June 30, 2012

Chris Harris & Bowler EXR-S

If I actually made money on this site, I would feel bad about reposting Chris Harris' and the Drive Network's shows.  I don't make any money, so this is just free advertising for them then.

I had a 2004 Jeep Wrangler or TJ if you speak Jeep.  It had six cylinders and a 5 speed manual transmission.  I loved wrenching on it.  I'm a horrible gear head, so I started small by adding skid plates to the fuel tank and steering box.

I added a CB antenna mount to the spare tire with a spring loaded aerial.  Plus I mounted the actual CB next to the sub woofer in the center console.  Enough of my pseudo-wrenching.

The love of Jeeps lead me to fall in love with the Bowler Wildcat when I first saw in on Top Gear.  The Bowlers are based off of Land Rovers and they're mental: tons of horsepower, 50/50 split 4WD, and an updated chassis.

The Wildcat name has been retired, but there's a new one.  It's called the Bowler EXR-S.

The new Bowler was one of the cars that I was looking forward to seeing in person when I attended Top Gear Live.  Derek Bell had a bit of a crash the day before I got there though...  He was okay, but the EXR-S was wrecked.  He drove a Fiat 500 Abarth instead for my shows.

With Top Gear UK for the rest of 2012, at least Chris Harris will be able to satiate my need for British bonkers car reviews.  They just sound smarter.

Here's his review of the Bowler EXR-S on and off road.  Can we import these to the U.S.?  It's only $100,000ish...

Go Further with Ford- 13 Mustang GT

Disclaimer- Ford paid for me & 256 other people from the Internet to fly to Dearborn, fed us food, poured drinks down our throats, and forced us to shred their rubber.  I didn’t hurt any tires, but I tried.

The 2013 Mustang looks great.  They’ve altered the taillights and some accents around the headlamps.  I am going to drive a Mustang GT for a full review soon.  I drove two in Dearborn for a total of 2 minutes.  The laps were quick and the transmission never found third gear, let alone top gear.   The course wasn't long enough, but I did find out that 2nd gear really pulls.

During the first lap I had a co-driver, Seth Leitman of Build Your Own Electric VehicleWe had a blast and it was over too soon.  The Mustang GT really handles well on Ford’s autocross course.



The second lap in a Green Mustang GT was slower.  The car was fantastic.  I sucked at shifting.



I will drive a GT much longer. 

Thank you to Ford for inviting me and making this a memorable trip.  Not only did I drive cool cars, but I met lots of amazing folks.  Just wait for the Focus Electric video…

June 25, 2012

2012 Chrysler 200 Touring Convertible


Base Price: $26,955
As Driven: $30,075
Engine: optional 3.6L V6, 280 horsepower
Transmission: 6 Speed Automatic
Wheelbase: 108.9 in.
Curb Weight: 4,000 lbs.
MPG Rating: 19 city/ 29 highway
Specifications from Chrysler 200 window sticker & Edmunds.com

                I <3 the Internet.  <3 = heart/love for the less tech savvy readers…
                Back in 2000, I really started to “get” the Internet.  I was part of the original Napster era, but I had the smallest hard drive (just 2Gb) of all my friends. *sad face* 
The one benefit of the Internet was that the movie trailers were now on YouTube.  I would watch the trailer for an upcoming film over and over again; to the detriment of the film.  I can’t tell you how many times I waited for Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers trailer to load.  It was a long wait because my roommates were downloading lots of porn educational lectures.  (That last sentence is a lie.)
                I had that trailer memorized.  The hills, the horses, the obvious towers…  My favorite part was where Legolas (not in spell check.) mounts a horse the wrong way.  Earth physics deems that he vaults up onto the back of the horse from the side.  Middle Earth/Elf physics allow him to swing underneath the horse’s neck and then up onto its back while the horse runs at full speed.  The whole sliding down the stairs on a shield like Tony Hawk, while dispatching Orcs (Spell check tried to change orcs to orcas… Not the same things…) is cool too. 
                By the time the movie came out, I’d basically seen it.  The trailer had shown enough of the main plot points that the rest of the movie became “filler.”  I ruined 90% of a great movie by not having the ability to say “no” to watching a movie trailer.  Good thing no one’s ever offered me drugs chocolate; I’d weigh a metric ton. 

                I only watch movie trailers once now.  What I did with Two Towers was repeated with U-571 (back when Mcconaughey was less creepy and not living in a trailer with goats).
                My favorite movies now are films that I’ve never seen a trailer for that turn out to be badass.  One of the recent ones is Goon.  It’s based on a true story about a minor league hockey player and brilliantly written.  Sean William Scott departs from “Stiffler” to be an actual character.  I knew nothing about this movie and it was hilarious, compelling, and insightful.  Is that the first time someone called a Sean William Scott movie compelling?
               
                The same thing happens to me with cars.  Researching one too much can ruin it.  It doesn’t always happen, but I can be surprised by a car. 
I knew nothing about the Chrysler 200 Touring Convertible.  Other than the fact that Clint Eastwood made some commercials that SNL spoofed with Bill Hader, that’s it. 

The 2012 200 is new: new interior, new engine options, and a new reputation. 

                I drove a 200 Touring convertible with the optional 3.6L V6.  The Pentastar engine turns out 280 horsepower while averaging 18 mpg in the city and 29 on the highway.  I was impressed with the 29 mpg on the highway.  I’ve driven some turbo four cylinders recently that did not achieve the same mileage.
                The power was readily available and fantastic for cruising through city and highway traffic.  The car never felt underpowered.  There is a 6 speed automatic transmission.  That’s it.  No flappy paddles, no manual shift mode, just 6 gears and the car deciding when it’s best to shift.  This is not a performance car.  It’s not an overall luxury car, but it is a great Grand Touring car; smooth, powerful, and comfortable.
                I had to stifle the desire to take a road trip.  The day was warm, the top was down, and I had satellite radio.  I could have driven coast to coast listening to the same station. 
               
                The interior is improved.  I expected it to have the same buttons and dials as my mom’s ’94 Grand Caravan and my ’04 Jeep Wrangler because those two did in fact have the exact same buttons…   All of the old buttons, gauges, and instruments from Chrysler are gone.  We can thank the Fiat ownership for that.  The new interior is pleasant. The seats were supportive and comfortable as well.
                 It is hard to see information on the instruments or media center when the top is down and the sun's out.  The buttons feel like a nicer grade of plastic and there is a better firmness to pressing them.  The radio was easy to use.  I’m a little worried because the Sirius station I listen to is called “Coffee House.”  Screams, “I’m a man,” right?   

                The look of this car is acceptable.  It doesn’t stand out, but the new LED lighting on the front end is a step in the right direction.  The lines sweep back to a respectable looking rear end.  The 200 is unassuming.  You will draw attention to yourself as you raise/lower the convertible roof.  It takes 26 seconds for it to go up or down.  That seems like an eternity as everyone stops and stares at you.  It’s too long to try and raise the roof at a traffic light.  You have to pull over to not feel rushed.

                Jalopnik is a car enthusiast site and has the 200 on their list of the 10 Worst Cars on Sale Now.  They have ranked it as #2.  Their reason it’s on the list is because it’s still a “Sebring”.  I don’t see it.  Yes, the 200’s predecessor was the Sebring, but the 200 is better.  The interior is vastly improved, the exterior is updated, and the powertrain is stout.  Close to 30 mpgs with 280 horsepower are respectable numbers.
                The pricing is competitive with other sedans, but you won’t find a convertible Accord.  The 200 opened my eyes.  This is a car, that if I actually worked in an office, I wouldn’t be ashamed to drive home.  The “Honey, I’m home” phrase seems to be dying, but this car lends to a little bit of nostalgia while still being modern.

If you have any good indy, comedy, action, or adventure films to watch, leave a comment.

I’m going to try and get some more Chrysler products on here; maybe even some more video reviews.  Help me out by test driving the 200 at Olathe Dodge Chrysler Jeep.  Contact them if you’re interested.  The Pentastar engine is available in the sedan as well (36.2 rear legroom, a solid number). 

June 18, 2012

2013 Scion FR-S


Base Price: $24,200 manual; $25,300 automatic
As Driven: $24,930; destination fee included
Engine: 2.0L 4-cylinder Boxer engine, 200 horsepower
Transmission: 6 Speed Manual
Wheelbase: 101.2 in
Curb Weight: 2,758 lbs.
MPG Rating: 22 city/ 30 highway

I’m going to ruin my “nerd” street cred right now.

I’ve never seen an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer

I’ve seen the early 90’s movie with Luke Perry & Kristi Swanson.  I still think Sarah Michelle Gellar is smoking hot.  Somehow through my secondary school years I missed the Buffy band wagon.

The fact that I’ve never seen an episode isn’t what bothers me.  It’s the fact that so many other nerds/geeks love the show, and I’m worried that I won’t. 

A future conversation:
Nerd friend: “Chris, have you watched Buffy yet?”
Me: “Yep, I still don’t get it.  Gellar’s hot, but the rest of the show eludes me…”

Friendship over…

This is the crap that I worry about.  Sad, right?

This is why I was worried about driving the Scion FR-S.  I saw it and the BRZ displayed in Detroit at NAIAS 2012.  I have read the reviews that the major auto mags have done.  They all like it. 

Scion FR-S at NAIAS 2012
If you haven’t seen the correlation between the car and Buffy yet; stop reading now.

The FR-S/BRZ/GT-86 are a collaboration of Toyota and Subaru.  They are supposed to have a made an affordable, reliable “driver’s car.” Everyone says so.  What if I don’t have the talent to unlock the full driving experience in the FR-S?  What if I didn’t see what the rest of the industry saw?  Should I be looking for a new line of work?  Not yet.

Getting to the point; achievement unlocked.

I experienced the FR-S and saw on my own what everyone has been raving about.  The FR-S is the car that I wished I had as a teenager.  And parents, seriously consider this car for your teenagers. 

The look of this car is phenomenal.  The WW2 pin-up curves around the front and rear fenders.  Lines that sweep back to what looks like a Hip-Hop video “junk in the trunk” backside, turn out to be from The Fast & The Furious: Tokyo Drift“It’s called Drifting.” If they remade that today, he’d say, “It’s called hooning.”
                The hood has an aggressive look to it as it slants down to the nose.  The grille’s got a gaping mouth, but nothing as horrible as a Mazda3’s front end.  The lines on the side are sharp and don’t have the Hyundai Genesis hiccup near the B-pillar window.
                As James May says, “This car makes me fizzy.” (Couldn’t find the actual quote, so you get this.) Its stance, the rear triangular reflector, the brake lights, the wheels, all of it adds up to not looking like a douche-canoe.  It’s one thing to rock a Civic Si that you’ve modded, and another to drive a stock FR-S that already looks good, for less money.  The Civic Si base is cheaper, but the mods are more expensive, since the FR-S doesn’t need the mods.

                The Interior is pretty nice for 25 grand.  The seats are racy and provide a lot of support.  The side bolsters helped keep me in place while I was whipping it through the corners.
                The instrument cluster is brilliant.  A huge white tachometer in the center with a digital speedometer surrounded by a black analog speedometer, fuel, and engine temperature gauges.  The white tach stands out and the bright red numbers on the digital speedo stand out against the white.  The trip computer is easy to adjust and reset. 
                My mom said if you can’t say anything nice then you shouldn’t say anything at all.  There is a stereo.  I tried, Mom.  The stock Pioneer is what the kids were all putting in their cars when I was in high school.  There is an $845 upgrade option.  It is the BeSpoke Premium Audio System.  Buy it.  Driving a brand new car at 30 with the same kind of stereo that you had when you were 17 is kind of depressing.
                The back seat is useless.  My most comfortable driving position had the seat against the front of the back seat.  There are two sets of LATCH hooks, but who’s that mean to their kids?  Poor kids will be yakking five minutes after you start whipping.  The front passenger has plenty of room though. 
                The trunk is functional and there is room for a respectable subwoofer and an amp.  Not a lot of extra space, but some.  An overnight bag would fit, but not two sets of golf clubs.
White Tachometer with digital Speedometer
                This car makes me believe that Buffy could be awesome. The FR-S showed me everything that I had read.  I don’t have to worry about not seeing what the rest of the auto writers saw.  I got all of the same analogies out of this car. I’ve tried to make sure I didn’t write any of them here, but accidents do happen. 
The FR-S is not a 10 second car, but it is brilliant.  It is the best example of the argument: “Slow cars driven fast vs. fast cars driven slow.”  The FR-S is slower than most sport coupes.  But those same coupes are not as much fun as the FR-S.  I was considering my down payment…
Corners were not an issue, and powering through the apexes was one of the more entertaining things that I’ve done lately.  I’ve driven a bunch of different cars in the last couple of weeks, but the FR-S seemed to free my soul…  (Man, that sounds “not straight.”)  It helps that it didn’t have a CVT, but a short shift six speed manual.
                The transmission is aggressive and lively, but the 2.0L Boxer four-cylinder engine only feels like it’s really pulling in the top half of the tach.  200 horses out of a 2.0L non-turbo engine, while average 30 mpg on the highway, is impressive.
The car only weighs 2,758 lbs. and feels light, but planted in the corners.  The steering was tight enough to not need a ton of movement to get it pointed where you wanted to go, but wasn’t so tight as to force you to put it in a ditch.  Yes, opposite lock can be achieved easily, but it can also be recovered with the same amount of effort.  Safe + fun = enlightening.
Once you take the traction control off and turn on the Sport button, the FR-S really shows you what it can do.  There was at least one donut, on purpose, and for the rest of the test drive, the FR-S was very controlled and reserved.

I now have to watch how many seasons of Buffy?  8?  12?  I don’t even know.  At least there’s now hope that it will be good.  I hear that this Joss Whedon guy has done some good stuff lately.  Maybe his old stuff is good too…

The FR-S is badass for 25 grand.  The thrust to weight ratio makes it a dynamic vehicle.  The fact that you’re looking at Toyota reliability mixed with Subaru safety and performance makes me want this car.  It’s a blast of a car that will last forever.  F.O.R.E.V.E.R.  We are going to see some Scion FR-S, Subaru BRZ, Toyota GT-86’s with 500,000 miles on them. 

I can’t wait till the turbo version gets here.  Until that’s a reality, the six speed FR-S will do.

Thank you to Molle Toyota for allowing me to borrow their FR-S for the purpose of creating this review.  They would like to sell you an FR-S.  I suggest buying one, if it fits your budget.  Contact them and they'll definitely help.

P.S. This is a departure from my normal style.  Let me know what you think.  Did you like it?  Is it the best or worst you've every read?  Be honest, leave a comment.

June 17, 2012

Top Gear Live 720

The Top Gear UK boys are down in South Africa right now.  They're doing Top Gear Live shows with a twist, well, a loop, well, two loops.

This is straight out of Hot Wheels stuff.

I'm sure there are more important problems in the world, but finding out whether or not a buggy can do two loops back to back seems to be at the top of the list.

Please enjoy the video from Durban:

June 12, 2012

Shelby Cobra Burnout Teaser

Here's a quick teaser of what's to come in the Shelby Cobra review.  I'm just got so excited that I wanted to post this now.  Expect the rest of the review in a couple weeks.  The editing is a little more complicated that my usual videos.  Thank you to everyone who made this possible.

June 10, 2012

Chris Harris with Rally Car Legends

This video kept me up late; such torque, power, and handling.  Chris Harris is good too.  He spends the day in Northern Italy not driving anything, but being chauffeured around by Rally legends.  Just watch, there's nothing left to say...

June 9, 2012

2013 Audi Allroad 2.0T


When I was 14 my mom drove a baby blue Ford LTD station wagon.  This car has cost me numerous hours in therapy, especially since it was referred to as “my car” before I turned 16.  The hardened chewing gum in the back seat still haunts my dreams.
My mom upgraded to a Dodge Grand Caravan Sport, after the Ford committed car suicide by dropping the exhaust and cracking the manifold, just in time for me to learn to drive something slightly less sucky.
I’ve always been adverse to the idea of a station wagon, even more adverse to the horrible reality that is the mini-van.  I might have found a solution to all of that horribleness with the Allroad.

Base Price: $39,600
As Tested: $47,870
Engine: 2.0L Turbo-charged 4 cylinder, 211 horsepower
Transmission: 8-Speed Shiftable Automatic
Curb Weight: 3,637 lbs.
Wheelbase: 110.4 inches
MPG Rating: 20 city/ 27 highway

                The Allroad hasn’t been in the States since 2004-05.  Before it was based on an A6 platform, but now is based on an A4 platform.  The Allroad is still basically the same size; cars getting bigger and all.  The Allroad's return has been highly anticipated and I can see why.

Interior:
The driver’s position is functional and sensible.  The steering wheel telescopes and tilts allowing for max comfort.  All of the infotainment controls are located on the center console and also are on the steering wheel.
The main control of the infotainment system is four corner buttons and a wheel in the middle.  I prefer a touch screen.  I continually would turn the wheel the wrong direction.  It would just take getting used to.
The backseat has acceptable leg room.  It’s not the biggest back seat, but it’s not the smallest either.  I was able to fit behind the driver’s seat in my position, but it was very comfortable.  Five adults can fit, but if you want them to be comfortable, then you should only let three friends come along.  There are two sets of LATCH points for children seats and the back seat is big enough to afford them legroom.
The driver’s seat was incredibly comfortable.  I spent the better part of a day putting a couple hundred miles on the Allroad and felt fantastic at the end, though this was probably more from the adrenaline rush of returning the car to the dealer with 0 miles on the range.  Sorry, about that, guys…
The Outback has more cargo room.  The max cargo volume of the Outback is 71.3 cubic feet and the Allroad has only 50 cu. ft.  I loved the extra cargo room that a wagon gives over a sedan.  The double stroller fit, along with the diaper bag, portable table chair, and the rest of the crap that goes with having two kids.
Exterior:
                The outside of the Allroad is all “car”, but from the inside it kind of feels like a CUV, like the sportiest CUV ever.  The headlights are the standard LED and Xenon combination that Audi has been using with all of their vehicles.  The wheels are 18 inches and standard.
                The rear hatch slopes down to the rear bumper helping the aerodynamics and helping the Allroad’s lines look fast even when stopped.
                There is molding around the lower edges of all the body work and both the front and rear bumper.  It is normally black, but my test car’s was color matched to the paint. 

Tech:
One helpful feature of the navigation system is that as you’re driving, the nav displays the speed limit.  It isn’t a perfect system, but was quite helpful.  It didn’t always have the speed limit for some of the smaller or back country roads and didn’t have the updated highway speeds (now 75 mph speed limit) in Kansas.
The Outback does beat the Allroad in terms of the Subaru having a touch screen and the Audi is still rocking the wheel and four corner buttons to navigate the infotainment system.
The Allroad has driver and front passenger head & side airbags.  Audi is one of the few manufacturers who are installing side curtain airbags with side airbags.  Most manufacturers trust their steel frames for side collisions in the backseat.  Audi is being proactive and putting in the technology now.

Performance:
The Allroad is not a performance car, which is like saying Scotty Pippen isn’t as good as Jordan, but it is a blast to drive.  It is an amazing all weather car.  The Quattro all-wheel drive has historic roots in rally racing and the Allroad is a perfect example.  I spent an hour or so with the Allroad on gravel and really enjoyed myself.  The all-wheel drive is predictable and efficient at moving through the corners.  Four wheel drifts are not difficult to achieve, just don’t tempt Darwin by going too fast.
  The Allroad uses a turbo-charged four cylinder engine to create 211 horsepower.  This is the same VW GTI engine that was creating only 200 hp last year.  The center of gravity is too high to be a good track day car, but the Allroad is still very good on the street.
The 8 speed shiftable automatic transmission is fantastic.  There are three drive modes: drive, sport, & manual.  Manual could be very helpful at the track, but this isn’t a track car.  It could be though, if you needed one in a pinch.  “Sport” mode held all 8 of the gears longer and drastically lowered our mpg numbers.  Regular “Drive” mode was strong and surprisingly good on the fuel economy.  This car didn’t come with the suspension adjustments like the A6, but was still very sporty.
I averaged 27.3mpg throughout all of my driving in the Allroad.  That includes a lot of aggressive accelerating and the also returning the Allroad to the dealer with the range reading 0 miles.  It had been reading 0 while we were still 7.5 miles away from the dealer.  We were worried that the precise Germans had put their upmost accuracy into the fuel gauge we were going to be trudging back to the dealer. The sticker has the mileage listed at 20 city and 27 highway with 23 combined.  We did some combined driving, but by keeping a dark wizard under the hood, somehow the mileage stayed above 27.  While on the highway for a lot of our drive the mileage was closer to 29 & 30 mpgs.

Wrap:
If I had $48,000 in my pocket, it would have been in the Audi dealer’s hand at the end of the day.  I loved the feel of the 8 speed automatic transmission.  It was very smooth all day.  The 211 horsepower moves the Allroad confidently and quickly through all road conditions.  The Quattro AWD makes it almost unlikely that the Allroad ends up off road.  The only reason you should ever be off road is if you choose to be.  

Thank you, Molle Audi, for providing the Allroad for free for my test drive.  Please swing by if you are interested in test driving the Allroad.

June 8, 2012

Slow Cars Fast or Fast Cars Slow?

The Drive Network has consumed a lot of my time lately.  Big Muscle, Chris Harris on Cars, Road Testament, and Tuned all are great car shows.  Topics range from American muscle cars to European super cars to the most insane tuner cars.  Don't let me forget DrivenJF has toured Lamborghini, McLaren, Pangani, and Koenigsegg.  Great stuff all around.

Here's an episode of Road Testament with Mike and Leo discussing the age old question of is it better to drive slow cars fast or fast cars slow?

I experienced this question today.  I was in a relatively quick car, but it really wasn't that fast.  It was kind of slow, but I was having as much fun as a spoiled toddler at Chuck E Cheese.  It was fantastic.

Enjoy, Road Testament.  I really do like a lot of the Drive shows.  Anybody need another writer?

June 1, 2012

2012 Subaru Outback 2.5i Limited



The Outback first debuted in 1994.  As a teenager I mocked it, but secretly would have been cool with one for a first car; any port in a storm.  For years I’ve smugly looked at the Outback with an “I’m so much cooler than that car” smirk.  Turns out, I’m not…
The Outback is based at $23,295, which is right around brand new Volkswagen GTI money, but the Outback comes standard with the cargo capacity of a small freight train and the assuredness of all-wheel drive.
The Outback has always been the funny little station wagon that wanted to be an SUV.  Now that I have kids; strollers, diaper bags, and all the other crap, so much poop, that comes with offspring; I get the Outback.

Base Price: $23,295
As Driven: $31,730
Engine: 2.5L flat 4-cylinder, 170 horsepower
Transmission: Continuously Variable-Speed Automatic
Curb Weight: 3,538 lbs.
Wheelbase: 107.9 inches
MPG Rating: 22 city/ 29 hwy

Interior:
                The Outback has a spacious interior with great visibility.  You don’t have to pull the rear headrests to see out the back.  There are really nice leather seats, not whale skin, but nice.  The best thing about the leather is how easy it is to clean mud, formula, barf, fast food, and kid puke off of the seats. 
They wipe down so easily.
The driver’s seat has the most room that I’ve ever experienced in a not-truck.  The steering wheel tilts and telescopes allowing the driver to stretch his/her legs to a comfortable position.  The driver’s seat will get so far away from the instrument panel that it feels like the hood is in the future and you struggling to keep up.
                The rear seat legroom is listed by Subaru at 37.8 inches.  This is definitely a spacious back seat.  This is the kind of legroom that allows a giant me to sit comfortably behind even the tallest drivers.  Shaq would be more comfortable in an Outback, but I don’t know if his ego could take it.  Plus Buick is already paying him…
                The Outback has 34.3 cubic feet of cargo capacity with all of the seats in place.  When you drop the rear 60/40 split seat and really maximize your cargo space the numbers jump to 71.3 cubic feet.  That’s almost half a baby elephant…  More importantly who’s cutting baby elephants in half?!?! I totally Googled how many cubic feet is a baby elephant and this came up.


Exterior:
                The styling of the Outback has gotten better with age.  The lines are not as horrible station wagon as they used to be.  The two tone color scheme with the painted upper body and the matte gray rocker panels help to improve the look.  There are not a lot of guys that want to tell people they drive an Outback based on looks alone.  If you are a “dude” and you’re extolling the virtues of your ride, it probably has more to do with cargo capacity, all-wheel drive, and the lovely hippie chicks you met in the woods last weekend.  Beware of unshaven pits!


                The roof rails are a nice feature.  When they are not needed the rails can be stowed in line with the car, but when it’s time to lash something to the top, possibly the aforementioned hippies, then the roof rails easily unlatch, span the roof, and create a roof rack.
                The 8.7 inches of ground clearance tell everyone that you’re the kind of guy ready for anything: snow, ice, sleet, rain, typhoons, or the occasional rocks that are smaller than 8 inches.  The new Explorer only has 7.6 inches of ground clearance and the Jeep Wrangler has 8.8 inches.  One of the original Outback TV advertisements listed the car has having the same ground clearance as the Explorer.  The Outback has stayed pretty consistent here, while the new Explorer is less of an off-road vehicle.
                Subaru offers a number of optional extras for the exterior of the vehicle.  Different badges, caps, covers, carpets, mats; all of it can be changed in your Outback.  There are almost as many components that can be changed as you can change on a Scion.


Tech:
                The Outback comes with Bluetooth and an auxiliary jack for mp3 devices.  There is an upgrade to include a USB port as well.  I love the USB ports since they can also be used to charge devices: cameras, iPods, and phones.
                My test vehicle came with the 440 watt 9 speaker Harman Kardon stereo.  This stereo produced a gorgeous sound.  It was full and sounded better than a live concert.  If I actually owned annoying music, then everyone around me would have suffered in crystal clear clarity.  I have good taste in my audio choices, so everyone was able to enjoy this great stereo.
                The infotainment system is controlled by a smallish touch screen.  The Dodge Charger’s is close to nine inches diagonal and the Subaru’s is only 5.8ish…  I like that it is a touch screen, but feel that the size could be upgraded drastically.  Go figure, a guy complaining about the size of something…


Performance:
The 2.5L Boxer engine does its best to be “torquey,” 170 ft-lbs at 4,000rpms.  The Boxer engine is laid out sideways instead of the standard vertical inline four.  By Subaru laying the engine horizontally it helps lower the center of gravity for the engine bay.  This point is moot for a car that has almost nine inches of ground clearance.  For the Ipreza’s, Legacies, WRX’s, and STi’s; we get the lowered center of gravity, but the Outback is already not a performance vehicle.  It is a very capable and reliable engine.
The 0 to 60 time is not why you buy an Outback, 9.4 seconds according to Edmunds.  The 2.5L does produce 170 horsepower.  This isn’t the best amount of power out of a four cylinder engine, but it is adequate.  I would like to see the WRX’s turbo charger offered with the Outback.  I know that Subaru won’t do that, but I still want it.
The mileage is good.  The 2.5L averages 22 mpg in the city and 29 mpg on the highway.  I was closer to 23 on my test drive, but I did a lot of stopping and starting with aggressive acceleration.  While on the highway, the mpgs were over 30 for most of the drive. 
                The suspension on the Outback was able to smooth out most of the bumps.  Having a long wheelbase helps the Outback glide over most road surfaces.  There were a couple sections of surface that were like getting punched in the tail bone quite rough, but I figured that it didn’t matter what car I was in; the road was just the worst, like a South Dakota highway (I drove across SD back in the 90’s and every 8 feet there was a seam in the interstate.  You felt every seam…). 


Wrap:
                I would not use the Outback to win any road races.  I would love to see an Outback rally car, though.  Please, Subaru, make that a reality, or give me one and I’ll race it.
                If you’re in the market for something that will hold all of your kids’ crap, make room for two kid seats, and still have room for some of your stuff, then this is definitely a car for you.  The all-wheel drive builds confidence.  Remember, it’s not how fast you can go, but how fast you can stop in crappy bad weather.
                I still don’t think the Outback looks all that cool, but it definitely performs better than it looks. For mid 20’s, the Outback is a really great deal, but you might lose your “man” card.



A special thank you to Van Subaru for loaning me the Outback.  These guys were gracious, polite, and believe in their product.  Give them a call if you're interested in an Outback, BRZ, or any other Subaru.