Car Number Six (of six)
The search process began with a wide survey of the options. Would I be best served by a sports car? An SUV? A sedan? How much space would I need? How much power? How new would be new enough? What could I afford? What would best fit my personality?
I decided that the trip would require ample cargo space, so that narrowed the field to SUVs and wagons. (Sorry, minivans failed the personality test.) I liked the romance of a true body-on-frame SUV, but more efficient use of space and superior gas mileage made the crossovers and wagons attractive, too. Ignoring the fact that I don’t ever do any serious off-roading, I very nearly purchased a Toyota Land Cruiser, but that deal fell apart during negotiations.
After more research, test drives, and soul searching, I did what has got to be one of the stupidest financial transactions in the world. It’s something that I’ve written and spoken against. It’s something that I’d never done. It’s something that I swore I’d never do.
I bought a new car.
The flat-6 engine is a thing of beauty. The pistons in the opposed cylinders balance each other giving the machine incredible smoothness. The horizontal (or “boxer”) configuration sits low in the engine bay, which endows the vehicle with a low center of gravity and thus superior stability. The unusual shape also makes possible unusual drivetrain layouts, which allow the rise of vehicles with charisma.
Only two mass-market car companies currently manufacture flat-6 engines: Porsche and Subaru. My Outback had a flat-4, so I had already experienced the Japanese take on the layout. Porsche has been my favorite car company for a while now, so I gave them serious consideration, too — but their SUV, the Cayenne, did nothing to stir my passion, and a 911 would be totally impractical for the trip. Subaru won.
Last Wednesday, I closed on a brand new dark red 2011 Subaru Outback 3.6R Limited.
The 2011 model is very similar to the SUV-of-the-year 2010 model, a fact that I at first found a bit unsettling. I bemoaned the Outback’s transition from quirky wagon to mass-market crossover. “Why?” I asked the automobile gods. To which they responded, “Drive it.” So I did.
After that first test drive, I knew my car search was over.
Roomy, powerful, capable, and comfortable: the Subaru had what I wanted. The only thing I would have liked to have had was a manual transmission, but the 5-speed auto is a tolerable compromise.
Mine is the top-of-the-line version, with the 6-cylinder boxer engine, leather interior, nav system, sunroof, and a host of electronic gizmos and mechanical whiz-bangs. It took me a couple of weeks to find the right one after that first test drive, but I succeeded.
Will it be a good car for me? I hope so. It doesn’t have the cachet of the BMW in the public’s eye, but the Subaru nonetheless has a very devoted following. It’s the right car for me for the time.
This new Outback is a substantial 13 model years newer than my old one, and it’s 11 years newer than the next-newest car that I’ve owned. There has been incredible technical progress in the intervening decade, but the new Outback still reminds me of the old one. It’s about the same size, just a few inches taller, wider, and longer. It has a lot more power, which is nice, as well as a few more cubic feet of cargo room, but when I slip behind the wheel, I can tell that the two machines are brothers. It’s Subaru magic.
- Dark red 2011 Subaru Outback 3.6R Limited
- 3.6 L naturally aspirated flat-6
- 5-speed automatic transmission
- 256 hp / 247 lb-ft
- Ivory leather interior
- 34 miles when acquired (June 23, 2010)
- 702 miles as of today (June 30, 2010)