Subaru debuted the Legacy Outback as a trim level option in 1995 in response to the growing popularity of SUVs like the Ford Explorer.
Subaru had carved out a profitable niche with variations on their Symmetrical All Wheel Drive system, first introduced in the 1972 Leone as an option. Their commitment to AWD, coupled with savvy marketing moves, like sponsoring the US Ski Team, helped them build a brand of go anywhere, fuel efficient cars that saw only marginal competition from the likes of Toyota, Honda, and VW. By the mid-1990s, Subaru was fully committed to AWD, making it standard across all models.
In the mid-1990s, in response to the growing threat from truck based SUVs, Subaru added a rugged looking version of the 2nd gen Legacy (and Impreza). Introduced in the US late in the 1995 model year, the Legacy Outback (and Impreza Outback Sport) was a Legacy option package that consisted of two tone paint, fog lights, a roof rack, unique alloy wheels and upgraded interior fabric. The 1996 model year debuted the look we have all come to know; a raised suspension combined with body cladding and a raised roof helped distinguish the Outback from the garden variety Legacy and with these changes, the Outback became a stand alone model. With early help from Crocodile Dundee, Subaru has managed sell over 2 million Outbacks since their introduction.
In late 1995, my wife and I found out we were expecting twins. Our first child was born about 3 weeks early, so when we got the news about the twins, due in August of 1996, we wasted no time in starting to shop for a car that would handle our growing family. We were still driving our 1989 Camry wagon but it was showing its age and limitations. Neither of us were much interested SUVs or minivans, just not our style. We both had fairly long commutes and valued the economy of smaller cars. With our son in tow, we would show up at dealer lots with three car seats and do the test. Could we fit three side by side and still close the doors?
I liked the look of the Ford Contour, still a bit of a rarity when we were shopping, but it failed the car seat test. It wasn’t even close. Next up, the the 5th generation Honda Accord, and again a fail, although it was close enough that we actually took it for a test drive. I liked the Accord a lot but we just couldn’t get those rear doors to slam shut.
Starting to think we would end up with something like a Taurus, my wife brought home a newsletter from 3M that outlined various discounts offered to 3M employees and their families. Subaru was on the list with what looked like a generous offer, $400 over dealer invoice. We stopped in at White Bear Subaru and immediately disclosed our intent to use the 3M pricing option. This turned out to be great because they stopped trying to sell us a car, always a process I dislike. We looked at an ’95 Outback on the showroom floor and asked if we could test out our car seats. With their approval, we strapped all three in and closed the doors, success!
Next up was a test drive. Coming from the Camry, this was a very nice upgrade in terms of comfort and handling. We found a 5 speed manual in two tone red over grey. The manuals came with a viscous limited slip center differential as opposed to the electronically controlled AWD in the automatics. All 1995 Legacys were equipped with the EJ22E boxer engine. Rated 135 hp, this engine did not share the head gasket issues that would plague the 2.5 liter boxers through the later 1990s to the early 2010s.
This car was just a pleasure to drive and we quickly made the decision to buy it. In my opinion, the first year Outback was the best looking of the bunch. The cladding on the later years did nothing for me, but then I was never a late model Pontiac fan either. With the standard Legacy suspension, we got good looks of the Outback treatment without the detriment of the higher center of gravity. This car was everything I had wanted the Camry wagon to be. We had zero issues with the Outback, although we learned that AWD won’t help you when you do stupid things. My wife lost control on an icy curve taken at relatively low speed and put it into a field. And I learned what happens when you attempt to drive into packed snow that is deeper than your wheel clearance.
This car would hold the top spot on my favorites list until another red, four door wagon came along in 2003. My wife and I separated in early 1999 and the Outback stayed with her, leaving me to source a replacement suitable for day care transport. Oh, and twin girls were born almost 5 weeks early on the 4th of July.