru Legacy 3.6R Mon, 18 Oct 2010 19:35:43 +0000

Let’s face it, Subarus used to be strange. When I was a kid, Subaru was in the same category as Volvo, Saab, Sterling and anything from France. Once upon a time, when friends rode in your Subie they were intrigued by its quirks and idiosyncrasies. As time moved on though, everything has become increasingly mainstream. Well, except for the French. To prove the point we hit Subaru up for a 2011 Legacy 3.6 Limited.

When the Legacy arrived on my doorstep, I had trouble picking it out from all the other cars on the street. The usual Subaru styling cues are gone and in their place we have some sexy curves, some hard lines, fender bulges and a subdued grille. Sounds good so far, right? Here’s the problem: the exact same description can be applied to the 2011 Camry and Accord. A week after our Subaru tester returned from whence it came, Subaru started a viral marketing campaign for the Legacy called “2011 Mediocrity” on Facebook and YouTube. The campaign is supposed to be lampooning the Camry, Accord and Fusion, but in the end it becomes one of the most ironic commercials ever made. Why? Because the 2011 Legacy is by far the most mainstream vehicle Subaru has ever produced. Let’s dive in and see just how average the  Subaru can be.

Subaru offers the Legacy in three trim levels: base, Premium and Limited, all of which can be had with two engine options, the 2.5L four-cylinder boxer engine, and the 3.6L six-cylinder boxer provided for our review (there’s also the special 2.5L turbo GT trim for upsizing WRX drivers). The 2.5L four packs 170HP while the 3.6L model provided for our review brings 256HP and 247lb-ft of twist to the party (up from the 245HP and 215lb-ft of last year’s 3.0L six). Compared to the competition these power figures are adequate in a middle-of-the-pack kind of way. While the 2.5L four gets an economy-maximizing CVT, the 3.6L engine has to make do with a 5 speed slush-box which is one cog shy of most of the competition. All boxes  checked thus far.

Once inside the Legacy, it is clear this car’s interior was designed to be profitable at the rental car fleet pricing level. Gone are the soft touch plastics previous generations enjoyed and in their place are plastics that look good but feel cheap. Also from the bargain price bin is some of the worst faux wood this side of Chrysler’s K cars. Seriously Subie, who’d you think you were fauxin? Rounding out the mixed bag interior is quite possibly the best almost-metal trim I have seen. Not only does the faux metal fool you, but it seduces you into caressing it on the steering wheel and centre console, yielding satisfying tactile feedback. It’s a pity Subaru didn’t use the same material in the place of the never-seen-a-forest fake wood.

Proving that Subaru knows how to make a vehicle for the average Joe, the fit and finish of the interior is on par with what I expect from GM: haphazard. Adding insult to haptic injury is the feature list of the lesser Legacys (Legacies?). In a world where even Kias come standard with Bluetooth, Subaru makes you either step up to the Limited trim-line or cough up $2290 for the up-level audio package in Premium trim to get the speakerphone. Oddly, Bluetooth isn’t even offered in base models and the same goes for iPod/USB connectivity.

I’d like to say that everything brightens when you turn the Legacy’s key and get out on the highway, but I’d be lying. Gone are the semi-athletic adjectives you could use to describe Subarus of yore. Ten years ago, AWD was an intriguing novelty in a mass-market sedan. Today, an AWD sedan faces more competition and offers less “aint-it-cool” power. For the average person driving the average mid-size sedan, the AWD system of choice really doesn’t matter either. Yes the Symmetrical AWD system Subaru uses is without a doubt superior in terms of feel and function to the Haldex sip-and-grip systems Ford uses, but does Joe-six-pack care? Probably not.

Out on the road the feelings of average continue. Steering feel is slightly numb, road feel is isolated, acceleration to 60 happens in 7 seconds flat and the car stops like your average family hauler. I had hoped for a bit more driving wasabi, but all I ended up getting was vanilla pudding. And the end of the day, the 2011 Legacy drives just like I would expect an AWD Camry to drive, which makes sense because passengers frequently confused the Subaru for a Camry. The only thing unusual about the Legacy these days beats under the hood: the horizontally opposed engines ala Porsche. Sadly when it comes to weight distribution, handling, performance, smoothness, etc. the engine layout no longer provides much benefit compared to the competition. The proof is in that vanilla pudding: in the twisties, the AWD Fusion feels much more planted; much more in-tune with the road than this new Legacy. Sure the Legacy is bigger, but stacked up against the much heavier AWD Ford Taurus, the Legacy still feels heavy and soft despite gaining only 50lbs over the 2009 Legacy.

The 3.6L Legacy’s brother the 2.5 GT is the very proof that Subaru is shooting for the mainstream. The 2.5 GT not only feels better on the road, but with a 0-60 time of 5.6 seconds, it’s significantly quicker as well. Sadly Subaru thought Americans wanted more cylinders instead of more power so the 2.5GT remains a niche model available only with a 6 speed manual transmission. You’d think that the 3.6L would be smoother than the 2.5L turbo 4, but you’d be wrong. You’d think it would sound better, but you’d be wrong again. You’d pray that it would get better fuel economy, but you’d be left wanting.

At $30,015 as equipped, the Subaru Legacy proves that Subaru is capable of giving the American public exactly what they were asking for: a Camry with AWD. You can’t go wrong with putting a Legacy in your garage, especially if you live in the snow-belt, just don’t expect to feel too special behind the wheel. Subaru’s legacy is a company that made quirky vehicles that handled well and stuck out in a crowd, their future appears to be higher sales figures, more profit and mainstream America suited products. How average is that?

Readers who are following TTAC on Facebook were given the opportunity to ask reader questions of the Subaru Legacy. If you would like to ask questions of car reviews in progress, or just follow TTAC, checkout our facebook page. FB fans, here are your answers: Samir S: yes, thankfully it comes in other colors. Dan V: I feel your pain; it’s all about mass-market appeal. Marlon H: Probably not. Brian C: The auto doesn’t hunt as much as it used to. Patrick C: I thought about trying but honestly got too bored. Megan B: I’m sure you know the answer to your first question, second question is yes you can put a rearward facing child seat in the back with a normal-sized human in front. Bill H: Catching air is against the press car loan agreement, sorry.

Subaru provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.

IMG_0590 IMG_0593 IMG_0579 IMG_0583 IMG_0585 IMG_0586 IMG_0582 Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail IMG_0580 IMG_0592 IMG_0591 IMG_0588 A graduate of the Camry academy? (All photos courtesy: Alex Dykes) IMG_0578 IMG_0587 IMG_0584

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Review: 2010 Subaru Legacy GT Fri, 30 Jul 2010 16:32:24 +0000

When Subaru introduced the 2005 Legacy GT wagon with a turbocharged flat four, all-wheel-drive, and a manual transmission, it went straight to the short list of cars I’d buy…if I was buying a car. But I wasn’t buying a car. Apparently there were too many like me, for Subaru discontinued the manual transmission the following year, then dropped the Legacy wagon altogether with the 2008s. With the 2010 redesign of the Legacy, Subaru appears to be giving the GT incarnation one last shot. While other Legacies and Outbacks are powered by naturally aspirated fours and sixes, the GT retains the turbo four—and is available only with a six-speed manual transmission. Clearly it was developed for enthusiasts. But will enough enthusiasts return the favor? Should they?

Historically, Subarus have been aesthetically challenged. Handsomely proportioned, clean-to-a-fault designs like that of the 2005-2009 Legacy have been the rare exception rather than the rule. With a hunchback profile dictated by packaging considerations and fussy fender flares that fail to disguise the slabsidedness of the bodysides, the 2010 is no such exception. Some of that old Subaru quirkiness might have redeemed this exterior. But, perhaps still fearing Farago’s pen, it’s just homely.

The interior is a little easier on the eyes, though it might set a record for square inches of silver plastic. Faux timber doesn’t exactly scream “GT,” but together with the leather upholstery it does lend the car a more upscale ambiance than you’ll find in lesser Legacies. Like the light-colored interior of the tested car? Well, only off-black is offered in the 2011.

The Subaru’s interior scores higher marks in functional areas. Ergonomics and visibility from the high-mounted driver seat are both first-rate. Perhaps this is what happens when engineers retain the upper hand. Both strengths are increasingly less common among competitors lately. The moderately firm driver’s seat is shaped for long-distance comfort. The rear seat offers far more legroom than the class-trailing previous Legacy. Cargo space is less generous. Though deep in two dimensions, the trunk is relatively narrow.

The 2010 Subaru Legacy GT’s 2.5-liter turbocharged flat four has been tuned to produce 265 horsepower, up 22 from the old car. Despite the much roomier interior, curb weight is only up about 50 pounds (comparing similarly equipped cars), so the power bump should more than compensate. Except it doesn’t. The Legacy GT might be quick, but it doesn’t feel quick. A triumph of refinement over excitement, boost comes on almost imperceptibly, with none of the punch traditionally dished out by powerful turbocharged engines. Peak power is the same as with the related engine in the WRX, but this is not the same engine. Output peaks 400 rpm lower, at 5,600. More telling, there’s more torque—258 vs. 244 pound-feet—and the torque peak, 4,000 rpm in the WRX, extends all the way from 2,000 to 5,200 in the Legacy GT. Admirable numbers, certainly, but the joy is gone. At low speeds the boxer’s distinctive song can still be heard, and at lower rpm the gradual accumulation of boost dulls throttle responses, but otherwise this engine could be mistaken for a stifled naturally aspirated six.

The shifter doesn’t help matters. It moves easily enough, and its throws aren’t overly long, but it has the cheap plastic-on-plastic feel of a bargain basement joystick. One unusual feature: your current gear is displayed between the speedometer and tach. You know, in case you can’t remember where you last moved the lever.

The new Legacy GT’s handling can most favorably be described as secure and competent. The crossover-high seating position doesn’t help here. Body control is very good, and the amount of lean in turns is acceptable, but communicative steering and quick reflexes aren’t part of the mix. Instead, the Legacy GT impresses with an unexpectedly smooth, surprisingly quiet ride. If a larger rear seat was the company’s first priority with the new Legacy, refinement must have been the second. There’s no hint that this car is related to the STI.

In recent years the Legacy GT has been available only in Limited trim, meaning standard leather, sunroof, and 440-watt harmon/kardon audio. For 2011 the price is up a little, and now starts at $32,120. Not cheap, but the next closest alternative, the Acura TL SH-AWD, lists for over $11,000 more (about $3,700 of which can be explained by its additional features, based on a price comparison run at Not that these cars are likely to be cross-shopped. Aside from its premium branding, the Acura is far more fun to drive at the expense of a brutal ride. Other Subarus might be going mainstream, but the Legacy GT is in a class of its own. It currently has no direct competitors in the U.S.

Between this car and BMW’s similar appropriation, it seems that “GT” now connotes roominess and refinement rather than driving excitement. Neither “grand” nor “touring” suggests agile handling, so perhaps this is a more literal interpretation of the appellation. But then what’s the stick doing in the Legacy GT? The number of self-shifters seeking the new car’s bundle of attributes cannot be large. So the prognosis for the Legacy GT is not good. Subaru might rethink the car, like they did with the 2008 WRX after enthusiasts rejected it. But they’re more likely to send it the way of the Legacy wagon. Don’t want the Legacy GT to go away? Then you’d better put your money where your mouth is and buy one soon.

Michael Karesh owns and operates TrueDelta, an online source of automotive pricing and reliability data

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Review: 2010 Subaru Outback Mon, 13 Jul 2009 11:15:52 +0000

Back in the late ‘90s, Hollywood unleashed a barrage of light-hearted, cookie-cutter teen movies. The gist: quasi-geek exists just outside the fringe of the high school “in crowd.” He’s intrinsically smart, casually cool, but socially a bit awkward. He's followed by legions of adoring and affable nerds, cast in the shadows of the popular conformists. Inevitably, our geek has his eyes on the prettiest girl in school and a thirst for leaping the social chasm to popularity. Predictably, this is accomplished through a bit of dumb luck, by selling his soul through transformational makeover, and by alienating those who supported him. Allow me to introduce the latest geek-turned-sellout: the 2010 Subaru Outback.]]>

Back in the late ‘90s, Hollywood unleashed a barrage of light-hearted, cookie-cutter teen movies. The gist: quasi-geek exists just outside the fringe of the high school “in crowd.” He’s intrinsically smart, casually cool, but socially a bit awkward. He’s followed by legions of adoring and affable nerds, cast in the shadows of the popular conformists.  Inevitably, our geek has his eyes on the prettiest girl in school and a thirst for leaping the social chasm to popularity. Predictably, this is accomplished through a bit of dumb luck, by selling his soul through transformational makeover, and by alienating those who supported him. Allow me to introduce the latest geek-turned-sellout: the 2010 Subaru Outback.

Not to go off on too Faragonian of a branding rant, contrary to the latest “It’s what makes a Subaru a Subaru” campaign, “it” is nowhere present in the new Subaru Outback. Yes, the usual hardware bits are there. Boxer engine? Check. Symmetrical All-Wheel-Drive? Check. But past these binary, objective metrics, the essence of a true Subaru is woefully absent, starting with the styling . . .

I’ll forgive the new Outback’s wacky headlights, weird taillights, and gimmicky body cladding. Let’s face it: the refreshing cleanliness of the last generation Legacy/Outback’s styling was too good to last. But I can’t the turn a blind eye to the Outback’s thyroid condition that balloons the Outback out of the clever off-road-wagon segment it created, square into the congested crowd of bloated CUVs.

Towering more than four inches higher than its predecessor, spanning two inches more across the beam, standing another awkward inch higher off its tires, the new Outback looks—no, is huge. The super-chunk roof rails are grossly exaggerated (until you discover the trick design that allows the crossbars to disconnect and swing 90 degrees to find residence integrated in the longitudinal rails). The rear quarter view screams “Venza!”—which is like shouting “movie” in a crowded firehouse. Curiously, there wasn’t a Tribeca on the showroom floor. Cannibalism avoidance? Either that or the former “flying vagina” was hidden by the swollen Outback.

Inside, hoping—praying—for refuge from the calamity outside, you’re greeted by wide, comfy seats and increased legroom for all five passengers, thanks to a stretched wheelbase and the aforementioned middle aged spread. Despite the front captain’s chairs’ higher hip point, rear toe-room is just as miserable as the old model’s. The 60/40 split rear seatbacks now recline, but the pivot point is too high; occupants feel awkwardly contorted instead of comfortably relaxed.

Oddly, the Outback is two inches shorter than previously, sacrificed in the cargo bay. Fortunately, the height gain and the taller hatch opening collaborate with revised rear suspension packaging (now multi-link instead of a strut) to allow more junk in your trunk.

The Outback helped start the trend toward big/multiple/panorama sunroofs, yet the 2010 model reverts to a classic-sized hole over the front seats only. Probably for the better, as you don’t need more light cast upon the smorgasbord of plastics that muddle the instrument panel.

Gone is the understated and subtle classiness of the previous Outbagacy’s upscale interior bits. Cheezy glitz defines the rock-hard polymers that mimic textured stainless steel on the gaudy and protruding tall center stack (an annoyingly awful new Subaru family trait) and [faux] aluminum on the trim wings spraying out to the doors. Subaru grained and sheened the top shelf of the instrument panel convincingly enough to make you think it’s from Ingolstadt. Nein.

The Outback’s ergonomics couldn’t be further from Audi’s if they were designed by Daewoo. Every button on the Outback’s dash now requires reading glasses, a precise finger and a map. Twin Big Gulps and a swollen armrest bin take precedence over the handbrake, which has been demoted to a tiny button buried left of the steering column amidst a myriad of other tiny, illegible, and obstructed switches for stability control, external mirrors, trunk release, and a bunch of curious blanks. To compensate, the twin steering column stalks are chunkier. Thanks. So much.

My tester was a 2.5i Premium CVT, equipped with Subaru’s standard and most popular engine. Subie’s [allegedly] massaged the 2.5-liter Boxer-4 for improved economy and driveability, but with no marked increase in dyno performance (170 hp/170 ft-lbs). It doesn’t matter. Subaru’s latest gee-wizardry is my good grief: the “Lineartronic” chain-driven CVT.

Rather than expound on what it’s supposed to do, let me tell you what the powertrain really does. It tips in painfully slow off idle, winds in a thrashy tizz up to max horsepower at 5600 rpm and festers there. If there were anything resembling an exhaust note, it might remind you there’s a Boxer under the hood; gone is the traditional Subie burble. Instead, from the minute you start rolling, you’re annoyed by a constant cosmic din of CVT chain noise that the Ford Freestyle’s CVT never had on its worst day, even as an early prototype.

Meanwhile, you’re waiting for acceleration to happen. Wait long enough and you’ll get to sixty miles per hour—even if you can’t quite remember quite how it happened until the morning after. You can slap the squat shift lever into manu-matic mode and flop through simulated gearshifts as if were a really crappy traditional automatic transmission. Appeasing to the lab coats at the EPA, this powertrain combo somehow manages to muster 29 mpg under optimal highway conditions. Color me indifferent; claimed driveability is an epic fail.

Wagonistas of Subaru faith seeking dynamic chassis goodness were exiled when the Legacy Wagon died in ’08. The previous Outback was not exactly light on its feet. While the ground clearance is a boon to adventurers, it’s a bane to roadgoers as exaggerated primary dance moves (roll, dive, and squat) make hustling corners ill-advised. The 2010 is no different.

The Outback’s steering gets a welcomed hydraulic boost at parking lot speeds. But as soon as the sunburst-backlit speedometer needle goes north of ten, the helm goes novicane numb and becomes lethargically slow. Wafting down the boulevard, the ride—especially from the rear axle—has gone all jiggly (in addition to the preexisting harshness). “Plush” does not seem to be a word in the Subaru vernacular. That’s a shame, as they’ve deprived this car of anything resembling fun.

Let’s do the math.

Subaru’s once trademark all-wheel-drive is a “so what” in the market segment the Outback now occupies. The virtues of the Boxer engine are all but diminished to irrelevance by the entire vehicle’s lousy dynamic performance. All of which leaves the 2010 Outback nothing more than an awkwardly bloated carcass of a what used to be an interesting car. But then there’s the other calculation . . .

Pandering to the least common consumer denominator by creating yet another lifeless, overgrown, misguided fashion-trend of a rolling appliance (read: CUV) will guarantee Subaru’s continued sales trajectory. It’s a winning model perfected by its new step-parent Toyota, which makes this revelation of suck all-the-less surprising.

At the end of the stereotypical teen movie, the geek-turned-stud usually recognizes the collateral damages of his foolish ways, and returns with renewed self-confidence, truer to himself, ultimately a better person for it. However, punch-drunk on the elixir of newfound sales popularity, it’s unlikely Subaru will look back—save to fly the bird to its wide-eyed, once-loyal nerds.

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Review: 2009 Subaru Impreza 2.5GT Fri, 20 Feb 2009 19:20:05 +0000 Not a WRX

Last year, Toyota bought 16 percent of Fuji Heavy Industries, Subaru’s parent company. Those who care about such things immediately began speculating about Subaru's influence on Toyota. Rumors of all kinds of wonderful sporting Toyobarus emerged, from a replacement for the Scion tC to a resurrected rear wheel-drive Celica using just the rear half of the Subie AWD drivetrain. The highly-anticipated (in some quarters) cross-pollination is well underway. Unfortunately, the result turns pistonheads' dreams into a nightmare. With the arrival of the Impreza 2.5GT, the Toyotization of Subaru has begun.

Not a WRX

Last year, Toyota bought 16 percent of Fuji Heavy Industries, Subaru’s parent company. Those who care about such things immediately began speculating about Subaru’s influence on Toyota. Rumors of all kinds of wonderful sporting Toyobarus emerged, from a replacement for the Scion tC to a resurrected rear wheel-drive Celica using just the rear half of the Subie AWD drivetrain. The highly-anticipated (in some quarters) cross-pollination is well underway. Unfortunately, the result turns pistonheads’ dreams into a nightmare. With the arrival of the Impreza 2.5GT, the Toyotization of Subaru has begun.

Outside, it’s the Impreza we all know and love (or hate). The kyphotic mouse profile has been around long enough that children no longer stare and point as you drive by. The 2.5GT is differentiated visually from lesser Imprezas by handsome 10-spoke alloy wheels and the gaping (functional) hood scoop from the WRX feeding the intercooler. Our pre-production tester’s Newport Blue Pearl paint set it off nicely from the usual silver/gray/beige/white blandness of most small cars, and garnered several positive comments in parking lot conversations.

Inside, though, it’s a Goth’s paradise. Everything is black save the headliner and a bit of faux aluminum trim scattered around. When I say black, I mean deep black. Suck-the-very-light-out-of-the-sky black. Take-it-or-leave-it Carbon Black (yes, that’s what Subaru calls it). The seats are covered with sturdy-feeling fabric that wouldn’t look out of place in a taxi.

The headliner looks and feels like the mouse fur that GM is finally exorcising from their cars, and the carpet’s pile is as plush as the felt on a pool table. The simulated rhinoceros hide covering the dashboard and doors doesn’t do anything to help alleviate the sensation that you had to sacrifice something to get the goodness under the hood. At least the part you touch the most, the steering wheel, is wrapped with leather.

The GT uses last-year’s WRX engine. It churns out 224 turbocharged intercooled horsepower and 226 ft·lb of torque on premium fuel—enough to propel the five-door’s 3,240 lbs to 60 mph in just under 7 seconds. Once the turbo spools up, the power seems endless. The sprint from 80-100 is just as effortless as from 40-60. The GT’s engine always seems willing to do more than you ask, but, alas, it’s held back by the four-speed automatic transmission.

Normally, this is where I’d say something about how much better the car would be with the manual transmission. Unfortunately, the 2.5GT isn’t available with one. Yes, the slushbox does have “SPORTSHIFT manual control” where you rock the shifter back and forth (no paddle shifters here) to change gears. But a four-speed automatic with manual controls is still a four-speed time warp back to the eighties.

The Subaru Impreza 2.5GT’s “sport-tuned” suspension redefines “sport” as “comfort.” If you drive into a corner expecting “WRX-lite,” you’ll readjust your expectations in a hurry. The standard Vehicle Dynamics Control (VDC) and Traction Control System (TCS) conspire to make sure you don’t do anything stupid. Or fun. You can turn the VDC off and improve the tossability, but you always feel like you and the engine want more than the chassis can deliver.

So, where does all of this leave us? The schizophrenic Impreza lineup now ranges from low-cost AWD grocery haulers to the Colin McRae-wannabes’ dream machine, the WRX STI. The 2.5GT tries to slot between those extremes by combining all the luxury of the base Impreza with the performance of a three-year old WRX. It leaves you scratching your head, wondering what the product planners were thinking. It’s as if they had a bunch of last-gen WRX engines laying around and had to figure out something to do with them.

The 2.5GT hatchback five-door lists for $27,690 (get the less-attractive four-door model and save $500). That puts it at the top of the Impreza 2.5i lineup and solidly into WRX territory. The $7k upcharge from the Impreza 2.5i Premium gives you an extra 54hp, automatic climate control and an automatic transmission.

On the other hand, if you can give up a few amenities, you can save $3k by going for the anything-but-base WRX which has 40 more ponies. Oddly, while the 2.5GT comes fairly well-equipped, including sunroof and seat heaters, you can’t get it with the sat-nav available on the cheaper 2.5i Premium. In case you were wondering.

As for the 2.5GT, it’s the first car I’ve driven in a long time that didn’t stir anything in my soul. Yes, it’s a competent automobile. If it weren’t for the 19/24 EPA rating, it would make a perfect commuter car. But that’s just it—there are tons of competent cars out there, many of which cost less than $27K and get much better gas mileage. And many of them wear a Toyota badge. Let’s pray the 2.5GT is just an aberration in Subaru’s product plan.  If not, it signals the beginning of the end of Subaru as we know it and indicates what we can expect from Toyobaru.

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Review: 2009 Subaru WRX Fri, 09 Jan 2009 20:37:52 +0000 In 2005, Toyota bought around half of GM’s stake in Subaru. As ToMoCo never bought Saab, they never bothered with a Saabaru. Instead, Toyota decided to go for a return on their investment. How? By broadening the WRX’s appeal. That’s right, the WRX, Subaru’s de facto all-wheel drive, turbocharged, deformed-looking halo vehicle was going to bring home the bacon by appealing to moms. Ha ha ha. As such, the 2008 WRX was an abject failure. There’s no better proof/pudding than the fact that I spent a week with an all new 2009 WRX. Not since the 1950s has a redesign happened so fast. But big questions remain. Like just how much better is this new-for-‘09 Rex?

In 2005, Toyota bought around half of GM’s stake in Subaru. As ToMoCo never bought Saab, they never bothered with a Saabaru. Instead, Toyota decided to go for a return on their investment. How? By broadening the WRX’s appeal. That’s right, the WRX, Subaru’s de facto all-wheel drive, turbocharged, deformed-looking halo vehicle was going to bring home the bacon by appealing to moms. Ha ha ha. As such, the 2008 WRX was an abject failure. There’s no better proof/pudding than the fact that I spent a week with an all new 2009 WRX. Not since the 1950s has a redesign happened so fast. But big questions remain. Like just how much better is this new-for-‘09 Rex?

The exterior’s a big mess. Still. Viewed from the side, it’s a Corolla with big wheels. From the front, it’s the ugliest WRX yet, even if it now sports the STI’s grill. That’s truly a remarkable achievement. However, I’m reserving the bulk of my venom for the ghastly rear. Our particular tester is the sedan (as opposed to the much better wagon) and all I see a Toyota Echo with twin pipes. Blech!

The interior is no better. In fact, it’s a big step back compared to the 2005 – 2007 flying-vagina model. Sure, the gauges do an expensive-car sweep when you turn the key. And instead of illegible-in-sunlight orange, everything on the WRX’s dash now glows red. But everything’s made from cheaper stuff, which in my STI review I perspicaciously referred to as “crap.”

I particularly dislike that the doors are no longer (partially) covered in fabric. Instead, your left elbow rests against the type of crummy plastic you’ll find lining a 737. Awful to the touch. The seats have less bolstering (but do have heaters) and the steering wheel doesn’t adjust up far enough to even consider driving tricks like left foot braking. Heel and toe’s more difficult, too. Hey, at least the WRX is now manual-only, right? Sadly, it’s BMW-grade floppy and vague.

But there is a new for 2009 engine. One of the two big downfalls of the 2008 WRX: Subaru carried over the ’07 motor. Brand new car, same 224 hp and 226 lb-ft torques. For 2009, the turbo has been swapped out for the STI’s larger turbo plus some piping and ECU upgrades. But big deal, right? I mean, the resulting numbers are 265 hp and 244 lb-ft. Nice, but… Caution! You’re about to enter the all spin zone! When the WRX’ tachometer crests 4,000 rpm, something miraculous occurs. Oh. My. Lord. It’s fast. Freakishly, worryingly, shockingly fast. Ten years ago I would have sworn it was running nitrous. How fast?

The 2009 WRX hits 60 mph from zero in 4.7 seconds. And here’s the kicker: it costs about $25k. Let’s put that in perspective. In 2002, just six years ago, a Ferrari Maranello 575M (the one with the much-admired HVAC controls) stickered for around $225k. The Fezza hit 60 mph in 4.2 seconds. You want new cars? A Porsche 997 costs $75k0 and hits 60 mph in 4.8 seconds. A Cayman S? $60k/5.1 seconds. BMW 335i? $42k/5.2 seconds (though some claim 4.8– which is still slower). M3 sedan? $53k/4.7 seconds. The new Mustang GT and new 370Z are both well over 300 hp machines that cost $5k more and can “only” hit 60 mph in 5-flat.

Subaru’s own STI costs $38k and manages 60 mph in 5.0. Here’s a biggie: Mitsu’s $39,000 EVO X MR? 4.9 seconds. In fact, 0-60 mph in 4.7 seconds is the exact same time as a Buick GNX, a car that 22 years ago was the fastest accelerating production car in the world. $25k, friends.

The other major downfall of the 2008 Rex was the soft-as-peach-yogurt suspension. Especially when compared to all the other dental appliance loosening WRXs that preceeded it. The new WRX fixes that, to a degree. Gone is the whoa nelly! body roll, replaced by what feels like a highly-tuned Corolla. I happen to own an ’06 Rexer; the 2009 model simply lacks my car’s maybe/kinda/could be a race car feel. It’s just too comfortable, too squishy, too mainstream. Not that the new car has any issues with corners (it doesn’t). But its econo car roots are more apparent. Specifically, understeer happens. One aspect that has been improved over all predecessors is high speed stability. Thank God.

So, do you buy the 2009 WRX? As an owner of both a 2006 and a 2001 would I buy it? The obvious problem: the competition. MazdaSpeed3 anyone? Hell, the Chevy Cobalt SS is just as powerful and can whip the WRX around a track. And the Subaru is really, seriously ugly. But here’s the thing: once that big turbo fully spools and starts puking power into the transmission, you realize how little all the other stuff else matters. My advice? Get the wagon, and start looking for rich guys to humiliate.


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2009 Subaru Forester XT Review Mon, 25 Aug 2008 10:04:44 +0000 Boxy is out, SUV-ish is in.The Forester XT is living, breathing proof that Subaru has lost its way.  The Toyota-fication of the brand has now reached its pinnacle in the redesigned Forester, and it stands tall (really, really tall) as the perfect example of how to alienate the hippies and hoons that bought Subaru after Subaru.  To put it succinctly, driving the new Forester XT is like answering the door expecting Ed McMahon with a check for a million dollars and finding your mother-in-law standing there instead.  At least the MIL eventually goes home.  The Forester XT just hangs around and keeps disappointing.

Boxy is out, SUV-ish is in.The Forester XT is living, breathing proof that Subaru has lost its way.  The Toyota-fication of the brand has now reached its pinnacle in the redesigned Forester, and it stands tall (really, really tall) as the perfect example of how to alienate the hippies and hoons that bought Subaru after Subaru.  To put it succinctly, driving the new Forester XT is like answering the door expecting Ed McMahon with a check for a million dollars and finding your mother-in-law standing there instead.  At least the MIL eventually goes home.  The Forester XT just hangs around and keeps disappointing.

The illusion starts at the exterior.  See that hood scoop?  You may think that like the WRX and Legacy GT, the hood scoop means performance and fun.  Instead, all it means is "Turbo inside" and nothing more.  But even with the lump on the hood, the new Forester is definitely more attractive than the old one (kudos to Subaru for bucking the trend, there), but it represents a sharp shift from "boxy tall wagon" to "SUV."  Why is Subaru making SUVs?  Beats me, ask Toyota.

There\'s a road out there somewhere.  I think.Step on inside.  See that hood scoop?  Yes, that bulbous nostril encroaching upon your field of vision that mocks you mercilessly day after day that you should have purchased the WRX.  The ridiculously low front seats give occupants a nice view of the dash, hood scoop, and little else.  The driver seat is thankfully height adjustable. Not so for the passenger, who peers out the window like a five year old struggling to see the road ahead. The seat bottoms are too short as well, providing about as much thigh support as a barstool and leaving both driver and passenger looking for somewhere to prop their knees.

But boy, are the rear seats gloriously spacious.  I found myself thinking could I could overlook the front seats' shortcomings for the rear leg room alone. Then the cold hard reality hit me that (A) I'm going to be riding in the front 99.995% of the time and (B) it is wicked hard to reach into the baby's car seat to retrieve a pacifier when it's a half mile back.  Families with long-legged teens will love the stretch-out space and the trick reclining rear seats.  The rear seemed much more comfortable than the front– but the driver doesn't sit in the rear.  The interior looks nicer than the WRX; quite nearly as nice as the Legacy, actually. 

A great engine, wasted.Let's make no bones about it, the only reason anyone would look at the XT over the base model lies beneath that functional hood scoop: the turbocharged 2.5L YEEEHAWWWW factor.  The new Forester, like the WRX, packs more low-end torque at the expense of the high end but unlike the WRX it feels oddly sluggish overall.  Want to add insult to injury?  Here are your four automatic gears.  The base Forester comes with a manual option; not so the XT.  In fact, it doesn't even warrant the five-speed automatic.  By this point, I'm starting to wonder if Subaru doesn't just want to discourage their hoon-oriented customers– they actively want to crush their spirits.

The overall experience feels like the last two Matrix movies.  You know how much fun it could be, yet it's a stunningly horrible disappointment through and through.  The handling, absolutely atrocious even by SUV standards, betrays Subaru's integral brand image.  The loosey-goosey steering wheel feels like  the ‘91 Explorer my parents drove. Understeer makes cornering an exercise in unexpected surprises. This fact might make you a safer driver, but not by choice.  The whole thing handles like a sack of cornmeal being hauled by sled dogs – it's all mush. 

Makes you long for boxyExcept instead of sled dogs, it's being hauled by nearly the best powerplant Subaru has to offer.   Straight line motivation is an excellent adventure but God help ye otherwise.  I can only imagine that such a ridiculously soft suspension and mammoth ride height gives it a passable ride in the rough, but if you have off-roading in your plans, why buy one of these when you can get a bargain bin Jeep instead?  There's precious little to set the XT apart from the rest of the crop.  Sure, it's fast(er), but who cares when driving it sucks the very soul out of you?  Piloting it is an exercise in irritation and you feel like you're actively fighting against the Forester just to keep it on the road.

SUV-ish from this angle tooIf you're looking for a sporty, fast CUV with room for the family, go buy an Acura RDX.  It may be more expensive, but you'll never regret it.  I can't fathom why anyone would spend their hard-earned cash on a new Forester, unless you're in that small group of Subaru lovers that won't have anything but a Subaru, and you live in the snow belt and/or need the extra room over an Outback for camping with the family.  However, like Subaru, you can do better than this. 

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2009 Toyota Matrix S AWD vs. 2008 Subaru Impreza 2.5i 5-Door Mon, 16 Jun 2008 12:33:18 +0000 matriximprez1.jpg

At some point in our recent automotive history, all wheel-drive (AWD) replaced front wheel-drive as the paranoid consumer's drivetrain of choice. The safety advantages of high quality snow tires (as needed) and a low center of gravity (in all cases) got lost in translation. Ready to capitalize on the AWD's popularity: the economy-oriented Toyota Matrix and the Subaru Impreza. Both diminutive scramblers aren't nearly as cheap or efficient as their front-wheel-drive cousins, and they won't off-road, tow a boat or carry seven passengers. Still, both cars offer a [potential] extra safety margin and [potentially] better handling. So if you had to choose one...


At some point in our recent automotive history, all wheel-drive (AWD) replaced front wheel-drive as the paranoid consumer's drivetrain of choice. The safety advantages of high quality snow tires (as needed) and a low center of gravity (in all cases) got lost in translation. Ready to capitalize on the AWD's popularity: the economy-oriented Toyota Matrix and the Subaru Impreza. Both diminutive scramblers aren't nearly as cheap or efficient as their front-wheel-drive cousins, and they won't off-road, tow a boat or carry seven passengers. Still, both cars offer a [potential] extra safety margin and [potentially] better handling. So if you had to choose one…

The Impreza and the Matrix were both recently restyled. The new Matrix looks like it's been hanging in Beverly Hills. And yet, even after a nip, tuck, stretch and smooth, the Matrix' bloated-Yaris profile remains. Though the car's tighter greenhouse and diving roof line improve on the prior model's anodyne anonymity, form comes at the expense of function (more on that later).

The Impreza hatch's-sorry, "5-Door's" restyle offers a sleek, ovoid look that's both familiar and jarring. Subaru achieved this paradox by littering a restrained, attractive shape with unnecessary, eye-melting flourishes (e.g. icicle taillights, and faux-Chrysler pilot wings on the grille). Select the "sports grille" option and plain black mesh replaces your slice of plastic corporate flair, transforming the Impreza's styling. If only Subaru offered a "tasteful tail light" option…

matriximprez3a.jpgThe Matrix' one-box (one-trapezoid?) design creates a minivan-in-a-trash-compacter interior vibe (so to speak). The steep windshield and short hood enable acceptable forward vision. But the Toyota's sharply-falling roof and gun-slit windows are insupportable, they put the words "oh shit!" into "blind spot." The Matrix boasts slightly more cargo capacity than the Impreza, but the Yaris provides more hip room.  

The Impreza's rearward vision is also curtailed by its sloping roofline, but at least you can check your blind spots without a periscope. Although the Subie is slightly smaller than the Matrix by most metrics– including the vital rear leg room calculation– its airy greenhouse is far more inviting than the Toyota's four-wheeled bunker.

Let's face it: adult-sized adults won't want to spend an inordinate amount of time in either back seat.

The Matrix's clean, unpretentious interior styling emphasizes function. A pervasive sense of cheapness and fragility prevents its cabin from achieving rugged or utilitarian props. The Toyota's black cockpit is brightened only by acres of the hard, shiny silver plastic that ToMoCo owners have come to know and abhor. By the same token, while the Matrix' large climate control knobs are paragons of simplicity, they're imprecise and poorly secured to the minivan-style console.

The beige-and-black Subaru four-door's interior plastics seem like close relatives of the trailer trash found in the Toyota's cockpit. Other materials are of a noticeably higher quality. And while the two-dimensional Toyota cockpit embraces appliance-dom, the Subaru wraps its occupants in a low-rent take on the BMW driver-oriented interior. If you like the Impreza's sheetmetal, the interior styling won't jar. If not, you'll find it boring, garish or (once again) both.

matriximprez4.jpgThe AWD Matrix comes in one drivetrain flavor: a 2.4-liter inline four-cylinder engine with a four-speed automatic transmission. Pop it in "D," arrange a sour expression on your face, mash the gas and the 158hp mill will hustle the portly (3360 lbs) Matrix about with joyless adequacy. The quadra-geared slushbox helps keep fun at bay, but doesn't display the manic thrash that Berkowitz experienced with Toyota's five-speed unit (available on non-AWD Matrices).

The drivetrain's misère de vivre is a blessing in disguise; you weren't going to have fun driving the Matrix anyway. Unmanned aerial drones offer more steering feedback than the Toyota's over-boosted helm. The Matrix' pillow-soft suspension upholds this commitment to sensory deprivation. Body roll and understeer quickly define the limits of cornering ability (or lack thereof). That the AWD Matrix gets standard double wishbone rear suspension is more indicative of Toyota's product-packaging strategy than any corner-carving aptitude.

The Impreza has let itself go lately. It's packed on nearly 250 pounds compared to its autocross-dominating 2.5 RS nineties forbears. However, compared to the overfed, over-medicated Matrix, the AWD Subaru is a well-trained athlete. The trademark 2.5-liter boxer four marries 170hp with handfuls of usable torque, requiring only minimal use of the agricultural five-speed stick. Though crunchy and imprecise, the manual makes far better use of the Subie's burble 'n snarl than the lugging, laggy autobox. Both transmissions have their flaws, but it's nice to have a choice (Toyota).

matriximprez5.jpgNo question: the Impreza's mainstream makeover has dumbed-down the car's handling. With added weight and softer springs, the Scooby tends to lean and hunt for its line, when it should be darting and planting. The payoff: serenity at speed. What the Impreza surrenders in autocrossmanship it makes up for on long trips to the cabin or trailhead.

This is not to say the Impreza is corner-aversive. The Impreza's steering is far more engaging than the Matrix'; the Subaru's helm delivers solid heft and remains in constant communication with the chassis. When the going gets curvy, the Impreza's full-time all wheel-drive routes more power to the rear wheels, allowing the Impreza to power through corners in an entirely pleasant point-and-shoot style.

In stark contrast, the Toyota system displays no hint of AWD hoonery. It only sends power to the Matrix' rear wheels when the front tires start to slip. Unless you regularly drive on dirt or gravel, you might never notice the Toyota AWD engage. Clearly, it's not an integral feature.

In sum, the AWD Matrix is the weakest offering in the Corolla/Matrix range. Nearly all the other cars are cheaper, lighter and more efficient than the AWD variant-and the Impreza. At $21,060 for a base AWD Matrix, it's well inside just-say-no territory. Especially with the $18,640 Impreza nipping at its heels.

matriximprez2.jpgWith neither the Matrix nor the Impreza claiming a decisive EPA ratings victory (at 20/26 and 20/27 respectively), the Impreza's price point is the game-winner here. And if driving pleasure is even remotely important, the Matrix fails miserably, while the Impreza scores impressively.

Subaru's decision to take the Impreza mainstream didn't win praise from the brand faithful. But it widened the mini-wagon's distance from its competition. The only thing standing in the Impreza's path to segment dominance: mileage (back to that front wheel-drive equation). And the new, all wheel-drive Suzuki SX4, which takes the cheap-and-cheerful approach once espoused by the 'Preza. Having dispatched the Matrix AWD, we'll let you know how the Subie and the Suzi measure-up.

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2009 Subaru Forester L.L. Bean Edition Review Wed, 16 Apr 2008 10:31:59 +0000 4984_116_lg.jpgSubarus are supposed to be the Birkenstock sandal of the automotive world; simple, robust cars with a certain sense of style that doesn't care about current fads. Alternatively, you could say a Subie used to be what a VW used to be (before Ferdinand Piech started messing with the brand) plus a boxer engine (once a key VW characteristic) and standard all-wheel-drive. In recent years, Subaru's image has become less and less clear. The automaker's desire to escape the granola ghetto first gave us the Tribeca, and then the new Impreza. And now we have a new Forester; an answer the question that in the past didn't have to be asked: what is a Subaru?

4984_116_lg.jpgSubarus are supposed to be the Birkenstock sandal of the automotive world; simple, robust cars with a certain sense of style that doesn't care about current fads. Alternatively, you could say a Subie used to be what a VW used to be (before Ferdinand Piech started messing with the brand) plus a boxer engine (once a key VW characteristic) and standard all-wheel-drive. In recent years, Subaru's image has become less and less clear. The automaker's desire to escape the granola ghetto first gave us the Tribeca, and then the new Impreza. And now we have a new Forester; an answer the question that in the past didn't have to be asked: what is a Subaru?

Subaru has made some major styling missteps in recent years. Thankfully, the new Forester doesn't continue that misguided trajectory. There's no funky grille, no bulbous malformations; just a pleasant. nicely-proportioned wagonish shape… that could have come from Hyundai or Mitsubishi or Toyota. Does the new Forester look just like the Hyundai Santa Fe or the Mitsubishi Outlander? Yes it does.

Just so it's clear that the Forester isn't a wagon… some Baja 1000 racers get by with less clearance between the tires and the wheel openings. Modders can fit double-dubs, a lowered suspension or both– and still have room inside the arches for a plasma TV screen.

4984_059_lg.jpg Subaru's interior is equipped with a lethal combo of upmarket aspirations and cheap materials. There's lots of hard silver plastic– most notably a wide band that forms a wave across the instrument panel. [Note to carmakers: no one wants to grab cheap-feeling plastic every time they shut the door.] Sadly, the soft-touch dimpled polymer that impressed back in 2003 didn't survive the redesign. The old Forester's interior wasn't as suavely styled, but it looked more genuine and felt more solid.

Subarus have traditionally been more dimensionally challenged than the competition, especially in the back seat. For the first time ever, you'll find plenty of legroom inside a Subaru. What's more, the rear seat reclines. More importantly, the Forester offers useful storage cubbies, bins and indents everywhere you look, and many places you don't. Another positive change: you get a decent sliding center armrest as standard equipment, rather than as a dealer-installed accessory. Way hey!

Some of the Forester's key characteristics haven't changed: the Forester still has a boxer four and all-wheel-drive. But the fancy new wrapper makes promises the naturally aspirated powerplant just can't deliver sans turbo. (There is a turbo on offer, just not in the L.L. Bean variant tested.) 

The Forester's Curb weight is up about a hundred pounds (to 3400lbs), the engine's output is down by a few horses (three bhp), and Subaru apparently feels that a fifth gear is still too special for its junior models. Bottom line: no matter how much you rev this engine, there are no thrills to be had. The Forester's engine sounds sounds so gruff you won't want to rev it. But you'll have to rev it, just to get the Forester up to speed. Good thing there's a manual shift gate; the automatic prefers to lug the boxer when left to its own devices.  

4984_050_lg.jpgNot that you want to be making many knots when you turn the wheel. Aside from the over-light steering, the Forester's chassis feels perfectly composed in relaxed motoring. But hit a turn with any semblance of speed and massive understeer meets insufficient grip on the wrong side of the yellow line. No doubt the Yokohama Geolanders (yep, them again) are good at something. But that something isn't hanging on to dry pavement. Stability control is standard for those who think understeer is an invitation to push harder.

On the flip side, the ride is smoother and quieter than in the old Forester. Think Toyota.

Problem is, even with Subaru and Number One now joined at the hip, does the world really need another Toyota? Subaru used to be about getting a Japanese car that was unlike other Japanese cars. In every way that really matters, the new Forester is just another compact crossover. The body is nice to look at. But so are those of the Santa Fe and Outlander it so closely resembles.

Subaru's predictable response: Hyundai and Mitsubishi don't have the automaker's patented symmetrical all-wheel-drive. Granted: Subaru's trademark drivetrain system is desirable- when combined with a lusty turbocharged engine, taut suspension and sticky rubber. In the 170-horse Geolandered Forester it makes not the slightest difference.

4984_121_lg.jpgThe previous Forester was unlike anything else in the segment. The new one is just like everything else in the segment, for both good and bad. This is good for Forester buyers, and bad for Subaru. Go figure.

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2008 Subaru Outback Review Wed, 20 Feb 2008 12:43:20 +0000 4217_116_lg.jpgStation wagons with manual transmissions are quickly going the way of the fedora. In fact, there are more gas-electric hybrids for sale stateside than row-your-boat wagons. If you want an all-wheel-drive model, the number plummets. Which makes me wonder: what's the point of the Subaru Outback five-speed?

4217_116_lg.jpgStation wagons with manual transmissions are quickly going the way of the fedora. In fact, there are more gas-electric hybrids for sale stateside than row-your-boat wagons. If you want an all-wheel-drive model, the number plummets. Which makes me wonder: what's the point of the Subaru Outback five-speed?

Although I can't speak for Subie's Sapphic fans, sex appeal is NOT the Outback's raison d'etre. Oh, it's handsome enough; in a stern, trim, no grotesque affectations sticking you in the eye sort of way. Subaru's raised the beltline (to lose the Popemobile effect), added new lights (there was a sale on Japanese fish eyes) and stuck a Chrysler Pacifica logo on the snout. While the Outback now looks more expensive than it is, it's about as quirky as an accountant wearing different colored socks.

4217_059_lg.jpgThe interior is equally enthralling and twice as sensible. Fold down the Outback's rear seats and lifestyle load luggers enjoy almost as much schlepitude as Volvo's V70. Although Subaru's redesigned the Outback's instrument panel, "revised" the interior fabrics, added a telescoping wheel (yay!) and numbered the radio buttons from one to five, the cabin remains very much of a muchness. There's nothing tasteless, nothing tasty. Well, except for the meaty steering wheel…  

 The helm puts you in charge of Subaru's 170hp 2.5-liter SOHC aluminum-alloy 16-valve horizontally opposed four-cylinder engine. If Porsche went all Jaguar on us and tried to dip down market, this is the kind of engine I'd expect: smooth, free-revving and just about as gutsy as a four can be. But Outback drivers are never in any doubt that they're lugging around a couple hundred extra pounds of all wheel-drive (AWD) gear. 

The Outback's ride is comfortable without the slightest hint of refinement. Dry road handling is exemplary, with predictable body roll and enough steering feel to tell you when to quit (early and often). Try to accelerate out of a couple of turns and the Outback's architecture tells you that the vehicle could stand another 80 horses– and the rest. The no-fun factor might be considered a plus in a wagon full and kids and dogs and things to be inflated, but it's a definite drawback when you're all alone and late for work. And then…

I was fortunate enough to test our base Outback on fresh powder and packed snow. The worse the conditions, the better it got.

4217_050_lg.jpgNeedless to say, I developed an immediate and intimate respect for Subaru's time-honed Symmetrical AWD system. While other drivetrain layouts have all kinds of 90 degree kinks to sap power and response, the Outback's in-line engine allows more direct power transfer to all the wheels. At the same time, the low-slung boxer engine provides a lower center of gravity, like bending your knees when you're skiing.

The Outback's four-wheel disc brakes, with ABS and electronic brake-force watching over each wheel, proved highly effective on the white stuff. More to the point (of the vehicle's existence), when traction is iffy, it's nice to have more options than merely stop and go. The Outback's manual transmission gives the set up more feel. Sure, you can crank the automatic's lever back and forth, but it's not the same as feathering the clutch, whipping up the revs or using the engine as a brake.  

Taken as a whole, the Outback bites, rather than slides on, the snow; it felt like I had an invisible keel slicing through an unseen slot in the road. Although it doesn't have all the toys and [much of any] torque, the entry level Outback has still got the bad weather integrity that makes it an entirely justifiable for people who live in the… wait for it… outback.

Again, if you live in those parts of the country where you can get to grandma's house sans icy winds and killer snow drifts, and you're not likely to travel for hours on unpaved roads, the Outback is a different beast. Well, maybe "beast" is the wrong word. A different "animal:" one of those zoo dwellers that's odd but not terribly attractive. Though it's still adept at negotiating wet leaves, large puddles and the occasional hopped curb, the Outback's charms diminish in direct proportion to the civility of your driving environment. 

4217_048_lg.jpgThe number of American drivers who favor a manual transmission is in the single digits and falling fast. But Subaru's right to continue offering a stick shift, low frills, Outback with a relatively anemic engine.

What's the reverse of a halo car? You know: a car that shows that a brand is still in touch with the austere competence that endeared its products to its original financially-challenged, mechanically savvy customers? The five-speed manual base Outback is it. Well done to Subaru for not pulling-up its roots. Now, if they could just strip and flip the STI…

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2008 Subaru Impreza STI Review Fri, 15 Feb 2008 12:01:35 +0000 sti4.jpgWhen I bought my second Rex, I nearly bit the bullet and went STI. But I like to haul more than ass. So I sacrificed balls-out speed for cargo capacity and bought the five-door WRX (again). The good news: starting now, Subaru's hottest rally-bred machine is available only as a hatch. The bad news: the new STI costs $14k more than the WRX. Is it worth it?

sti4.jpgWhen I bought my second Rex, I nearly bit the bullet and went STI. But I like to haul more than ass. So I sacrificed balls-out speed for cargo capacity and bought the five-door WRX (again). The good news: starting now, Subaru's hottest rally-bred machine is available only as a hatch. The bad news: the new STI costs $14k more than the WRX. Is it worth it?

Not from the look of it. I wonder how far the STI's development had progressed when GM sold its shares to Toyota; the front of this sucker resembles a partial-birth Saabortion. Subie designers must have had a running bet to see who can fashion the world's most grotesque cars nose. The STI's rump is also ugly against all odds. Clear Lexus RX style taillights? Yuck. Quad tailpipes? The STI only has four cylinders for Malcolm Bricklin's sake!

sti1.jpgThe STI's side view is the only decent angle. From that perspective, it looks Roger Clemens's trainer shot up a Saab 900.

The STI's interior is a travesty at the price. Someone (Subaru? GM? Toyota?) replaced the previous car's nice-for-an-econo-box plastics with crap. Crap whose crappiness is increased exponentially in full consideration of the STI's $40k price tag. The STI's cabin "boasts" a cartoonishly oversized (or is that MINIshly?) tachometer, festooned with green and pink neon lights, which glows a deep orange-red. Now that's cooking with class! Radio buttons on the steering wheel of an STI? In a word, nyet!

sti12.jpgA big however, however, occurs when you start moving your hands and feet around. The STI's tiller is the right kind of chunky. While it could be an inch or two taller, the metal and leather shift knob feels like the business end of an aluminum bat. And a special shout out to the ideally placed pedals. To me, no car is set up better for the old heel-and-toe routine. While I'd still prefer the JDM STI's racing buckets, the USD leather/Alcantara seats look fly and provide enough bolstering to defend the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Almost.   

Light the fuse and the STI's carryover (but remapped) 305 horsepower boxer mill will rocket you to 60 mph in 4.8 seconds. The STI doesn't feel nearly that slow. If not for the fussy gearing that forces an up-shift to third, you could hit 60 mph a lot faster.

sti10.jpgStill, like all turbocharged Subarus, the 2.5-liter four-banga is useless below 4000 rpm. And because the new heads feature variable valve tech, the STI's redline has been lowered by 400, down to 6600 RPM. That's a lawn mower-grade useable power band, which explains the constant gear rowing. (I happen to love it, but many won't.) The STI's big, bad Brembos are absurdly fantastic. More importantly, they feel burly, which is exactly what drivers want when decelerating from triple digit speeds.   

The STI's supposed killer app: DCCD. That's Driver Controlled Center Differential to you and me. We're talking an open center diff that sports clutch-type locking. In default Auto mode, the traction control computer monitors wheel slippage and routes torque accordingly between the front and rear wheels. But with 18" x 8.5" Potenzas on 18-spoke forged aluminum BBS wheels mad-doggedly grasping the pavement, what's the point?

sti9.jpgIn Manual mode, you can vary the lock-up from a 50-50 split to a maximum of 35/65 front to rear. There are three Automatic modes to choose from: "Auto," "Auto +" (for snow and gravel) and "Auto -" to route more torque to the rear wheels. After screwing around with the DCCD settings for 400 miles, I'm sad to report that the entire system's a total waste of time. I didn't notice any difference in handling save for lighter, less accurate steering in, uh, one of the modes.

The STI's "SI-Drive" knob lets drivers select from three throttle response programs. "Sport" is the default setting. If you're interested in saving gas, there's an "Intelligent" mode that neuters the engine's power output by 20 percent. While I question the smarts of anyone who buys an STI and worries about fuel economy, I'm thinking of having "Sport Sharp" tattooed on my forearm.

Needless to say that's because the fully enabled 2008 WRX STI outhandles an X-acto knife. Yes, the steering's a bit lumpen, and the chassis understeers at the limit, and the mammoth tires produce unwanted bump steer rolling over the nastiest bits. But this sucker's is a four-wheeled middle finger to Newtonian physics. Einstein, too.

sti14.jpgTrue to its rally roots, the worse the road, the better the STI behaved. In fact, I didn't really dig the STI until I fed it some busted-up asphalt. Then my love blossomed with an unnatural (and sideways) passion. 

So, is the STI worth a 14k premium? The depends entirely on your driving license's current status and your access to crumbling roads.

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