Pros: Powerful, quiet, steady on the road, safe
Cons: Classic Subaru styling and average qualities
The L.L.Bean Outback is Subaru's first entry into what it perceives to be a "luxury" class of car. By Subaru's standards, they did a great job. BMW, Mercedes and Lexus may beg to differ.
I am on my 4th Subaru, and they have gotten significantly better each time. This model has some superb innovations. Foremost is the 6 cylinder 3.0 liter boxer engine (same type that Porche uses to minimize vibrations) that fits into the same space as the standard 4 cylinder 2.5 liter engine and gets virtually the same gas milage. The added power is obvious from the moment you step on the gas. The most obvious improvement is the added insulation around the passenger compartment. When you start this car, it sounds like the car next to you is starting. It is that quiet. The larger wheels give a smoother ride than the regular Outback and the L.L.Bean leather is much more comfortable than Subaru's standard leather. It is softer and "breathes", making the seat cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. The seat warmer takes twice the time to warm the leather seats as the fabric seats. The L.L.Bean Outback has virtually ALL of the available accessories standard. We added the premium stereo with CD changer and cassette (to listen to books on tape). I live in New England and never found a problem with heating, deicing or defrosting. This past winter was very cold and harsh and the car performed effortlessly. Handling has always been a Subaru highlight and this car is no exception.
After 3 years of use, I only have a few complaints, none serious. Because of the larger engine, the car is many hundreds of pounds heavier than the standard Outback. I feel that braking suffers from this added weight. The car has plenty of power to accellerate but stopping can be more challenging. Give yourself plenty of room and play it safe. The car will stop, but it may take a few more feet than you anticipated. Also, we have now changed the brakes twice, which I think is more often than expected in this type of car. Original equipment Firestone tires were replaced at 32,000 miles, an embarassment for a "high-performance" radial tire. The Premium radio with subwoofer (a $700 option) sounds nice, but not like a fire-burning, asphalt-melting, thunderclapping Super Premium system. It is your grandmother's Premium sound system; very nice and clean, can be blasted with little distortion but that subwoofer gets lost under the seat and can't be separately controlled.
The self-dimming mirror with built-in compass is a nice idea, but the middle rear seat headrest blocks the light to the photocell in the mirror causing it to pass 100% of the blinding light into your dark-adapted eyes. OUCH! There is no bypass for it either. I managed to solve the problem by rotating the mirror 180 degrees so that the sensor, originally on the bottom of the mirror, is now on the top. Unfortunately, the compass becomes disabled upside down, but the mirror works fine. (2004 UPDATE: The self dimming mirror delaminated and failed this year. Instead of spending $200+ for the replacement, I got a conventional mirror for one tenth the cost and it works fine.) Subaru never admitted there was a problem (even after repeated requests to my dealer), but redesigned the rear middle head rest to be half height, hopefully solving the problem. Moving the sensor to the top of the mirror would have also solved the problem while maintaining the safety of a full head rest in the center position.
Subaru has aways been a "peoples' car". The full-time all wheel drive has never been a problem in any of my Subarus. It is extremely dependable. The car always starts and runs exceedingly well. It's just that this is still a station wagon with all the bells and whistles; not a luxury car per se. This is the nicest, quietest, smoothest and most comfortable Subaru I've ever driven. I compared the L.L.Bean with the Volvo Cross Country and felt that the Subaru was the better value. Everything that I liked was standard. In the Volvo, it would have cost thousands more to add all of those options. And Volvo repairs are quite expensive.
5/17/2010 - update - We sold this car to some close friends a number of years ago. We see the car often and today, I asked the current owner how it has been running. He said it now has about 130,000 miles on it and, except for routine maintenance, has never had a serious problem. Brakes have to be done more often because this is a heavier car than the regular Outback. They are very happy with the L.L.Bean Outback.