by Ted Grozier
or the 2000 model year, Subaru has completely redesigned the Legacy/Outback range. The car has grown slightly, received an excellent new interior, and been given a modest power increase.
It continues to be sold in Legacy form under the Brighton, L, and GT trim levels; the previous Sport Utility Sedan moniker has been dropped in favor of "Outback Limited Sedan." Outback and Outback Limited wagons are again available and are expected to remain the most popular models.
Styling changes are best appreciated in the sedan; it in particular is vastly more attractive than its predecessor. Fashionable jeweled headlamps and an enlarged grill opening have been added to all models, while the car's lines have been strengthened throughout. The controversial hood scoops on Outback models have been deleted.
Not just a pretty face
Improvements to the unibody go beyond vanity, though. The new structure is greatly stiffer, offering twice the longitudinal bending resistance and 20 percent greater torsional strength than the outgoing model. We noticed a more composed ride over rough surfaces and a near absence of shakes and rattles, even on our pre-production test car. What we thankfully did have occasion to experience is the claim of increased crashworthiness, although we will take Subaru's word for it.
2000 legacy wagon
Subaru’s 2000 Legacy Wagon.
The wheelbase has grown almost an inch to 104.3, while overall length is up just shy of three inches to 184.4 and 187.4 for the sedan and wagon, respectively. Both increases provide more passenger and cargo space, but the biggest improvement in roominess comes from the new multi-link rear suspension. It frees five additional inches between the rear wheelhouses yet retains the same wheel travel of the previous strut design. In the wagon, three large suitcases will now fit standing upright.
2000 Subaru Legacy Outback (Natl)
The 2.5-liter, four-cylinder "boxer" engine carries over with some improvements. The DOHC setup (as a horizontally-opposed design, it used four camshafts) has been replaced by a simpler single-cam valvetrain to make room for better intake plumbing. Although horsepower and torque figures are hardly changed (165 hp, 166 lb-ft) the engine has a flatter torque curve and crisper response. Emissions and economy gains are claimed, though EPA figures are not yet available. Even though the boxer layout is inherently well-balanced, the somewhat rough idle we have seen before on Subaru engines remains, though the smooth and pleasant running throughout the driving speed range is comparable to that of a V-6 engine.
Equipped with the five-speed manual transmission, the sedan and wagon are quick on their feet; with the automatic, though, they seem a tad sluggish. (New this year on the autoboxes is a gated shifter which lends a quality feel and makes downshifting easier.) Our wishes for more power may be answered soon; a senior engineering executive with Fuji Heavy Industries (Subaru's parent company) hints that a horizontally-opposed six-cylinder is receiving serious consideration.
Playing the all-wheel-drive chip
All-wheel-drive has become Subaru's brand icon and is standard equipment on all the vehicles they produce. We were given the opportunity to test the dynamic qualities of the system on a soap- and oil-slicked surface, and were reminded of the that the benefits of AWD extend beyond the ability to scale a snowy incline. During emergency handling maneuvers the AWD-equipped car was far more stable and predictable than front-wheel-drive model they had specially rigged for the event.
Legacys and Outbacks with automatic transmissions come with an electronically-controlled active system which responds to current and anticipated traction conditions based on weight transfer. Standard-transmission models get a passive viscous-coupling
device. Either way, we could not be more pleased with the results. For safe stops, anti-lock brakes are standard equipment; the pedal now has a firmer, more reassuring feel.
2000 Subaru Legacy Outback (Natl)
Inside, the redesign is readily apparent. Materials and assembly are of much higher quality than on the outgoing model, while new climate and audio controls improve ergonomics. What's more, the folks at Subaru finally figured out that owners might want to tune the radio or turn up the heat on their morning commute; the cupholder is now located to the side of, instead of above these controls.
Even the bargain-priced Brighton wagon comes with a high level of standard equipment, including anti-lock brakes, air conditioning, power windows, tilt wheel, AM/FM/cassette, split folding rear seat, and rear window wiper/washer. The L sedan and wagon add rear seat headrests, upgraded brakes and tires, power door locks, cruise control, and an improved sound system.
GT sedans and wagons get a limited slip rear differential, sport-tuned suspension and wheels, body cladding, power moonroof, power driver's seat, wood trim, and keyless entry. GT Limited and Outback Limited sedans and wagons offer luxury items such as leather upholstery and CD player, along with front-seat side airbags. In addition to the extra ground clearance of the Outback models, equipment includes fog lamps, two-tone paint, and power mirrors, to name just a few items.
Prices should range from about $18,500 to $26,500. Within that range, Subaru seems to have all of the all-wheel-drive bases covered.