The 2000 Subaru Outback has been completely redesigned, its first update since 1996. The new Outback has a new, more fuel-efficient 2.5 litre horizontally-opposed four cylinder engine, a new more compact rear suspension that frees up cargo space, and new optional side airbags. Outback prices start at $31,395.
New Outback is roomier, quieter and more refined
In another fifty years when automotive historians look back at the history of the Subaru motor company, they’ll probably divide the company’s fortunes into two parts: pre-Outback and post-Outback.
Until the Outback came along in 1996, Subaru was a relatively small, niche automaker, struggling to compete with giants like Toyota and Honda. The best thing Subaru had going for it was all-wheel-drive, a technology that Toyota, Honda, Nissan and Mazda had already abandoned in their passenger cars (leaving Subaru with the entire market).
As sport-utility vehicles gained in popularity, somebody at Subaru had the bright idea of jacking up the ride height of the Legacy station wagon, raising the roofline slightly, adding fog lights and a roof rack, and calling it the Outback. The Outback would have the image and off-road abilities of an SUV with the advantages of car-like ride and handling.
Crocodile Dundee star, Paul Hogan was hired to pitch the Outback’s rugged, off-road abilities – a job that he still has today.
The idea worked, and Subaru’s sales skyrocketed. The Outback became the most popular vehicle Subaru sells.
Now, after four and five years respectively, the Outback and Legacy were due for a redesign. Not surprisingly, the Outback retains its trademark hybrid car/SUV concept that made it such a hit in the first place.
In a nutshell, the 2000 Outback is bigger, heavier, roomier, more powerful, better-equipped and more expensive. The base Outback Wagon now starts at $31,395, up from $30,895 last year, and both wagon and sedan bodystyles are still available. The less-expensive Outback Sport with a smaller 2.2 litre engine is no longer offered (pity).
Major changes to the Outback include an all-new platform, revised styling, a stronger, safer body structure, an extensively redesigned 2.5 litre SOHC four cylinder engine, a new rear suspension, a redesigned interior with new woodgrain trim, optional side airbags, an improved stereo system, a larger cargo area, a new roof rack, and better headlamps.
Dimensionally, the new Outback Wagon is 40 mm longer, 30 mm wider, and 25 mm higher. The wheelbase, which often determines interior room, has grown by 20 mm. Ground clearance is the same at 185 mm, 25 mm higher than the standard Legacy.
Though it’s instantly recognizable as an Outback, all the Outback’s body panels are new. Obvious styling differences include larger headlamps and taillamps, a new grille, sculpted hood, side cladding with three grooves, new folding power heated mirrors, integrated roof rails, new alloy wheels, and larger 225/60R-16 inch tires.
Under the hood is an extensively-redesigned 165 horsepower 2.5 litre horizontally-opposed four cylinder engine. Instead of dual overhead camshafts it now has a single camshaft per cylinder bank, and the air intake system has been redesigned for improved low and mid-range torque. The 2.5 litre engine has exactly the same amount of horsepower as before, but more of it is available at lower rpms. In addition, the Outback offers slightly better fuel economy, and cleaner emissions.
To reduce driveline-related vibrations, the new engine is connected to the transmission by eight bolts instead of four. Like the previous Outback, the new model has a longitudinally-mounted engine, transmission and all-wheel-drive unit for superior lateral weight distribution and a lower center of gravity than most cars.
The Outback retains a fully independent suspension at all four wheels, but at the rear, a new three-link design replaces the previous MacPherson strut design. The reason for this is space efficiency – the MacPherson strut tower intruded into the trunk while the new design creates about 130 mm more floor width.
The Outback’s redesigned interior is larger and more comfortable with narrower window pillars which improve outward visibility. Front and rear headroom has been increased by 25 mm, and shoulder room by 6 mm. Subaru offered no figures for legroom, but to me, it appears to be slightly better than the 1999 model. Front and rear seats have been redesigned for reduced fatigue and more comfort, and the passenger side dashboard has been pushed forwards to create a feeling of more space.
Other changes include new power window buttons that are angled towards the passengers, a centre instrument panel that is 30 mm closer to the driver, a six-way power driver’s seat, a new cupholder that doesn’t obstruct the controls, and a new transmission gear position indicator in the instrument panel. Also new is a prominent, brushed steel shift gate for the automatic transmission shift lever.
Outback Limited models have a better stereo: a new AM/FM/CD/cassette with weather band. Limited Outbacks also include standard leather upholstery, side airbags, variable intermittent wipers, rear spoiler and moonroof on the sedan and dual moonroof on the wagon, and alloy wheels with gold accents.
All Outback wagons have a standard 60/40 split folding rear seatbacks, but sedans are not available with a folding rear seatback, a rather important omission. A center pass-through in the rear armrest is standard on sedans.
The Outback’s roomier cargo area has a wider, flatter floor with four tie-down hooks and two pop-out hooks for grocery bags (great idea). Underneath the floor are three hidden storage compartments (another great idea).
Additional safety features this year include a third rear head restraint and three-point seatbelt in the center rear position, and optional side airbags in the front seats on Limited models.
The Outback’s reinforced body structure is not something you’ll notice by looking at it – but driving the Outback will reveal its benefits: reduced body flexing and noise and vibrations, improving crash safety, and improving handling.
My only reservation about the car’s design are the frameless doors which could rattle or leak if they don’t seal properly when the doors are closed. The doors on my brand-new test-car sealed perfectly – the question is: what will they be like in five years?
My test-drive revealed that the new Outback has better off-the-line acceleration even though it’s heavier, and the new engine is definitely quieter and smoother. Around town, the Outback is even more comfortable and easy-to-drive. However, passing or merging at speeds in the 80 to 100 km/h range were slower than in the previous model, probably because of the new Outback’s greater size and weight. It’s not slow mind you – it’s just not as fast. Rumour has it that a more powerful horizontally-opposed six cylinder engine engine will be coming next year.
On paved roads, the Outback has a very smooth, comfortable ride, and handling is excellent although there is some lean due to the Outback’s higher ride height. I liked the smooth-changing transmission and the well-weighted steering, and the standard four wheel disc brakes offered excellent pedal feel and modulation.
Off-road, the Outback really shines. Its full-time four-wheel-drive system automatically apportions torque to the wheels that need it, and a standard limited slip differential apportions torque from side to side – so grip is excellent. The only thing missing is a Low Range gear for very steep hills.
The thing I like best about the Outback’s off-road performance is that it doesn’t bob, dip and weave like most SUV’s and pickup trucks, enabling you to keep your lunch where it’s supposed to be, in your stomach.
The manufacturer’s suggested retail prices for the 2000 Outback are as follows: Outback Sedan Limited with 4-speed automatic $34,695; Outback Wagon with 5-speed manual $31,395; Outback Wagon with 4-speed automatic $32,395; Outback Wagon Limited with 4-speed automatic $36,295.
The Outback and Legacy are built in Lafayette, Indiana.