‘Insane and ridiculous.’ These were the words that went through Shed’s mind (though not his mouth) when Mrs Shed told him that she could really see herself in a Daihatsu Copen.
They were also the words used in 2021 by Subaru UK’s then-new managing director to describe the company’s sales in that year, which had amounted to a 68 per cent fall on the previous year. They put it down partly to Covid hurting their traditional older market but there were also strong suggestions that the dealer network needed a thorough sort-out. Nobody said anything about the model range being a bit long in the tooth, but it was.
As of March 2023 Subaru was still going in the UK albeit with a quaint-looking range of motors topped by the potentially rare Solterra, Subaru’s first battery EV, and including the all-wheel drive Outback 2.5 boxer with a CVT transmission (ah) starting at just under £37k.
At a more accessible £1,999 you could go for this early 3.0R example of the gen-three all-wheel drive Outback. This model was based on the gen-four Legacy, a car with better resistance to rot than its predecessor though it could still fall foul of the brown stuff, not just in the usual areas below axle height but also around the sunroof, screen and door edges.
The R’s 3.0 litre EZ30 flat-six made use of variable valve timing and two-stage valve lift to produce 241hp, a 16 per cent hike on the non-R, but that was conditional on you being prepared to rev it to 6,600rpm. The R had a small torque increase too, up from 207lb ft to 219lb ft at 4,200rpm. With 1,495kg to pull, the 0-62mph was in the low eights and the top speed a whisker under 140mph. The official combined fuel consumption figure was 29mpg but you needed the right-foot sensitivity of a ballerina with a bunion to achieve that.
In case you’re wondering, the 3.0 was not related to the 3.3 used in the earlier Giugiaro-designed SVX coupe. Reliability-wise the big petrol was preferable to the fairly disastrous boxer diesel that came along later. Although the 3.0R only came with a 5-speed auto box, it was a conventional and trustworthy unit if you followed the service routine. Some owners of manual-gearbox Outbacks with other engines had to have their dual mass flywheels replaced under warranty after premature failure.
Timing chain tensioners and guides could go on the 3.0. So could serpentine belts, throttle position and AC sensors, and petrol pumps. Oil coolers could leak too, but that was usually just a gasket issue. Spark plug changes were a PITA, and we’re not talking about a yeast-levened flatbread.
Despite its giraffe-like stance the Outback was surprisingly nice to drive and a very useful tool in bad conditions (especially with a towbar fitted as here), not just for the owner but for any neighbours who might be needing to be hauled out of the snow when there were no Landies around. The Outback’s tow rating was upgraded to 1,800kg in 2004, the year of our car.
The McPherson strut front/multi-link rear suspension was self-levelling. Front bushes could get a bit crunchy over time and squeaks and rattles might make themselves heard in the cabin, which had a Momo steering wheel and a groovy night-time lighting vibe. The rear seats folded down quickly, the boot was big and so was the R’s sunroof.
Apart from a couple of creases on the offside rear panel this car looks to be in well-cared-for condition. The ivory leather wasn’t a great choice for what could be a working vehicle as it showed the dirt, ditto the boot (this one comes with a load bay protector), but there’s a full service history, including a recent service.
Last December’s MOT test generated no advisories. it was the same for the three tests before that. The only two fails since 2017 were for a worn screen wiper blade and for a non-functioning dip beam on one headlight. That all sounds good unless you’re a glass-half-empty person in which case you’ll be thinking all the big bills are about to start landing.
The vehicle tax is OK at £340pa. At least, it will seem OK next to fuel consumption numbers that could easily begin with a 1. After a while, you’ll end up as a tank-half-full person.
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