A Subaru turbo station wagon with push-button 4-wheel drive

It's the most powerful Subaru station wagon ever. The ``on demand'' 2-wheel-4-wheel-drive turbo wagon is powered by a 1.8-liter overhead-cam turbocharged engine, blending the performance of quick pickup with the security of either 2-wheel or 4-wheel power. That's a good option to have when the weather is bad. The new powerful wagon, as well as the 2- and 4-door sedans, are all new for '85 and were designed -- by Subaru itself, not by a hired outside designer -- to be a little bigger outside, a lot bigger inside.

There's enough space up front, in fact, that the 6-foot-and-under driver shouldn't feel cramped, although it depends on the build of the individual. The steering wheel in the test car is adjustable.

Despite the increase in size, rear-leg space in the back is tight with the front seats all the way back. Headroom, however, is more than sufficient, even with a sunroof and shade. The rear seat cushion backs can be folded down to enlarge the vehicle's cargo-carrying capacity.

The sporty, easy-handling turbo test wagon is equipped with an automatic transmission that performs its task equally well on the expressway or in city traffic. You can loll along with bumper-to-bumper traffic, wait for a break, then, traffic permitting, zoom ahead with a punch on the accelerator pedal.

With multi-port fuel injection and a compression ratio of 7.7-1, the engine produces 111 horsepower at 4,800 r.p.m., a significant increase over the engine it replaces.

Checking the mileage on the computer readout after more than 450 miles, I'm told I've been getting around 28 miles per gallon in a combination of highway and city driving. Almost all my driving has been in 2-wheel drive.

The turbo wagon's dashboard is neat with bar readouts, not dials, and push-buttons on each side of the hood over the instrument pod. Besides a car diagram that contains information on the parking brake, doors ajar, door lock, rear defroster, rear gate and lock, headlight high beam, and upshift light for a manual transmission, there are also lights to indicate if a stop lamp is out, brake fluid low, oil temperature or level abnormal, and the like.

If the sun is bright, however, it can fade the instrument and computer readouts almost to the point of extinction. The dash lights also fade when the headlights are on.

A dead pedal provides a resting place for the driver's left foot. The car is jam-packed, in fact, with all those little goodies that the Japanese are wont to put on their autos, including an orange-colored button on the gearshift lever that throws the vehicle in or out of 4-wheel drive -- and you'd never know there had been a switch. It couldn't be any more convenient.

Highly equipped in its base configuration, the 4-wheel-drive Subaru turbo wagon carries a window sticker of $11,634. The test model also had a sunroof ($450) and stereo ($199).

Hardly a big player in the automobile sales field, Subaru nonetheless manages to remain highly competitive in its own market niche, especially in the Northeast and the Rocky Mountain states. No doubt there's a lot more down the road from Fuju Heavy Industries, builder of the Subaru.

Charles E. Dole is the Monitor's automotive editor.

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