The 3rd Generation Subaru Leone was a car of many names during its run from 1984 to 1994. In the US market it was know as DL, GL, GL-10 and Loyale; overseas it had a plethora of other names as well as a badge engineered Isuzu variant. Who knew or cared? It was a Subaru Wagon, maybe the quintessential one at that.
JDM Subaru brochure in Engrish
The GL/Loyale was one of the many stout bricks that cemented the reputation wall of Fuji Heavy Industries. From my perch in the High Sierra AWD burial grounds I still see a good number on the roads. Their appearance ranges from “driven off the lot” to “hardcore winter war wagon” complete with serious rust and sundry body damage from low to medium-speed winter-road mayhem. My maternal grandparents had one; it was my introduction to the trademark awesome traction and underwhelming power of the mundane models of Subaru.
Per the usual Modus Operandi for Japanese and European carmakers, the US market was only offered the “big” 1.8L EA-82 Engine in turbo and naturally aspirated variants. The smaller 1.3 and 1.6 motors were never offered here; good call. The turbo was good for 115HP & 134 lb-ft while getting 22-25mpg on the old EPA test. In naturally aspirated trim it was good for 90HP & 101lb-ft of torque with a 22-28 EPA sticker.
The owner of a turbo model stated that he gets consistent low 20s driving around the Truckee –North Tahoe area. In CARB states the base engine received single port injection while the balance of the market received a Weber carb for the non-turbo motors, while the turbos all got multi-port injection. Transmissions were a manual five speed and an automatic four speed.
The Loyale was anything but Fast n Furious. Pulling grades with the non turbo slushbox in a full loaded wagon was a rather leisurely affair; with the transmission downshifted into 2nd and the engine at WOT equated to 40-45mph. In the Slow n’ Sedated pecking order of the right lane you ranked just above air cooled VWs, and grossed-out semis, while everything else would blow your doors off.
In the USDM, the GL had the same take rate inversion with wagons being preferred over the sedan and three-door hatchback. Scouting around up here at the CC Mountain Lair I can find dozens of the wagons but have yet to capture a single sedan. Survivorship bias has also tiled the population towards a higher proportion of manual transmissions. During this era the AWD to FWD ratio increased from 35% to 65% by the mid 90s.
Looking at the marketing materials and TV ads of the day, Subaru was wholeheartedly embracing winter sports as their marketing platform. This predates the SUV boom when every freaking OEM paid top dollar to park their car in front of a ski hill to tap into the middle class skier demographic. Being small gave them the ability to exploit opportunities where the major OEMS could not tread. Subaru’s marketing efforts in the US were very much a story of two steps foreword, one back.
For comparison, the naturally aspirated 2.0L FB20 in the present day Impreza is good for 148hp & 145 lb-ft while rating at 25/34 (M) or 27/36 (CVT) on the current tougher EPA regime, weighing in at 300-400 lbs more. Progress is a good thing, especially when its through snow or mud as well.
During this era Honda and Toyota were also finding their niche and building their reputations. The Loyale was the car that allowed Subaru to find their voice as a brand for the US. By the end of its run, it had evolved into the product that would endure with revisions right up to the present day: A reasonably sized über-reliable utilitarian AWD box with quirky styling and strong value.
I like the frameless windows and the sound of the boxer engine. One of my high school friends, he had a light blue GL wagon with AWD (no turbo, I think). He used to say that he could beat anyone in a drag race with that car so long as he could choose the surface. I harbor doubts as to whether or not he could back up his boast, but whatever. This was the first time I had experienced a Subaru outside of reading about them, and it planted the seed for my eventual purchase of one. I’m on my third Subie now.
I will say one thing: going from a kei car (an absolutely horrendous glorified golf cart called a “Minica”) to my current 1.5L Impreza, the smaller non-US-market engines feel like turbines compared to the 660cc hamster wheels found in the commuter specials and company “cars” in Japan (and elsewhere too, I imagine). Going back 20 or 30 years, it was probably the same story.
I’ve owned one Subaru, a 2001 Impreza S wagon bought new, and it seems the spiritual successor to the car described here. Boxer engine, check. Frameless windows, check. Wagon body, check. Lack of guts, ch…well, actually it’s got the 2.5 with 148 or so horses, and has been perfectly adequate, although the manual tranny is geared so that even in fifth, going much faster than 70 or so is noisy and unpleasant.
Although no longer my daily driver, It is still lurking about with 175,000 miles on it and has been without question the most reliable and trouble-free vehicle I’ve ever owned.
Getting back to the Loyale, Subies in general are pretty scarce around the Houston area and Loyales in particular are rarer than Lamborghinis. I’ve seen one in the past six months, sitting at a gas station near my work location, and yep, it was a wagon.
Actually, that one has 165 hp if it’s the 2.5. Same engine as my wife’s former 2000 Outback; the 2.5 liter single-cammer.
Most of the Subies I’ve seen in Texas when I’ve been there are WRXes.
Right, should have said 2.2; it’s definitely not the 165 horse mill. BTW, went past the Shell station today where I saw the Loyale wagon and now there are two there, both sedans!
“I like the frameless windows and the sound of the boxer engine. ”
Absolutely! While our household is currently Subaru-less, I don’t think I’ve seen the last of them as far as our fleet goes.
The key selling point for me was that Western Washington does an absolutely horrible job of removing snow when it does fall (1-2 times per year) and the mountain passes are often pretty dicey even with studded tires. Plus, with AWD, one is exempt from the “chain up” requirements in Washington State. I’ve only seen the WSDOT post a “chains required on all vehicles” notice once in my life.
Here’s a Loyale that got turned into an “art car”. Would probably fit in well in Eugene, OR.
“Getting back to the Loyale, Subies in general are pretty scarce around the Houston area and Loyales in particular are rarer than Lamborghinis. I’ve seen one in the past six months, sitting at a gas station near my work location, and yep, it was a wagon.”
I can’t imagine that! New England has been infested with these critters for decades, which may be why I’ve never wanted one. Plus I think AWD is oversold in suburbia, which does usually get plowed in a timely fashion. Front-wheel drive and a driver who A) can manage a slide and B) is paying enough attention will keep most cars out of the ditch.
In snow I dread speeding SUVs driven by people on the phone – but hey, it’s a 4×4, what could go wrong?
At least Subaru drivers usually aren’t moving very fast.
Last Saturday we were hit with a snow storm that fell on us fast. It has been cold, and the roads were a mess. People stuck everywhere in front wheel drive Kias, Hondas, and Buicks to name a few. The roads are up and down hills on a curvy back road. I was in my wife’s 2015 Subaru Outback, and just kept moving past many stuck cars. No one should have been out in this, but it came quick!
I did see other Subaru owners waiving and giving me a thumbs up. I use to hate Subaru cars. I lived in Colorado, and everyone had one. Now, I will never own anything else. The safety, reliability, and not getting stuck at work last Saturday has sold me for life. I officially join the Subaru cult.
my brother had one of these in wagon form with a stick from new. he sold it for peanuts after about 8 years because the tin worm got to it in a big way. i drove it once in a blizzard and was impressed with the winter handling. i liked the style and that the proportions were similar to a volvo 240 wagon. still, the poor rust resistance, craptastic interior and rattling frameless windows put me off. nowadays, i think subies have become bloated and lost their brand identity.
‘ i think subies have become bloated and lost their brand identity ‘.
— thus joining Honda, Toyota & Datsun/Nissan, Spot on i think. The most recent empreza wagon was put on a extensive diet of steriods & carbs— it’s gone from a sporty if not a bit overblown to basically a Tribeca.
What was the point of alienating the fans of the sporty wagon?
I agree that the Outback has gotten bloated – when I first saw a current generation Outback from the rear, I thought it might be a new model of Acura MDX.
The new Impreza weighs around 2900 pounds which is 100 pounds lighter than the the outgoing 2008-2011 model. Maybe Subaru got the hint not to bloat out that model.
I saw a brand new 2012 Impreza hatch behind my local dealer a couple weeks ago and although I’ve never really been into Subarus, that was a sharp little car, especially in dark metallic red.
Yes the current car is probably closer in size to the 240 wagon, likely with space inside due to a bit of extra height, but the previous generation was very nice-looking car
Bought a 2003 stick new. Like it immensely, but in retrospect wish I’d been able to wait for the next generation, which to me is downright gorgeous, and still retains the Subaru identity.
The current generation has none of that identity, is too large, and ugly to boot. Both it and the Forester have undergone “Toyota-ization” and now blend into the automotive woodwork. Window frames? – sacriledge! But I understand that sales are up considerably.
I’ll be the first to admit, our 2007 Outback (2.5 H4 5MT) is a bit slow when loaded down but it still pulls along fine. However, even with Geolander ATs and it’s raised center of gravity, the wagon is very eager on tight canyon/mountain roads. It’s well balanced, well sorted steering and long-travel suspension makes it fun to hustle…especially with the boxer running between 3k-5k in 3rd gear.
I like the Acura, also with frameless windows (!), but mostly for it’s torquey 6 and low cowl. The new Impreza tempts me but it seems to be even more slow than the OB I have, of course the trade-off is better fuel mileage. Maybe they’ll have a GT model, I don’t quite need a WRX.
I think that this is my favorite Subaru. Simple, basic, durable. The Legacy seemed to big and luxurious to really be a Subaru. These have gone pretty extinct in central Indiana. Since the Legacy piece recently, I have seen a few of those still running around, but none of these.
“All new for Fast & Safety Cruising” and “Real Fast Machine RX”
I’m sold already.
Also this article reminded me that these did come in a 3 door hatch, wow, I had totally forgot that even existed.
Slowest car I ever drove was a 1992 Loyale. Rental car – getting ready to PCS out of Guam. Automatic. This was in ’93. It accelerated like it was towing a large cement buoy anchor. 2nd slowest car I ever drove – 1982 Chevette automatic; a loaner as the ’82 Norwood piece-o-shitbox Camaro I had at the time was making one of it’s many visits to have warranty repairs performed. 3rd slowest: ’74 Capri 2000 Automatic. The Loyale made the Capri feel spirited.
A co-worker came back from a two-year stint at an airbase in Germany with one of those hatchbacks. I loved to kid him, “Jawohl, das Subaru…”
+100 bonus points for the Pulp Fiction reference in the title! I once made a Lebowski reference in a post, but no one noticed.
Shut the fuck up! Mr. Tactful. The Dude rules.
You mean the Dude abides…
That Pulp Fiction reference passed me by and I’ve SEEN the movie several times! Need to find a new copy though, I have the old VHS copy.
It’s a movie that I enjoy, when in the mood for it though.
Subarus have personality. Personality goes a long way.
So if a Toyota had a better personality, it would cease to be a filthy appliance?
We better be talking about one charming M%^%$#g appliance here…at least ten times as charming as that FT-86. You know what I am saying?
A friend had a 4-door, non turbo, and he was convinced it was a performance car, despite multiple defeats at the hands of my ’86 Celica. It was hellishly rusty too, you could reach into the boot from the holes at the bottom of the quarter panels!
About ten years ago I was helping my friend do some work in Park City, Utah. I was amazed at the number of Subaru Legacy wagons parked in the driveways there. It was almost as if, buy a house here, and it comes with a Subaru.
My 1988 Olds Touring Sedan was very good in the snow, but getting up our driveway with six inches of snow on the ground was touch-and-go. Although the valley, where my wife and I live, gets nowhere near the snow that Park City gets, I couldn’t get my wife to drive anything but a Subaru now. She’s on her second, a 2011 Forrester. I am now on my first, a 2012 Impreza with the snowmobile transmission. I love the electric power steering. But why did Subaru equip the damn Imprezas with Z-rated tires? Even out west, I only cruise at a max of 84 mph. The Zs are rated for 149 mph and list for $189 apiece before shipping and installation at Tire Rack. WTF?
These are getting rarer by the day here in New Zealand. I still smile whenever I see one, though.
My family have been pretty much exclusively Subaru owners since my Grandfather bought a Subaru Touring Wagon ‘KZ Special’ in 1986. A manual non-turbo, this was an NZ-only special edition to comemmorate Subaru’s involvement in the seminal Kiwi challenge for the America’s cup yacht race. Metallic turquoise over brown with brown upholstery, it was definitely of its time. It was also very slow. However, compared to the prior Ford/Mazdas and Holdens, it cornered like it was on rails. Perhaps that was due to some clever Kiwi suspension tuning – I think that this was one of the last years of local assembly.
I also clearly remember my Dad taking me for a test drive in an RX Turbo sedan (rally homologation special of 1985 vintage), and that was a rocketship – faster than anything 13 year old me had experienced before. When the boost came in it really moved (NZ and JDM turbo models had 134 bhp)
I owned a 1987 GTII (full time 4wd wagon) Japanese model later on and it was always great fun, although it never handled as well as I would have liked. Turning up the boost could embarrass plenty of sportier cars.
Sidenote – no mechanical faiilures on any of those cars apart from a clutch pedal breakage. Absolutely bulletproof, which was also a revelation after the mediocre vehicles that preceded them.
My ’87 GL wagon was my best buy ever for the money. Its the only car where I felt fully in control going down steep icy hills in 4WD. Never got stuck in it. And I beat the odds by having only one small rust spot, being in the northeast and all.
Last of the carbs, so I didn’t appreciate the grand total of 85 HP. Ok for hauling kids but not trailers.
We’ve had a lot of subies in my family and I tend to be the only one that absolutely has grown to hate all of them … from the laughable 360 forward …
I owned my 360 in Santa Fe, NM and at 7,000 feet, those screaming engines could not pull the skin off a fresh rice pudding. The Forester I owned had the most diabolical door locking system that extends to my current 2002 … It seems the Forester, if the engine is left running, and you close the doors, which is often done in the Florida summer heat, will automatically lock the doors and leave you outside the car … Charming … especially if you travel with dogs …
I was the happiest guy when a neighbor ran the stop sign and turned it into a u-shaped paperclip …
My 2002 outback with 64K ate its head gaskets, though 9 years old. Through a bunch of conniving and cajoling, I got the dealer to do the right thing and replace them at no cost. 150 miles later, the engine lunched itself. Both Subaru and the dealer claimed they had no responsibility to fix it … So I am not a happy camper. And it isn’t helped by the fact that, unlike every other japanese car, Subaru does not anodize its hardware so every bolt and nut is rusted or frozen, needing the heat wrench to free stuff ..
Back to the door locks. It turns out on the 2002, it is possible to lock the automatically doors while the key is in the ignition and it is not possible to unlock them with the spare remote. What kind of twisted logic is this …
Color me an unhappy camper … a crap car … uh, crap wagon (sigh)
My BIL Bob had 2 Subies of this generations, both wagons and both bought used in the 90’s. The first one was an ’85 with the digital dash, I think he had it only a year or so before it got totaled.
He replaced with I think an ’89 with a conventional dash in beige I think and he eventually gave it to his daughters to drive and Ann, who’s the oldest drove it the most and later he got an ’82 Chevy LUV truck and their younger daughter Meg had it and they drove both until both cars eventually crapped out years later.
Neither had rust as cars simply don’t rust in the Puget Sound region but both developed old age and high mileage symptoms though.
But that second Subie seemed to be a good one though.
I believe these are still driven a fair amount around these parts though older subies of this vintage are getting rare these days due to age/mileage related deaths.
They ARE popular as I see plenty of Imprezas of all ages and of course, the Legacy/Outback going back to 1989/90 and most of both tend to be, you guessed it, wagons.
The EA82 was one tough little motor at least in NA form, the turbos didn’t fare as well but for the time they would outlast pretty much anything from Japan. Granted they were hard on their timing belts as all too many of them tended to eat them in around 45K miles. But unlike a number of their contemporaries and most current rubber band powered cars they are a non-interference engine and if you knew the tricks they were really quick and easy to replace, in much less than “book” time.
I had a 93 Legacy NZ new which had a carbed EJ18 gutless as on hills and thirsty on fuel but the go anywhere feature was fun
I had a Subaru GL-10 Turbo with the air suspension, the works, etc. Digital dashboard. Good stereo. Turboooo!!!
I was awful.
You see, this was the kind of car that a father buys his son after he realizes that he’ll never have the car of HIS dreams ever again.
Banged up the back end really bad and barely straightened the mess out with bondo. The air suspension went and the car itself went when the timing thingy went, right in the middle of January 2004 after I had just been laid off.
I miss that car. I would give anything to get it back in pristine shape.
I had a 1984 gl-10 sedan.I bought it in 1995 with about ninety grand on it.It was my second car and I LOVED it!!..But unfortunately this car did not fare well,had a pretty bad exhaust manifold problem but continued to run well despite this fact.I eventually junked the for what was probably a miner problem like a fuel filter or a spark plug.(I was young and got duped by a scumbag mechanic)..Was really a blast looking at pics of the old girl..Perhaps my favorite car of all time during a great time of my life…..I was 17.By the way I have never trusted a mechanic since and view them as some of the lowest forms of life out there.
I picked up my 1986 GL 4WD wagon at an abandoned vehicle auction in 1996 for around $700.00.
The automatic transmission was shot, so it needed to be rebuilt. My wife’s mother had a 1985 wagon, so I Bud on it because she had great luck with hers.
This auction car came with 140,000 miles on it, had a few dings on the body……..but had potential. After putting in another $600 or do bucks to o fix the tranny, it ran great.
It’s now 2018, and it’s still running good! Sure, the body is a little more seasoned now……with a few mystery creaks and squeeks here and then.
But hey, I’m not complaining……this old gal has 415,000 miles on her and still going. I’d say that was money well spent, besides……I take really good care of her.