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Subaru Outback pitched against new rivals

Six-pack Sube: Subaru's Outback H6 wagon derives its motivation from a new 3.0-litre, six-cylinder "boxer" engine.

Subaru aims to target a new audience with its six-cylinder Outback H6

Subaru logo17 Oct 2000

SUBARU has launched a new flagship six-cylinder Outback soft-roader and breached the $50,000 barrier at the same time.

The Outback H6 is powered by a new double overhead camshaft, 24-valve, 3.0-litre, horizontally opposed "boxer" engine codenamed EZ30.

It produces 154kW at 6000rpm and 282Nm of torque at 4400rpm. That compares to the 2.5-litre four-cylinder also used in the Outback which produces 115kW and 223Nm.

Subaru says the engine exceeds the tough Step3 European anti-pollution regulations, averages 8.2 litres per 100km on the highway and 11.0L/100km in town, and has a braked towing capacity of 1600kg.

The six-cylinder engine was designed to fit in the Outback's existing engine bay, so it is only 20mm longer than the four-cylinder. But it is also 40kg heavier.

Reducing cylinder diameter and the distance between cylinders helped achieve the compact size.

It is the first time Subaru has offered a six-cylinder engine in Australia since the SVX coupe of the early 1990s.

The H6 is fundamentally equivalent to the well equipped Outback Limited in specification, with the addition of the new engine, VDC stability control, 16-inch alloy wheels and larger brakes. The B-pillar and doro beams have also been strengthened for increased side impact safety.

A full tan leather interior including Momo mahogany and leather steering wheel, adaptive four-speed automatic transmission, six-stack CD player and eight-way power adjustment on the driver's seat are also standard equipment.

The H6 is priced at $51,990, more than $8000 above the Outback Limited auto, and closing in on the new generation Volvo Cross Country range, which retails from $62,000 to $70,000.

The competition is obvious to Subaru Australia general manager Mr Nick Senior, who stressed his car's advantages over the Volvo: "On power alone, we've got 154 kilowatts, they've got 147. We've got six cylinders, they've got five.

"We've got a horizontally opposed engine, they've got in-line, which gives us an instant advantage with symmetry of our engine and drivetrain combination.

"Our pricing also makes Outback H6 very attractive against our more traditional four-wheel drive competitors including Pajero, Prado, Jackaroo, Explorer and Discovery." Mr Senior said the H6 would appeal to a new audience for Subaru, for whom nothing less than a six-cylinder engine will do.

However, due to supply limitations, Subaru is expecting to sell no more than 1500 cars in the first 12 months of release.

That should boost sales from last year's record of 4233 units to 5500.

* Meanwhile, Subaru will launch an Outback Sport in March. Based on the new GX model manual five-door, the Sport replaces the Sportswagon, with pricing tipped to be around $27,000. Toward the last quarter, Subaru Australia is hoping to launch the new generation STi version of the WRX, and the twin-turbo Liberty sedan.

DRIVE IMPRESSIONS:

ONE of the great attributes of the four-cylinder Outback is a litheness and crispness that puts it a step ahead of virtually every other four-wheel drive.

Considering it is closely based on the excellent Liberty station wagon, that is no surprise.

What Outback always lacked was that performance edge, understandable when the 2.5-litre engine had to haul around nearly 1500kg.

Add an automatic transmission and the drag of four-wheel drive and the four-cylinder Outback was a cruiser rather than a blaster.

Therefore a six-cylinder engine makes a lot of sense - in theory. In practice, our 40km sample drive this week revealed a car struggling to live up to expectation.

The engine is superbly smooth and so quiet that that distinctive "boxer" growl is only audible at high revs.

Yet, for all that, it is not as gutsy as expected, perhaps a result of the increase in kerb weight to almost 1600kg. That means strong response requires plentiful use of the accelerator.

Unfortunately, that places more emphasis on the auto transmission, which while smooth shifting is too keen to jump back to second gear sometimes and at other times hesitant to leave top.

You will find yourself changing manually, a task made easier by the gated shift.

No manual gearbox also means no low range, an omission that ensures the H6's off-road forays are limited to civilised environments.

The one steep downhill gravel track we tried required constant heavy braking to stop the car from running away.

The heavier weight of the engine also seems to have adversely affected the Outback's balance.

There's more front-end push (understeer) than the four, more bodyroll and the car does seem to crash through bumps and holes, although the ride is pleasant enough overall.

There is also still a degree of kickback through the steering over rough stuff - a standard trait for this model and the Liberty.

The interior feel is luxurious and the front bucket seats body-hugging, but there are other vehicles out there for the same money or less that offer more interior space.

Overall, the H6 is not bad, it simply falls short of Subaru's traditionally excellent standards.

That makes it hard to justify the extra outlay over the Outback Limited and the pricing level - as Subaru itself acknowledges - puts it up against some other pretty tough opposition.

GoAuto can help you buy a new Outback

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