When you are an editor of small weekly newspapers, and even a daily, you are as much an editor as a reporter and photographer, which gives you lots of experience in the field.
It was in rural Humboldt County on the extreme North Coast of California where I did much of my reporting — in areas that ranged from the battleground over ancient redwoods to the often dangerous battlefields of illicit marijuana cultivation.
Other reporting trips took me into national forests in Southern Oregon and Del Norte County, Calif., in areas that are extremely remote and rugged.
There was on brand of car that seemed to be the favorite among many rural residents: Subaru.
The model didn’t matter; I saw them all.
Many from years ago are probably still running, navigating dirt and gravel roads where huge, gaping potholes posed a mortal danger.
Based upon my observations, the most popular Subaru model was the Outback, which has only been improved on over time.
The Outback’s popularity is no surprise; after all, Subaru calls it “the fourth-generation of the World’s First Sport Utility Wagon” — the last five words combining to form a registered trademark, in case you are thinking of using it. You can’t.
Anyway, the rugged Outback that, from the part of the country where I lived for 40 years, is more accustomed to having the thick, mud-like glaze of clay soil all over it, features the latest in technology, which isn’t much different from many other 2012 vehicles.
There’s optional satellite navigation, optional satellite radio and a mobile Internet option, as well as Subaru’s excellent safety ratings.
Consumers also have a choice between six- and four-cylinder models:
- 2.5i Premium
- 2.5i Limited
- 3.6R Premium
- 3.6R Limited
The Premium models also feature an additional gadget: standard steering wheel Bluetooth control switches. Hey, it could make a big difference on a mountain road with sheer cliffs on each side.
Under the hood of the four-cylinder Outback is a 170-hp, 2.5-liter Boxer engine.
The six-cylinder features a significantly more powerful 256-hp, 3.6-liter Boxer engine.
Each features a standard 5-speed electronic automatic transmission.
If you want good gas mileage, move closer to town, if you live in a rural area, because in all honesty, the Outbacks don’t get great gas mileage.
In fact, the four-cylinder’s estimated mileage is 22 mpg/city, 29 mpg/highway and 24 mpg/combined.
Subaru has made the Outback a great seller, in part, by focusing on its strengths, which are a blending of the best features of a car and the best of a small SUV.
“Seventeen years ago, the original Outback established a template for many competitive crossover models that followed,” Subaru noted. “The new-generation Subaru Outback is smart-sized compared to other 2-row crossover vehicles, featuring a mid-size interior in an easy-to-maneuver and off-road capable wagon body. The Outback provides the crisp car-like handling and smooth ride of a wagon with the versatility of an SUV.”
Another feature that is really nice for rural driving is the Outback’s clearance.
“The Outback’s 8.7 inches of ground clearance is higher than for many SUVs and crossovers while maintaining a low step-in height,” Subaru said.
In fact, that clearance and other off-road-type features are what make Subaru so popular in rural areas, in addition to the car’s ability to withstand rugged conditions, hard use and high mileage.
“The 107.9-inch wheelbase contributes to a smooth ride and generous interior space,” Subaru said. “Total passenger volume … rivals that of larger, heavier vehicles.
“The Outback also features a rear cargo area that is deeper and wider than in many small SUVs and easier to access through its wide aperture rear hatch. Rear seat legroom measures a generous 37.8 inches.”
As mentioned previously, Subaru’s Outback has outstanding safety ratings.
“Subaru is the only company that features Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive as standard equipment on every vehicle in its product line,” Subaru said. “This invaluable performance and safety-enhancing system distinguishes the Outback from crossover competitors, which generally offer all-wheel drive only as an extra-cost option.
“The 2012 Outback model line employs three different versions of Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive, each tailored to the specific transmission.”
The Outbacks also feature Subaru’s electronic “Hill Holder System,” which holds the Outback in place on a hill until the driver presses the accelerator pedal to pull away from a stop.
That would come in real handy in some urban environments, such as San Francisco, but undoubtedly would also be nice in the rural environment.
Subaru’s suggested manufacturer’s retail prices for the Outback range from $23,295 for the base model to the premium.