“There’s no way a Subaru could climb that hill,” uttered Rod Hall, a well-known off-road race driver. Rod was hired to set up a test track in a quarry near Reno, Nevada, for 40 of the country’s leading auto media representatives to experience the capabilities of the 2005 Outback. Rod, who normally drives a Hummer, was surprised when the Outback had no trouble scrambling across loose rocks and stones. The journalists were also impressed.
A day earlier, 20 of us journalists drove the Legacy GT on the track and highways
near Las Vegas. “It’s much more impressive on the track than I thought
it might be,” observed a British race-driving instructor, as he braked from
more than 100 miles per hour and slid the 2005 Legacy GT into a tight turn at the
Las Vegas speedway. The GT proved a competent sporty sedan.
After two days of extensive test-drives, we journalists came away impressed. For starters, the new models, especially the sedans, have a more elegant look, akin to European sports sedans. Step inside, and the new Legacy and Outback have much classier appointments.
Get behind the wheel, and it’s readily apparent the changes made to the ’05s have paid off in performance. The GT, with its all-new turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine derived from the WRX STi, provides enough power and all-important torque to make it one of the most powerful cars in its segment.
Naturally, the GT’s standard manual transmission is the ideal choice for performance enthusiasts. However, the all-new 5-speed automatic transmission is equally enjoyable, especially in its sport mode. This setting holds gears longer for increased acceleration and intelligently knows when the car is going through a corner or climbing a hill and shifts at the appropriate time, just as an enthusiastic driver would. On paper it sounds ideal, and it proved to work in practice.
Handling has always been a strong point for the Legacy with its Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive and low center of gravity. Subaru has further improved the car’s handling by lowering the center of gravity even more, widening the track and improving the steering. It is readily apparent the car has inherited engineering expertise from the WRX rally champ.
Of course, not everyone is looking for performance, but it’s sure nice to have plenty of power when needed. Those looking for a more luxurious ride will not be disappointed. The new Legacy is smooth and much more quiet due to a redesigned exhaust system and additional sound-deadening material. The turning radius has improved over the previous model, making it easier to park, even though it’s two inches longer.
After driving the GT, it would be easy to assume the Outback would have inferior handling. After all, the ’05 edition sits higher off the ground and is slightly larger. However, just as with the Legacy, Subaru has gone to great efforts to lower the center of gravity in the Outback, which is a key factor for good handling.
While driving an Outback XT wagon, we discovered it felt almost as sure-footed as the Legacy GT. Indeed, the tires squealed on some hairpin turns, even though we were not going anywhere near the vehicle’s limit. With virtually no vehicle body lean, it’s easy to squeal all-season tires as one reaches the tire’s – not the car’s – limits.
Incidentally, although the six-cylinder engine in the Outback 3.0R produces the same amount of power as the turbo engine in the XT, it delivers a different driving experience. It’s more suited to those who want a more “conservative” car that has enough power on tap but don’t want or need exhilarating performance.
Anyone who wants to keep their luxury car clean in inclement weather or when traipsing up a mountain for skiing in winter or hiking in summer would be more than happy to drive the Outback or Legacy. Indeed, these vehicles have grown up and matured, offering the best of all worlds.
John Rettie is a recognized professional writer, photographer, consultant and analyst covering the automotive, photography and high technology industries.
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