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Subaru's new six-cylinder engine gives the reliable all-wheel-drive H6 model a respectable boost in power.

2001 Subaru Outback H6-3.0 Road Test
Power to the people

By Bill Roebuck

The 2001 H6-3.0 resolves the most common criticism about the Subaru Outback -- its unexciting power curve. Even though it is a competent vehicle in almost every respect, the standard four-cylinder engine provides adequate but not peppy performance. Enter the 212-hp, six-cylinder, three-litre H6 engine, with 30% more horsepower and torque than the standard Outback 2.5-litre H4.

The first thing you notice, besides its handsome appearance and good ground clearance, is the high quality of the fit and finish, both inside and out. As soon as you start driving, you feel that the handling is exceptional, aided in part by the low centre of gravity of the horizontally mounted boxer engine. Subaru's Variable Torque Distribution (VTD) full-time, all-wheel drive system performs unnoticeably.

The H6-3.0 also can be ordered with Variable Dynamics Control, with a VDC badge on the nameplate. This stability system significantly improves handling in emergency manoeuvres.

We were able to test the H6-3.0 VDC technology on a race track in Quebec. The skid control feature could be turned on or off with a toggle switch installed in the vehicles for this evaluation. Wheeling around marker cones at high speed on a wet road surface was much easier and more controlled with the VDC on. Without it, there was more apparent wheel drift -- although it was difficult, almost impossible, to make the Subaru lose control even with the system switched off.

The H6-3.0 was the winner of the Best New Intermediate Sport Utility category at the 2001 Car of the Year Awards of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC).

The H6-3.0 VDC features a high-end, 200-watt McIntosh stereo -- a name that will impress audiophiles. No matter how loud you crank the volume, you'll hear no distortion from the system's eleven (!) speakers. Other amenities include an eight-way power driver's seat, 16-in. aluminum alloy wheels, and leather seats. Towing capacity is 2000 lb (909 kg).

The Outback H6-3.0 comes equipped with two sunroofs. The smaller front one, over the driver, tilts up to open. The much larger second unit over the rear passenger area slides completely open. However, we found it caused annoying wind buffeting, so kept it closed most of the time.

Other complaints are minor. We found the ventilation fan speed too high even at its lowest setting. Also, it was easy to inadvertently turn on the seat heater switches, which are on the centre console.

Overall, the H6-3.0 is fun to drive and a capable performer in the city, on the highway, and on rugged cottage-country roads or snow-covered paths in winter. Plus it's quiet, refined, roomy and comfortable for everyday driving. However, even with it's new 212-hp powerplant, it's still not a really fast car -- which is not necessarily a bad thing.

The price for the Outback H6-3.0 is $39,995. The VDC model is $4,000 more. In comparison, a basic manual transmission, four-cylinder Subaru Outback Wagon lists for $31,995.

© Copyright Bill Roebuck, 2002.

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