Saturday, April 12, 2014

ANF One - My New 2006 Outback XT 5M

The hunt for the perfect wagon came to an unexpected and sudden end a few weeks ago when I stumbled across this on Los Angeles Craigslist:

from the Craigslist ad, still on stock seventeens
A wild unicorn.

2006 Outback XT 5-speed manual, low mileage, one meticulous lady attorney owner, full Subaru dealer service records, clean Carfax, nearly immaculate. Even the color combo and options were right. I called the seller immediately and made arrangements to drive 130 miles north the next morning to take a closer look and a test drive.

We bought it on the spot. Apparently I was the first to call and several who inquired afterwards offered to buy it for more than I had agreed to. I don't doubt it, these are sought after for many reasons.

Some specs and initial impressions:

250 HP, turbocharged, DOHC per bank, 2.5 liter boxer four. Essentially a detuned STI motor.

It’s quick. Not quick for a wagon, just plain old quick. Factory 0-60 was quoted as 5.9 seconds, but by most accounts that’s a conservative estimate. I’ve recently done a bit of tuning that’s made it appreciably faster, more of which I’ll share further on.

Inadequate brakes, wobbly rear end. It handles quite well for what it is—a station wagon on stilts—but it definitely needs some help before it can match the standard Legacy GT in transitional reflexes. Plenty of mechanical grip, though.

Nice, direct, accurate steering, not full of granular detail but not glassy and inert either. Excellent feel to the factory Momo three spoke wheel.

Great interior, both in terms of design and materials quality. Subaru were clearly gunning for Audi with the 4th generation Legacy. The 5th gen car was a big step backwards in my opinion, but chasing Toyota is apparently the latest corporate goal of the new, softer, framed window, driving dog, CVT only Turbo wagon Fuji Heavy Industries. How quickly the enthusiasts largely responsible for their growing US market profile are forgotten... But I digress.

stock footage, but identical to mine inside--interiors are not easy to photograph

Expanding on the cabin, it’s fitted with power, heated, leather sports seats that are both supportive and comfortable for long distances, dual climate control, massive dual pane moonroof, a surprisingly fantastic sound system, and electroluminescent gauges—the latter even do a full needle-only sweep before the numbers illuminate, and then fade out slowly when the ignition is turned off. Totally useless, but pretty cool nonetheless. Lots of airbags for the kiddo, lots of cargo space for the dogs.

again, not my photo, but identical
Nice ride quality, even on the one inch larger than stock 18” OZ Prodrive P1’s I’m currently running. These are Subaru specific wheels and I think they look amazing with the lower body cladding matching their anthracite finish almost exactly.

riding on forged 18" OZ Prodrive P1's--I think they look amazing
Quiet, smooth, easy to drive. Only one generation separates this Outback and my old 2000, but in terms of refinement you’d think they were 20 years apart. I don’t really miss driving my Lexus LS400 all that much, it’s very nearly as relaxing to be in when you’re in the mood to waft.

Spectacularly awful shift linkage. Really, it’s terrible. Baulky, slow, recalcitrant, uncooperative, and pretty much any other adjective meaning difficult that you care to apply. I’ve read there are bushing upgrades that make for a drastic improvement, and I'll be looking into them soon.

Speaking of upgrades, the car remains all stock save for the aforementioned rolling stock and a Cobb Accessport-enabled Stage 1 ECU remap. It’s said to be good for 15% power and 20% torque increases, both of which seem totally realistic as judged solely by my ass. Throttle response is sharper, turbo lag noticeably reduced, and midrange torque feels fatter and more sustained. Driveability and (poor) mileage remain unchanged from factory settings. A very cool little gadget.

moderate, functional drop to come--stock GT ride height or a touch lower is the goal
Eventually it'd be nice to upgrade to a catless uppipe, downpipe, and a few other things which facilitate further ECU tuning and bigger power gains, but I’m still on the fence because I'd like to avoid swapping out the entire exhaust system every time it’s due for a smog inspection.

Either way, brakes come first, as even though they’re larger on the GT/XT than on NA models, they’re still not up to par. I’ve read stainless, braided lines and performance pads make a positive difference, but a big brake kit may still be necessary if I go ahead with further engine mods.

Afterwards I’ll do some suspension work. This setup detailed by a fellow XT owner and Instagram friend sounds to be a thoroughly tested, well thought-out approach that’s claimed to improve both ride quality and handling by big margins.

is that a drone?
Borla makes a well-reviewed exhaust system for the Legacy GT, but the XT lacks the pipe cutouts in its rear bumper so a bit of modification is required to make it work with my car. I’ll probably go with longer hangers rather than a GT bumper as I’d like to retain the concealed exit, sleeper look. There are a lot of quality aftermarket systems, but I like the Borla for its relatively mild note, moderate volume, and drone-free freeway cruising. In the meantime the car remains quiet as a mouse. Embarrassing GTI and Mustang GT drivers is a new hobby.

So that’s the new Mommywagon in a nutshell. Never thought I’d find one, very glad I did. It’s the perfect multi-purpose car, and since in all likelihood there will never be another fast, large, manual wagon offered in this country, it’s a keeper.

bottom left, straight from LA to the tire shop to swap wheels with the 2000 Outback--images from Instagram, excuse the low res


  1. Nice car! I wish I'd had your moral fortitude when I bought my Outback. In my heart of hearts I really wanted a 5MT OBXT, but I couldn't justify the maintenance worry (overblown) and poor gas milage. Instead, I went with the H6 LL Bean Edition, because New England, and have lusted after that naughty little hood scoop ever since. In the end I got reliability but still terrible gas milage, and a dim-witted and slow shifting autobox. Still, there's a lot to like about that vintage Outback. Its comfortable, spacious and AMAZING in the snow. Enjoy and keep updating about your progress with it. FYI: I've got a couple of posts on my site doing some work on my car that might be interested.

    1. Thanks Zack. The honeymoon continues.

      I had given up on finding a good manual turbo Legacy wagon or Forester and was weeks away from buying a new 2014 WRX 5 door or Focus ST, both great cars, but with our first kid on the way it was going to be a compromise on space. Happier with this than I would be with either of those choices for about half the price!

      I don't worry about problems other than the expected wheel bearing wear. It came with a 4" thick stack of dealer service reciepts for everything from routine stuff (always ahead of schedule) to minor annoyances like a dash buzz, intermittently working dome light etc. Even the battery says Subaru on it. My local dealer just told me it's the cleanest they've seen in years.

      I saw your three hour spark plug struggle--ugh. Worth it, though, great cars. Always been curious to try a six cylinder. I'll have to take it back home to visit during winter sometime in order to enjoy the snow traction.

      Thinking of picking up a Saab 900 myself in the next 12 months or so, preferably an SPG if I can find it.