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Executive Wheels: If I could own just one car….

Jeff Rundles //October 4, 2010//

Executive Wheels: If I could own just one car….

Jeff Rundles //October 4, 2010//


There are so many good cars on the market – indeed; there really are no bad ones – that the measure these days is a combination of greatness, innovation and value. The real question is “How much car can I get for the money?” Sure, you can pay a lot of money and get a great car, and in some cases pay a lot of money and get an OK car, but the real trick these days is to get a great car in a sensible price range. Trouble is, many people buy a car for the nameplate alone, that “BMW” or “Lexus” or “Acura” or whatever will tell the world something about the driver that the driver thinks fits his or her personality. And these same people will turn their noses up at other nameplates simply because – in spite of the actual car – it will say something about them that doesn’t fit their own self-image.

Too bad. The best car on the market, the car that combines performance, innovation, safety, comfort, and most importantly value, is a Subaru. Rather two Subarus: the Outback and the Legacy.

For years Subaru has been refining its offerings, honing its car-making skills, and tinkering with its designs and finally the brand has reached near to perfection. Up through the 2009 model year, “Outback” wasn’t really a particular model, even though that’s what most people thought. “Outback was a trim package on the wagon with more aggressive features (raised ground clearance being the key) of the line’s Legacy model, which was available in a sedan and a wagon. With the introduction of the all-new 2010 models, Subaru did the smart thing and the Outback became exclusively the wagon and the Legacy exclusively the sedan.

The confusion goes on, however, because Subaru is continuing to use the Outback badging on one of its smaller models, the Impreza Outback. Outback, which was introduced in 1995, has become so popular that, apparently, Subaru is having a hard time defining it as its own model. It should come up with some other cool-sounding name for the Outback trim package on the Impreza and let the Outback soar to new heights on its own.

About this time last year I drove the all-new Legacy, and I was more than wowed. Subaru had finally gotten rid of the distinctive, yet ugly, Subaru styling with that awful trim running around the bottom of the side panels, and come up with a car with world-class styling. In fact, many people asked what it was, mistaking it for a BMW or one of the fancy Hyundais, or even a Lexus. And I could tell that their impression from just looking at the new Legacy was quite favorable. I had the opportunity to drive the Legacy nearly back-to-back with a BMW 3 series, and while the Bimmer was much faster, there was a $22,000 price difference that much favored the Legacy. Except for the performance, in every other category I preferred the Subaru.
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So now comes the 2011 Subaru Outback, which is the same car as the 2010 4th-generation model (the Legacy 1st generation launched in 1989). I said to myself, “I want this car” the minute I sat in it – before I even fired it up. Driving it only furthered that impression. Great looking, wonderful interior, roomy, stout, and surprisingly powerful. Nothing in my week-long test drive – nothing – detracted from my initial impression. My wife drove it too, and she was also wowed, and we both decided that if we buy a car it will be this one.

My daughter has a 3rd-generation Subaru Outback wagon, and it is a very nice car, but it is one of the older-styled Outbacks that have taken on the pejorative of being a “chick car,” or one favored by the environmentalists. I even heard Rush Limbaugh once say that Subaru is a “liberal” car, and I can only assume he meant because of the environmental thing. Well, not going into my own political views, but I think this new Outback is a car for both liberals and conservatives, as well as moderates. It is extremely well made, solid, all-wheel-drive, very comfortable, and now has world-class styling. It is utilitarian with class.

The new Outback felt a little larger, and indeed it is. With a wheelbase of 107.9″, up nearly three inches from the previous model, the 2011 model is also wider – 71.7″ versus 69.7″ – and taller – 63.9 inches versus 63.2″. Perhaps more importantly, Subaru has increased the ground clearance significantly, up to 8.7″ from 8.5″, which makes it even better in the back-country and in the heavy snows we sometimes get in Colorado. I didn’t get a chance to drive this car in snow, ice or even off-road, but I have in the past done so and Subaru never disappointed. I would expect even better results now.


Inside the Outback is very handsome and very solid. The seats are stiff and thick – a change from the past – and quite comfortable, especially for a long drive. I took the car on a relatively long drive through Boulder and up into the mountains and my whole family agreed that this would be a great car for a road trip. I might even argue that the interior is elegant – the brushed chrome and the wood accents are as beautiful as any luxury car, and the operation of the controls for climate and audio are easy. I especially like the small information center above the console imbedded in the dashboard – a quick summation of where I am with all the systems without any distraction. Back seat room and cargo space in the way back are also great. Passengers reported plenty of room, and golf bags fit in the back with ease.

Driving was the best part. The handling is excellent, with no leaning, and perfect cornering. I had the Premium model with the 3.6-liter H6 engine with 256 hp (rated 18mpg city/25 highway), and I can personally attest that it is powerful, quick, and the automatic transmission was as smooth as they come. I noticed in particular that the transmission shifted at the perfect moment.

There are six trims available in the 2011 Outback – three featuring the smaller 2.5-liter H4 engine with 170 hp (rated 19/27), the 2.5i, 2.5i Premium and the 2.5i Limited, with base prices of $23,195, $24,495 and $28,495, respectively. The other three have this larger engine – the 3.6R, base priced at $28,195, this 3.6R Premium, based at $29,195, and the 3.6R Limited, based at $31,495. The difference is in the standard equipment included: on the Premium that is power everything, 17″ wheels, auxiliary audio jacks, heated seats and mirrors, tire pressure monitoring, ABS brakes, AWD, vehicle dynamic control, and the 5-speed auto transmission.

On my Premium model they added the Option Package 97, which included a 440-watt, 9-speaker Harman/Kardon premium audio system (highly recommended), with Bluetooth and XM satellite radio, as well as a power sunroof. One of the coolest things I have ever seen is the integrated rear vision camera, full color, that comes on in reverse gear and shows up in half of the rear-view mirror. Easy to see and use, and quite innovative. Add on $725 in destination and delivery and the bottom line is $32,660.

I could put 100 people in, say, 10 cars, with this car being the least expensive, and 98 of them would put the Subaru in the top tier, assuming you can overcome prejudice. This car is every bit as nice, if not more, than cars $10,000 to $20,000 more money, and with wonderful AWD, that’s why I deem it the best car on the market today.

I kid you not: there are many, many vehicles I would love to have, but if I could only have one, the 2011 Subaru Outback would be it.
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