Outback or Other?

I am looking for a used vehicle with either 4WD or All Wheel Drive and considering the Subaru Outback. The vehicle must mechanically reliable, capable of carrying a week’s worth of camping gear for two, get decent gas mileage and be able to negotiate gravel and rough dirt roads. We are considering the purchase of an early model Subaru Outback (2003 or 2004) with 50K miles and would appreciate feedback from Outback owners or recommendations for alternative vehicles with similar features.

Outbacks in this vintage should suit your needs fine and are reliable. Other choices would be small SUV’s like Honda CRV or Toyota RAV4 that would offer similar MPG and good reliability. The rough dirt roads will have to be negotiated slowly by any of the above as they are all car based vehicles.

Don’t consider any Outbacks prior to 2001 as they are known to have head gasket problems. IMHO 2005+ would be much better considering the significantly improved interior.

My relative ownes a RAV4 of that vintage and it does not get good mileage. It is 4 wheel drive and I think that makes a significance difference.

Nothing wrong with an Outback…

Just be certain you truly need 4WD or AWD. What some people describe as gravel and rough dirt roads is still easily negotiable with just FWD. All depends on how muddy, steep, etc…

My sibs have one, and it hasn’t been perfect, but it really has been a decent car. Gas mileage, though, has not been that great in their experience, but that’s generally a problem with most AWD vehicles.

I might throw in the idea of a Ford Five Hundred. For about the same price as a 2004 Outback with 50k on the odometer you could get an 06 Five Hundred still under factory warranty with 25k on the odometer. The 500 averages around 23 mpg, the same general range as the Outback. Might even be able to get one certified used with a nice fat warranty on it…

Outback will probably be fine. Rav4 is a another good choice. Don’t be locked into one specific model/manufacturer. Easier to negotiate and walk away from a deal.

The higher than normal clearance of the Outback is as much of a desired feature as the AWD. We occasionally encounter moderately steep terrain and could easily run into muddy conditions as well. Due to these factors and the fact that we are often in fairly remote locations it will be necessary to have AWD or 4WD.

You should note that the CR-V normally operates as a FWD vehicle and the AWD only kicks in after the front wheels start to spin. If you are looking for optimum traction in difficult conditions, the CR-V does not provide it. However, the gas mileage is better than on the RAV-4 and the Outback simply because the CR-V isn’t usually in AWD mode.

I’ve got an '06 Outback and love it. It’s definitely not a tall person’s car though…I’m only 5’8" and I feel a little bit wedged in if there are passengers in the back seats. My overall MPG is 28, and that’s a pretty even mix of highway and city driving. As was mentioned, you wouldn’t want to go much older than '03 because of the headgasket problems…unless you can confirm that the gaskets have already been replaced at some point with the improved ones, and that the leakage was detected before the prior owner came close to toasting the engine. If you’re looking for one with about 50K on it, you’ll also want to confirm that the “major” routine maintenance at 30K was performed…and know that the next major service interval is at 60K. Depending on whether you use an indy mechanic or the dealership, and exactly what needs to be done, that could run you from anywhere between 200 and 600 bucks.

We have an '03 Outback and love it. I’d agree with everything stated here. We get 28-30 HWY MPG and 24-25 City. We looked at Honda Element, RAV4, and CR-V, but none compared in interior space. We haul around a lot of crap and have never had problems.

The Outback is an intermediate solution. It has decent ground clearance and can provide power to all four wheels. How much ground clearance do you need? What about road conditions? You might benefit from low gearing available on 4WD trucks. Also, 4WD is always on once you turn it on. You might do well with a 4WD pickup truck with a crew cab and short bed. You could add a cap if you want to secure the bed for storage. My cousin has a Nissan Frontier and loves it. Test drive a pickup and see if it makes sense for you. Another possibility is a Jeep Wrangler. I had one as a rental car and was impressed with it. It was a bit noisy; it had a cloth top and off-road tires. OTOH, I didn’t need the 4WD even though there were a couple inches of snow in the roads. The Wrangler would be fine for two with storage in the back seat.