Subaru Legacy Outback

Auction website eBay has a lot to answer for. Apart from spelling the end for junk shops across the UK, it recently sent me on a five-hour, 250-mile round trip to Macclesfield, Cheshire. The Internet service had sucked me into buying a big piece of furniture I neither needed nor wanted, but because it was cheap and I was confident of the size of the Legacy Outback's boot, I couldn't see any problem in making a 'short trip' to collect it.

  • Excellent build quality, characterful engine, outstanding practicality, handling
  • Challenging design, gearshift, transfer case, response to tyre pressures

Auction website eBay has a lot to answer for. Apart from spelling the end for junk shops across the UK, it recently sent me on a five-hour, 250-mile round trip to Macclesfield, Cheshire. The Internet service had sucked me into buying a big piece of furniture I neither needed nor wanted, but because it was cheap and I was confident of the size of the Legacy Outback's boot, I couldn't see any problem in making a 'short trip' to collect it. Predictably, the solid wood unit was far larger than expected. It also weighed a ton and nearly crippled those of us who heaved it out of a damp garage and into the Legacy's rear with millimetres to spare. With the goods stowed and the car's nose pointing skyward, it was time to head home. Two-and-a-half hours later, I was convinced that there would be nothing left of the squashed seats, and even less of the costly self-levelling dampers which support the rear axle. But the Outback is made of sterner stuff, and despite the abuse it took on the M6 toll road, the rear bench was unmarked, as were the plastics cladding the tailgate. Once the load was removed, the handling was restored to normal, too... Good news indeed, especially as repairing it all could have cost a fortune. In fact, the shock introduction to Subaru's parts prices didn't come until the following Saturday. Somehow, the passenger wing mirror had been knocked off the car during the night. It was repaired with real efficiency by my local dealer, who was extremely helpful but handed me a bill for £220, of which nearly £200 was for the mirror itself. In contrast, the labour charge was only £27 - a real bargain, I thought. Since then, however, Subaru component costs have been dramatically reduced by up to 56 per cent. That's handy because, with 9,822 miles on the clock, it's nearly time for the Subaru's 10,000-mile service. On the basis that the car has run faultlessly for the past six months (our only problems have been a peeling front number plate and a scuff around the foglight), we are not expecting any nasty surprises. Quick visual inspections have revealed that there is still plenty of life in the tyres and brake pads, and there's no hint of even the slightest mechanical gremlin. I'll let you know how the service goes in our next update. Meanwhile, the Legacy's reputation among all those who drive it continues to grow. It's a capable cruiser and a reasonable town car. We've yet to find a real use for the high and low-ratio transfer case, while there are suggestions that the throttle response is a little uneven at low speeds and that the gearshift is somewhat rubbery. But generally, most drivers are impressed. We all agree about its practicality and versatility. The tall suspension, which provides genuine off-road ability, also ensures comfortable cruising without making any compromises with the stable handling, which is as involved as it is rewarding. There is one slight frustration, though. The Outback is incredibly sensitive to tyre pressure and, if it drops, steering response and mid-corner stability diminish rapidly. So, to maintain the accuracy of the handling, we seem to find ourselves pumping the tyres with more air at every fuel stop. Ultimately, the extra effort is worth making. The hard-wearing Legacy mixes practicality and driveability like few other cars on our fleet. No wonder Subaru says this model has proved such a success since its launch last year. Waiting lists sit at six months, so if you're planning on moving some furniture this winter, best get your order in.

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