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.
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.