Despite the long-standing advice about buying the cheapest house in the best neighborhood, some people still choose to do the opposite. It's like that with cars, too; some opt for high-ticket makes on the cheap -- late-model used, perhaps -- while others prefer to start with a less-expensive, brand new car and pile on the options.
If your preferences run toward the latter, you'll have no problem with the concept of $32,000 for the Big Mac of Subarus, a deluxe model with all the trimmings.
If your preferences run to marks with more prestige, you'll probably get a good healthy chuckle from the new-for-2001 six-cylinder Outback VDC and L.L. Bean edition wagons.
At least, there's plenty of stuff for the money packed between the front and rear bumpers of these midsized, five-passenger wagons, starting with Subaru's trademark all-wheel drive and, for the first time in any Legacy or Outback, a six-cylinder engine.
Naturally, it's a boxer -- with horizontally opposed banks of cylinders. My tester's engine ran smoothly and quietly but, given the inherent drag of an all-wheel-drive system and this car's substantial 3,715 pounds, acceleration is not as sprightly as one might expect given the horsepower rating.
Premium fuel is recommended for peak performance but not required.
The 212-horsepower, six-cylinder engine was definitely needed, though, at least as an option, in the Legacy/Outback line, all members of which were heretofore powered by a 165 horsepower, four-cylinder engine.
But, for now at least, the six is available only in two highly equipped versions of the wagon: the H6-3.0 VDC, for $31,985 plus $495 freight, which I drove; and the L.L. Bean edition, starting at $29,495 plus $495 freight.
VDC stands for another first for Subaru: Vehicle Dynamics Control, a system, common in luxury models, that takes anti-lock braking a step further by using the brakes and throttle to control sideways skids such as might occur in rounding a bend on a slippery road, as well as straight-ahead skids that might occur during stopping on slippery surfaces. All-wheel drive, after all, helps you go but does nothing to help you stop or negotiate turns.
Both six-cylinder models have larger disc brakes than the four-cylinder cars, Subaru says.
VDC is not to be confused with VTD, which stands for "Variable Torque Distribution" All-Wheel Drive, what Subaru calls its most sophisticated system yet.
It works in conjunction with the Vehicle Dynamics Control and with traction control to help prevent wheelspin and, so, VDT is in the VDC model only; the Bean edition has a more ordinary all-wheel-drive system.
One more first for the 2001 Outback line is a McIntosh audio system, the first factory installation of a sound system from the maker of high-end audio equipment.
It's standard in the VDC and not available elsewhere in the Legacy/Outback line. I'm no audiophile but this 11-speaker system was one of the best I've ever heard in a car.
Both six-cylinder versions come with four-speed automatic transmissions.
Four-cylinder Legacy wagons begin at $20,490 with freight. Outback wagons, which, among other things, feature higher ground clearance, begin at $23,390 with freight.
Like other members of the Legacy and Outback families, the tester was a pleasant family car, conservatively styled, quiet enough and with a ride nicely balanced between softness for comfort and firmness for better handling.
Interior ergonomics -- switches, seats and gauges -- are state of the art. The rear seatback folds down in a 60-40 arrangement to increase cargo room to 68.6 cubic feet.
Except for a slightly overboosted steering system and a fan switch that must be punched through each of the higher settings to be turned down one notch, I have no complaints.
Also standard in my Bean tester were three-point seat belts and head restraints in all five seating positions, side-impact air bags, leather-trimmed upholstery and wood dashboard trim, an eight-way power driver's seat, automatic climate control, a Momo wood-and-leather steering wheel; power windows, mirrors and locks, the last with remote and an alarm; and dual moonroofs. Yep, dual; one over the front seat, one over the rear seat.
Subaru would like prospective buyers to compare its V-6 Outbacks to three imported wagons -- the Audi A4 2.8T Avant, ($27,840 with freight), Volvo V70 XC Cross Country ($35,475) and Volkswagen Passat 4Motion ($28,200) -- and to note that Subaru's engine is the most powerful in that group.
True enough. And although differences in standard equipment complicate attempts at comparison, they're all in the same ballpark, pricewise.
But for those of you who place a value on brand cachet, opting for a Subaru when you could drive an Audi or a Volvo might not compute.
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