Subaru Outback | Shed of the Week

Why EML might not mean FML in the case of the off-road Legacy

By Tony Middlehurst / Friday, May 28, 2021 / Loading comments

‘What’s that flat for?’ Shed has heard this complaint from Mrs Shed so many times over the years that he is now far beyond the help of even the most powerful tablets. Once, when Mrs S shouted this while the bedroom window was wide open and shocked villagers were passing innocently along the street below, Shed tried to change the subject and hopefully bring a smile to the situation by loudly explaining the workings of Subaru’s flat four engine; but all he got for his trouble was a withering stare, a clap round the earhole and plenty of smirks at the Dog & Ferret later that day.

Coincidentally, there was an Outback in the Shed stable at the time. Mrs Shed liked it. In fact, she liked it so much that she claimed it as her own even though Shed had paid for it. She got rid of it (and kept the proceeds) the day after Shed misunderstood her barked command to ‘get in my Outback’. She wanted to take him to the tip to lift her broken exercise treadmill into the crusher, but he thought she wanted him to take her somewhere else. Undaunted, Shed is seriously considering having a punt on today’s SOTW Outback, figuring that at the sort of money being asked he’ll still be able to afford some new batteries for his hearing aids.

What is the money being asked then? £695. Why? Well, its engine management light is on – but that might not be such a big problem.

We’ll get into that in a minute. First, let’s celebrate this SOTW debut for the Subaru Outback with a huge crash of cymbals and a beefy rimshot. Now, a little Outback history. Launched in 1994 and based on the gen-two Legacy estate, it began with the 2.2-litre EJ22 version of the boxer four motor before graduating to the 2.5 EJ25. The car you’re looking at here is a gen-three Outback, released at Frankfurt in 2003 and coming with either a 3.0 EZ30 engine or, as here, with the normally aspirated 2.5 EJ25 which put out 162hp at 5,600rpm and 167lb ft at 4,400rpm. There was a turbo version, but Shed thinks that might have been a US-only model.

Subaru has pretty much always had permanent all-wheel drive rather than what they consider to be the inferior ‘2WD turning to 4WD when needed’ reactive system that (they say) other manufacturers settle for. In Subaru automatics of this era, Shed thinks that drive was apportioned 45/55 front/rear in normal driving, but as usual he is happy to accept corrections from wiser folk.

According to the internet the automatic box only added 10kg to the manual’s kerbweight of 1,435kg and had no effect on the official fuel consumption of 33.2mpg, but we all know that the internet tells lies. Does it really matter though? The Outback isn’t the quickest thing out there with a top speed of a whisker over 120mph and a 10.5sec 0-60 time, and the auto feels prehistoric next to a modern twin-clutcher.

The good thing about our Shed’s auto however is that it’s a 4-speed torque converter rather than the CVT auto that for some reason is now the only transmission choice on a current UK-spec Outback. Very current, actually. Subaru launched the new gen-six Outback the day before our SOTW piece went live. Shameless spoiling tactics, clearly, but their price starts at a fiver under £34k and goes up from there whereas ours starts at a fiver under £700 goes down from there.

This car failed its last MOT in November on dodgy rear wheel bearings and split front CV boots. Once they were sorted it was retested for a clean ticket. What about that engine management light, though? This isn’t the first time it’s blinked on. It was noted in the 2018 test too, but again it was cleared on the same day for the retest. This could be its salvation. Shed isn’t saying this is the problem, you’ll have to do your own research, but some Subarus were known for fuel cap sensitivity. If the cap doesn’t fit properly, it can throw a light.

You might well find that after a quick code clearout and a new cap at £20 or so, you’ll have picked up a comfortable, relaxed and capable wagon that you can run all year round. Yes, things can go wrong, but isn’t that true about any car? Gen-three Outbacks were well liked by owners for their reliability and build. This one needs a good clean, but a few extra quid for a valet isn’t going to hurt anyone. Yes, it’s an auto and not a turbo – but it’s £695 and surely worth a gamble at that. Place your bets, monsieurs et mesdames.


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