By on July 30, 2008

 A month or two ago, I had the brilliant idea to enter a rental car into a car show, and see what I would win. The Avis Hummer H3 I spent untold hours detailing won first place in the truck category. Being only slightly insane, I decided to try another rental car challenge (due to my Porsche still being in various pieces), and enter a weekend special into an SCCA Autocross. Nearly winning my division last year, I believed that winning was mainly due to the driver, not the car, so of course I would come out on top no matter what I was driving. $78 later in rental fees and race entry fees, I had a 2008 Subaru Outback, with a 173bhp, AWD and lots of cargo space. Despite ripping nearly 150lbs of weight out of the car, the Subie couldn't have been more disastrous. The Sportshift always held the wrong gear, and wouldn't let you shift manually under extreme maneuvers. The steering became so imprecise that I was no longer driving the car, I was guiding it. The AWD made the car understeer, or oversteer, in a completely unpredictable manner. The lack of low end power had me uttering strings of curses upon exiting nearly every corner. I was easily outrun by a similar 2.5-liter equipped Impreza. I was outrun by a Honda Civic, a Dodge Neon, and an automatic-equipped Toyota Echo. And then we loaded the wagon up with five people, kept to the starting line, and learned the joys of e-braking through the corners, where the Outback stopped skittering, and literally "hopped" around the bends. As a race car, the Scooby gets one-star. But I suppose you already guessed that.

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27 Comments on “How to Lose an AutoCross for Less Than $100...”

  • avatar

    Why the Outback, especially with an auto, you couldn’t have picked anything worse out of their line up. An Outback Sport would have been better but a pretty much stripped Impreza would have been idea or a Legacy sedan. The Outback wagon is the heaviest highest riding nonsporty car they make next to the Tribeca.

    And a Subaru auto is simply the worst power sucking monster there is, that is where all your low end torque went and probably the reason behind the understead/oversteer problems since it’s electroniclly controlled shifting power front and back in a nonrace friendly manner. The symmetrical AWD with s stick is simply awesome, I can oversteer mine and use the rear wheels to power slide through turns without too much trouble with the right kind of steering and throttle inputs, the turbo doesn’t hurt either.

    I say you try this again but with a different Subaru that is stick and not a wagon. Might not be easy to rent one with a 5 speed though. I bet you will place better, did you really come in dead last?

    I’m curious but what did you rip out to take of 150 lbs of weight, spare and trunk junk, what else? Also was Avis really happy that you raced their rental, I’m sure they have something in the contract that says it’s a no-no.

  • avatar
    Jordan Tenenbaum

    There’s a guy in our local SCCA that runs a Forester in STS I believe. It’s pretty quick for being mostly stock. Faster than my Volvo, which isn’t tough.

  • avatar

    “I was outrun by a Honda Civic, a Dodge Neon, and an automatic-equipped Toyota Echo.”

    That last one HAD to hurt. ouch.

  • avatar

    Redbarchetta, the Outback is a common rental vehicle in the mountain regions and northwest. In fact, it is pretty much the only Subie you can rent (at least from Hertz). But, I do agree there are some better vehicles of autocrossing, and maybe even for less. Maybe a Mazda3 2.3 Touring sedan from Hertz? At least the auto (with manual mode) will do what you tell it to and not try to upshift at redline.

  • avatar

    I’ve autocrossed my 2002 Impreza 2.5RS (GS, Street Tire), my 2004 WRX (STX), and a 2004 STi(STU); AWD requires “special attention” to make them class or overall winners via handicap. Of course, if you’re nauseated by the body roll of the stock suspension, you will not have the focus to care.

  • avatar

    TEXN3 I figured that since it’s a rental and most people don’t race rentals, but I thought they would have at least one other Subaru model to choose from. Just about any model would have been better then an auto Outback, even the Forrester that was mentioned above.

    “I was outrun by a Honda Civic, a Dodge Neon, and an automatic-equipped Toyota Echo.”

    Caused by that craptastic automatic, I swear it cuts the horsepower and torque down to 120.

  • avatar

    Auto-x is not a race, it is a “precision driving event”.

    Depending on the course, you rarely get moving faster than the speed limit of your average suburban road. It just seems like racing because you spend as much time at high revs as you can.


  • avatar

    I think the e-brake on Subarus is on the front tires, unless they’ve changed things around since I owned one a little while back.

  • avatar

    @ redbarchetta

    The Subie was the only option I had at an unamed rental location in Oklahoma City. Since it was short notice, my options were:

    -Suzuki Forenza
    -Pontiac G6 (4-cylinder)
    -Chevy Malibu (last generation… shudder…)
    -Lincoln Town Car
    -And some SUV’s

    I choose the Scooby as it had the tiptronic and AWD (I race an original Audi Quattro occasionally), and figured it would do alright. Boy was I wrong. The other Subarus laughed at it. And the 150lbs of weight came in the form of spare tire, rear seat, and various other stuff being removed (including the cigarette lighter).

    And I did come in dead last… utter dead last. But that Toyota Echo was driven by two Kiwis driving across the US from Maine to LA. They were determined!

    It was still fun though!

  • avatar

    @ chuckgoolsbee:

    I disagree. Auto X is a race because you are competing with other drivers for the best time.

    I’ve actually thought of entering a rental car in an Auto X as well after watching the tread melt off my $250 PS2’s.

    Too bad you couldn’t get a car with a little less ride height, because I’ve seen some real sleepers do pretty well. There was a guy at one event with an 86 Buick Century that was turning in competetive times.

  • avatar
    Jordan Tenenbaum

    Mike, you should have taken the Lincoln. That would have been a hoot to watch!

  • avatar

    I am definitely going to have to give this a try some time. Perhaps I’ll attempt to rent a Mustang GT-H from Hertz as a birthday present and take it to an auto-x

  • avatar

    Mike faced with those choices I think I would have taken the Subaru also, seeing as I own one. But I think the Lincoln would have shown much better with proper caning.

    This sounds like it was fun, I might try doing the same thing one day, sans the Outback. Even if I came in dead last, which I probably would, it would still be fun.

    I was curious if you took the back seat out since ours looks like a bitch to remove.

  • avatar

    “I think the e-brake on Subarus is on the front tires, unless they’ve changed things around since I owned one a little while back.”

    My 85 GL-10 Turbo has them on the front. The last Subaru to have them was the Loyale, which bowed out in 1994.

  • avatar

    So Mike, would it be OK if a valet parking attendant took your car out for a bit of street racing while you were eating dinner?

    And to think…people wonder why rental rates are high.

  • avatar

    nudave that wouldn’t be that different from them racing the car to the parking spot like they do now and a reason I know the Town Car would have performed better.

  • avatar

    I had the unfortunacy of driving an Outback just like your example around town one afternoon and I thought that I had injected novacaine into my rear, feet, and hands. I’d sooner take my 80whp 1995 S10 to an autox than the Outback.

    I’d also be faster in it, which is actually not that surprising. I’ve run in STS, STX, HS, FSP, and on rare occasion STU as well. I have also driven more Subaru examples of GC-body RSs, WRXs, and STis than I can count. The new Outback is easily the worst Subaru I have ever driven…and that was around town.

    I have seen a determined individual use rental Kias and such to beat competitors…now that’s fun to watch because it really is the driver in that case and not the car, though the rest of the folks in the class are left going “HUH?” when they see the times. :)

  • avatar

    I don’t think disrespecting the property of others should be glamorized, celebrated, or promoted. TTAC shouldn’t be endorsing this type of behavior.

  • avatar

    If your driving a Town car, you need to change your alias to Redbarcone.

  • avatar

    isn’t that why rental cars exist? to be abused?

  • avatar

    @ Buick61 and nudave,

    Autocrossing events have a very minimal impact on a vehicle. I drive my own vehicles at these events, including the Audi Quattro I commute to work everyday in. All the rental company got was a bit less tread on their tires, and I’m sure that Subaru has seen far worse.

    Plus, thats why the offer the rental insurance!

  • avatar

    HA! I have video evidence of this event.

  • avatar

    A warning to anyone contemplating handbrake turns in a Subaru: The center differential really hates that move, at least in the manual-shifting versions.

    Several winters ago in Denver, I had a perfect ice skidpad in my driveway for a month or two. Every day I’d amuse my 8-year-old with a snappy handbrake turn into my parking space. Until the center diff started binding and making noises. Soon after, it had to be replaced, for about $1000.

    I actually enjoy the handling of my stock ’04 Forester. With the flat engine, it doesn’t feel nearly as top-heavy as it looks. Having a consistent 50-50 torque split puts some life back into the rear axle. Just don’t touch that e-brake, please!

  • avatar

    I own a ’98 Forester and I concur with Wheatridger.

    The stock handling is surprisingly crisp with manageable understeer, especially considering what type of vehicle it is.

    I say this as someone who drove an Eagle Talon Tsi AWD hard for 10 years. That was an excellent little car that could’ve been an all-time legend if it hadn’t been compromised by a horrific 62/38 weight distribution.

  • avatar

    rochskier what generation was your Talon? The 2g FWD even with super strong power has issues matching the FWD Neon SRT-4 in launching. Many say it was due to the weight distribution and odd corner weights. So I added AWD to my TSi. :)

  • avatar

    Toyota Echo? Wow, that must have been embarassing. I feel sorry for you.

  • avatar


    My Talon was a 1990, and was surprisingly good for a first year, brand new model.

    I only got rid of the Talon b/c I needed something with more cargo space and better reliability.

    I am currently eyeing a Forester XT, but we shall see.

    AWD conversion is a heck of a project, I salute you!

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