While my VW GTI continues to be a great “one-car solution” that’s both fun and practical, I’d been looking for something with backcountry capability for some time. I didn’t really want a truck, but I did want to go on adventures off pavement. A Subaru Outback seemed like the move.
I set out in search of a suitable candidate. I did not want an older pre-2004 Outback, nor did I want one newer than 2009. Not because of budget… I just think they’re uglier and worse. What I wanted was a third-generation Outback, close brother of my favorite Subaru of all time: the fourth-gen Legacy. My affinity goes deep enough that I had bought a similar car before, a 2008 Legacy GT Spec.B. I sold it because the, er, charisma of the turbocharged EJ engine was a little overbearing for me. Also, Outbacks from this era are affordable, in the $4,000-$7,000 range.
It’s been about two years since I’ve owned my old Spec.B. As much as I hated that car as a daily driver, I really loved the personality it had. I also think that the fourth-generation Legacy/Outback is the absolute apex of Subaru design, quality, and engineering. The only real question I had in my initial Outback search was: which engine did I want?
This generation of Outback came with three possible powerplants: The terrible, naturally aspirated, single-overhead cam EJ253, the fun but flawed turbocharged EJ255 engine that powered my Spec.B and the contemporary WRX, or the then-new redesign of the EZ30 flat-six engine, dubbed the EZ30D. I quickly eliminated the base engine because I don’t hate myself (sorry, I need power!). I ended up with two options in the WRX-engined Outback XT, or the flat-six Outback 3.0R.
The main benefit to the Outback XT was the manual transmission being available from factory, while the 3.0R was paired with a five-speed automatic only. My primary conflict was this: Did I want to deal with the temperamental turbo EJ25 for the excellent manual gearbox, or did I want the smooth reliability of the flat-six while taking away a huge part of what makes Subarus special? I think you know what I went with based on the headline, but I did some real searching on this question.
I test drove an XT or two, and couldn’t find an un-broken one for a reasonable price. They all ran weird, needed stuff, or felt outright bad. I would have waited longer for an XT if a great 3.0R candidate hadn’t popped up near me, but, it did. I shot the seller a text, got a reply in a few minutes, and set up an appointment the same day to go see it. I test drove it, and after a few extraneous checks and an inspection, I put an offer of $4,500 on the table. The seller accepted I came back the next day with my cash, and I now own a one-owner 2005 Subaru Outback 3.0R L.L. Bean with 166,000 miles.
It is the exact halfway point in between a Lexus IS300 SportCross and a Jeep Wrangler. It might be one of the best cars ever made.
It has L.L. Bean branded into the front seats, a strange metallic paint finish, and the big, smooth, and revvy 3.0 flat-six. It drives like no other Subaru I’ve ever driven. It doesn’t give the distinct impression of being broken from the factory, nor does it stress you out with random misfires and tune weirdness. It has lazy, loping low-end torque rubber banding against the soft torque converter, an unbelievably plush ride, whisper-quiet cabin, and truck-like steering. It filled the Toyota Tundra-sized hole in my heart.
I had a rough drive home because it turns out that it was three quarts low on oil. I checked the oil before I bought the car, but not really. I just yoinked the dipstick out and saw that there was oil in the crankcase. The car made horrendous, pained timing chain rattles that I couldn’t solve until I finally checked the oil properly once I got it home. I added a lot of oil, started it to verify that it wasn’t totally blown, and went to bed with my anxiety and stress that I had just bought a large brick.
The next morning has solidified my trust in the flat-six, beyond what any EJ could give me. I drove it, off-roaded it, and put it through its paces for 150 miles without a hiccup. The engine is literally thriving, with zero noise or weirdness. If that was an EJ, it would have exploded. It seems that this didn’t even faze the EZ30. I am genuinely amazed that the engine isn’t hurt or blown, it’s simply soldiering on. So far, it has not burned a noticeable amount of oil, so that poses a question; did it burn that oil quickly, or did someone forget about topping it off for thousands of miles?
Surely, I am going to find out. I want to adventure with this car, and hit some of my favorite SoCal fire roads, and Eastern Sierra trails. I will prove with this car, that it will do most, if not all of the offroading most people will ever need.
Either way, the car is already growing on me, though it needs tires and I need to put a decent head unit in it. Onwards!