Subaru drops turbos into wagon, BRAT

Throw the car in gear, kick the accelerator, and - as comic Jackie Gleason used to say on the TV tube - away you go! With Subaru's on-demand, Turbo-Traction, 4-wheel-drive wagon and BRAT, you go a lot faster than Gleason across the stage. You zoom! Both cars, in fact, ''do their thing'' in either 4-wheel drive or conventional 2-wheel mode. All it takes is a slight push with the right thumb on the automatic gear lever.

The two turbocars come only with automatic transmission.

Even when moving, the only way you can tell if the wagon is powered by all four wheels is the light on the dashboard. Push the button again, and the light goes out. You're back in front-drive alone.

There is absolutely no jolt with the shift in power. It's as simple as that!

Combined with a super-smooth, 1.8-liter, 4-cylinder engine with Bosch L-Jetronic fuel injection, the vehicle takes to the road like a bee to its hive. The turbine feature boosts horsepower by almost 30 percent - to 95 at 4,800 r.p.m., the Japanese manufacturer reports.

Handling is positive, and there is never a question that the vehicle is completely under control. Steering is power-assisted rack-and-pinion.

Wheelbase of both the wagon and BRAT is 96.3 inches, but the lengths differ - 168.7 inches for the wagon and 174.2 inches for the BRAT.

The Subaru is built in Japan by the carmaking segment of Fuji Heavy Industries, but unlike all the other Japanese car makes, it is imported by an American company, not a subsidiary of the Japanese manufacturer.

Subaru has stormed the American highway with its on-demand 4-wheel-drive vehicles and enjoys first place in car sales in such wintry states as Maine and Vermont. No other import, Japanese or European, sells more cars in those two states than Subaru.

If Audi chief engineer Ferdinand Piech is right, Subaru is right on target with its designs. Piech maintains that 4-wheel drive is the next step beyond front-wheel drive. The Subaru management seems to feel the same way. The 4 -wheel-drive market, in fact, is untapped, according to Thomas Gibson, head of sales for Subaru in the United States.

Last year Japanese carmakers built 700,000 vehicles with 4-wheel drive, with 500,000 of them exported. This year the output is expected to top 800,000.

Thus, the turbocharged Subaru 4-wheel drives are right on the line.

Price of the Subaru turbowagon starts at $10,311.05. That's 5 cents at the end! But loaded with $2,579 of port-installed extras, the price of the test vehicle hit $13,482.05. Again, that's 5 cents at the end! The vehicle is great fun to drive, but the price is getting into a somewhat rarefied atmosphere.

The Boston-area distributor has received fewer than 100 turbo-Subarus so far, and the test car I drove was one of the first.

Subaru is noted for innovative engineering. It's new turbo-traction wagon and BRAT are further evidence of this fact.

Incidentally, if you've ever wondered about the six stars in the Subaru emblem, the answer is easy. Subaru is the Japanese word for the Pleiades cluster , which has six visible stars.

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