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I have owned 7 Subarus, including 4 Outbacks. This year I briefly considered a Volvo Cross Country - but I happened to be at my Subaru dealer at the moment the first 2005 arrived: I bought it immediately! This car is far different from any other Subaru I have owned. It handles like a dream, rides beautifully, and has a handsome, comfortable interior.
Perhaps what is the largest change from older Subarus is the major redo in the interior. The car is wider, and you are aware of the extra space as soon as you enter. The interior appointments are first rate, and the controls are intuitively placed. The sound system and a/c are wonderful. Ilumination on the instrument panel is outstanding: everything lights up in red, including the switches for the power windows! Unlike so many new cars these days, the controls are a good, large size - which makes them easy to find. The front bucket seats are supremely comfortable, with excellent lateral support, and the driver's sat has 8-way power. Standard equipment includes power windows, heated electric external mirrors, heated front seats, lighted vanity mirrors; even a heated windshield! The seating material is of excellent quality, and Subaru has chosen a very interesting 'soft' plastic for some of the surfaces: it feels like suede! And the car rides exceedingly well, like a much heavier vehicle.
As for interior storage capacity: I recently picked up 4 large dining room chairs about 175 miles away: They all fit! (Please bear in mind that my Outback is the estate version.) The roof is fitted with a luggage rack as standard equipment, and the rear has a spoiler, also standard.
The all-wheel drive is so subtle that you don't realize the car has it - unless you know. Even the turning radius has been greatly reduced. Driving on twisting roads has become a fun sport for me, I can honestly say. The car is perfectly balanced, and gives a wonderful feel of control. Engineers say this was accomplished by lowering the center of gravity considerably. For instance, the hood and hatch are made of aluminum to save weight. Though the ground clearance has been even further increased, the car never feels even the slightest bit 'tipsy.' The Outback estate version is now classified in the USA as a truck.
The car COULD use a bit more power; but I deliberately chose the smaller engine for petrol conservation. (It can be had with as much as 250 horsepower - but this shows in much heavier use of petrol.) The new, improved, automatic transmission helps it efficiently use the 178 horsepower it has. The transmission can be used in regular, shiftless mode; or, at the flick of the gearshift, you can put it into 'sports mode,' which lets you shift each gear - without a clutch. And in his mode, just in case you forget, the transmission will still do the shifting for you.
All in all, I am amazed at how they could take what was a very good car - and make it so much better. (It ranks in the 'near-luxury' class these days.) And the price has stayed virtually unchanged. No wonder it was voted Japan's Car of the Year!
Oops! I think I listed this car in the wrong place! I do, indeed have a 2.5 Outback. Here in the States, the Outback is the main model, with the sedan (saloon) getting the model differentiation. My Outback is an estate version - which, in the US is called a station wagon. The Outback is considered a 'crossover' vehicle - meaning that it is part car and part truck.