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First drive: 3.0R Outback challenges Euros

Incentives: Subaru hopes an extensive feature list, renowned safety and security and ironclad resale values will keep the 3.0R on the shopping list.

Subaru completes its Outback line-up with the exclusive 3.0-litre flat-six engine

31 Oct 2003

SUBARU continues to favour its "Recreation Channel" with its sole six-cylinder engine, leaving the "Driver’s Channel" Liberty range to soldier on with flat-four power. Not that the turbocharged 180kW GT model is exactly arthritic.

Coincidentally, the 3.0-litre normally aspirated flat-six in the new Outback 3.0R models produces 180kW of power, just like the GT, but 297Nm of torque at 4200rpm (Liberty GT: 310Nm of torque at 2400rpm).

There are two models, the entry 3.0R at $45,990 and the Premium Pack model at $53,440 complete with leather, unique dual window sunroof, side and curtain airbags, eight-way power driver’s seat and VDC stability control.

Subaru expects the 3.0-litre models to increase in popularity in this new generation, with 200 to be sold each month (previously 175).

While the early H6 models were only subtly more powerful than the flat fours, this new generation is a hardier performer. More of that in a moment.

Subaru is pitching the 3.0R Outbacks at potential buyers of luxury sport utilities who may be considering up-spec Japanese and European four-wheel drive wagons.

"The Outback is a strong, safe car built without bulking up like an athlete on THG," said Subaru Australia general manager Nick Senior.

"The Outback is a premium product and will challenge the best from Europe. It is a breakthrough vehicle for Subaru and Japanese makers.

"We see Outback 3.0R competing against the likes of Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited, Mitsubishi Pajero GLS, Toyota Prado GXL and Volkswagen Touareg, while the Premium Pack model is benchmarked against the Audi Allroad 2.7T, BMW X5 3.0, Honda MDX and Volvo XC90.”

An obvious omission from the list is the newly launched Holden Adventra.

A key hook for rugged terrain and lifestyle buyers could be the 3.0R’s vastly improved maximum tow rating of 1800kg for a braked trailer. Previously, the Outback’s inferior towing ability steered buyers towards more traditional off-roaders.

On Subaru’s side is the neat architecture of the Liberty wagon, suitably jacked up to give true off-road capability, with a fixed torque split between front and rear wheels.

Where the competition may offer seven or eight seats, either as a package or an option, Subaru sticks with five pews and has no plans for a third row, although a seven-seater vehicle derived from the base Liberty platform is on the cards in a couple of years.

The new 3.0R engine boasts a 16 per cent improvement in power at 180W at 6600rpm

In the meantime, Subaru hopes an extensive feature list, renowned safety, security and crucially, ironclad resale values, will keep the 3.0R on the shopping list.

Further bolstering Subaru’s aims are a substantial weight advantage over its potential SUV rivals. Weighing in at just 1540kg, the automatic only 3.0R is at least 400kg lighter and this will pay dividends at the pumps (where 95RON fuel is required). Subaru’s figures suggest the 3.0R sups 10.9 litres per 100km in the combined cycle test.

Despite its 200mm ground clearance, the Outback is a low rider in terms of overall height at 1540mm, which also cuts consumption and wind noise at cruise.

The new 3.0R engine boasts a 16 per cent improvement in power at 180W at 6600rpm, while the 297Nm peak torque is achieved at 4200rpm, up from the 282Nm at 4400rpm on the previous car.

And just in case you’re wondering, the “R “stands for Double Overhead Camshaft. Active valve control and variable valve lift combined with a dual lobe camshaft hike performance at low, medium and high revs, and the engine is mated to a new super slick-shifting five-speed automatic that offers both Sport mode and sequential manual tip-shift selection.

No manual transmission or low range transfer cases are likely.

A special automatic transmission cooler developed for Australian towing conditions is fitted, having been developed as a result of two separate testing expeditions to Australia by Fuji Heavy Industries’ engineers.

The VDC stability system fitted to the Premium Pack versions cuts engine power and directs drive to the most stable wheels. Understeer or oversteer conditions are rectified by braking either the outside or inside wheels to prevent skids and retain driver control.

Also of note is Subaru’s fitment of a full size alloy spare wheel in the boot.

Devoid of 3.0R badging, the easiest way to spot the six-pot model is via its 17-inch alloys.

The standard feature list includes anti-lock brakes with electronic brake force distribution, active head rests, dual front airbags, pretensioner and load limiters on the seatbelts, three-point belts and headrests for all seats, height adjustable driver’s seat, climate control air-conditioning, six-stacker CD stereo with steering wheel controls, cruise control, leather-wrapped Momo steering wheel, trip computer, power windows, remote central locking, Sports Shift five-speed automatic and a 60/40 split folding rear seat.

Standard on the outside are 17-inch alloy wheels, large-diameter foglights, roof spoiler, roof rails and data dot security.

A neat feature is the side indicator repeater lamps slotted into the lower edge of the door mirrors, Mercedes-Benz style.

Fans of the earlier Outback model’s duo-paint schemes will be disappointed to hear Subaru has ordered all its cars in single paint finishes, with champagne gold currently in favour, while white and silver will continue to be stalwart sellers.

Front and rear under bumper sections and lower side sills are finished in black to accentuate the high ground clearance.

Mr Senior said the switch to a single colour backed up the Outback’s refined, sophisticated up-market challenge.

He defended the lack of side airbags on the entry model on cost grounds.

Subaru Outback 3.0R: $45,990
Subaru Outback 3.0R Premium Pack: $53,440


WHILE the previous H6 engine satisfied cylinder snobs’ requirements for extra pots, the six-pack Outback never truly impressed with its low down torque or top end acceleration.

That has changed with the arrival of the Outback 3.0R.

This is the thinking man or woman’s off-roader. Same 200mm ground clearance, same Subaru rock solid build quality, same subtle looks - although the smoothed over wagon shape may be a little to conservative for some Subi buyers who like to stand out from the mainstream.

Whether Subaru’s bid to steal sales from Honda MDX, BMW X5 or up-spec Pajero buyers succeeds is almost academic, since the requirement to sell just an extra 25 cars a month should be easily achieved in Australia’s booming 4WD market.

But for the Subaru fans who do not need the hard sell, the news is all good.

The engine displays a more muscular manner, revs very cleanly and enticingly towards the 7000rpm redline and sounds guttural, not raucous, while getting there.

Equipped with a rumbly rather than harsh exhaust note, the overwhelming aural experience is pleasurable and in fact acceleration above and beyond the posted speed limit is all too easy (according to those who have track tested the vehicle).

NVH levels were very low, with limited feedback through the steering wheel, but little kickback also.

The ride on the test car was overly firm and caused some consternation until it was discovered tyre pressured had been set at 36psi instead of the recommended 30psi.

Driving the 3.0R Premium Pack complete with VDC stability and traction control on a variety of damp tar mountain switchbacks and moon crater unsealed tracks, the Outback proved reluctant to slide with the VDC switched on.

Its intervention is all but seamless, although the innate grip and poise required some deliberate and brutal action to illuminate the VDC dash-mounted warning light.

This indicates the Outback will be a secure and predictable wagon with which to transport the family in daily driving or adventurous exploration.

The driving position is comfortable with a high degree of adjustment courtesy of the eight-way power seats for the driver (manual mode only for the passenger), and although the wheel is adjustable for angle, it does not extend.

Accommodation in the rear is sufficient for two large adults to sit behind two large adults up front with a person of average build between them in the back row, or perhaps a trio of child seats.

What Subaru has not changed is the acute forward flowing C-pillar that can catch rear passengers on the head while gaining entry.

The new dashboard layout is tidy, classy and easy to acclimatise, although some of the switchgear, in true Subaru fashion, is scattered around or partially hidden.

And - shock, horror - a rattle in the dash. Not one generated by pounding over rocks, but an annoying resonance detected on tar and traced to a component in the air register on the dash. Persistent and annoying but, presumably, easy to rectify.

Despite designing a new steering wheel-mounted switch for the cruise control, it is still perfectly positioned and simple to use.

Driving on mixed terrain and giving it heaps, the Outback’s computer reported consumption of one litre of fuel every 8.9km. Subaru Australia is investigating a rework of the computer to deliver the more universally adopted ‘litres per 100km’ values.

The huge boot, uprated towing capacity, smoother six-cylinder low emission, low consumption engine, extensive feature list and light curb weight conspire to form a powerful argument for buyers seeking flexibility, off-road ability and a certain degree of understated style.

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