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Midlife Makeover for Outback

PowertrainUnder the Legacy Outback's hood sits a new, 3.0-liter flat six-cylinder engine with 212 hp and 210 lb.-ft. of torque.

Powertrain

Under the Legacy Outback's hood sits a new, 3.0-liter flat six-cylinder engine with 212 hp and 210 lb.-ft. of torque. Slightly longer than the flat four it replaces, it required a reinforced front crossmember, a larger radiator with different hose routing, and a slightly larger front anti-roll bar (21 mm versus 20 mm). These are surprisingly minimal changes, especially considering that the platform wasn't designed to take a six-cylinder when it debuted more than two years ago.

The H6's twin cylinder blocks are die-cast aluminum with cast-iron liners, and mate to a two-piece aluminum crankcase housing a high-carbon steel crankshaft and seven main bearings. A dual-stage intake feeds the four valves per cylinder through long runners below 3,700 rpm, and shorter ones above that engine speed; spent gasses exit through a dual-stage muffler. When backpressure reaches 22 psi, a valve opens into an additional muffler chamber to increase performance.

3.0-liter flat-six
The 3.0-liter flat-six fits in nearly the same slot as the 2.5-liter four, adds 47 hp and 44 lb-ft of torque, and puts the Outback up against some well established competition.

Currently the H6 is mated to an automatic transmission. Reportedly, sales volumes wouldn't support the modifications necessary to use a manual gearbox with the six. The five-speed manual, available in the four cylinder Outback, is slightly longer than the four-speed automatic, and Subaru did not want to tear up either the chassis or gearbox for a relatively low-volume mid-life model. Expect the six to mate to a manual gearbox when the next generation Legacy debuts in about two years.

Four-wheel drive plus

The initials "VDC" stand for Vehicle Dynamics Control, a system that monitors steering angle, yaw rate, and individual wheel speed. It works in conjunction with Subaru's Variable Torque Distribution (VTD) all-wheel drive to keep the Outback VDC stable under all conditions. Torque is split 45% front/55% rear in steady-state driving. Torque distribution under load is determined by the combination of the automatic transmission's electronically controlled hydraulic clutch and a planetary gear center differential.

When this isn't enough to keep the vehicle heading on the driver's intended path, VDC intervenes. To quell understeer, for example, the system slows the inside rear wheel slightly in order to pull the nose back toward the inside of a turn. When oversteer is present, the outside front wheel is decelerated to pull the nose outward slightly to keep the rear from overtaking the front.

Disco meets mahogany

Inside, a mahogany and leather Momo steering wheel is standard, as are a 200-Watt, 11-speaker McIntosh Audiophile sound system, automatic climate control with temperature gauge, and 8-way power driver's seat. The steering wheel follows the lead set by other premium brands–yes, Subaru now considers itself a premium brand–by tastefully combining leather and wood on the rim. Unfortunately, the stereo system brings back memories of the days of disco, not images of premium imported sheetmetal.

Don't get me wrong, the McIntosh audio system sounds wonderful. Unfortunately, the large chrome knobs and detailing look like something out of Starsky and Hutch's 1974 Ford Torino. How Subaru could let this anomaly blight the interior–and magnify the fact that the automatic climate control's readout doesn't match either the stereo or any other gauge in the vehicle–is beyond me. The dissonant appearance of this sound system reeks of a last-minute addition based on hitting a marketing target. I suspect that buyers of $32,000 automobiles expect the sound system to sound and look good. This one does only half the job.

Conclusion

The new engine gives the Outback the grunt and cylinder count necessary to compete with vehicles like the Volvo V70 XC, Volkswagen Passat 4Motion, and Audi A4 Avant Quattro, its intended targets. In addition, the chassis is tight, and provides a solid base for the long-legged suspension. Unfortunately, the automatic transmission is sometimes slow to react, and only serves to underline the fact that the Outback still lags its more integrated competitors.

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