SOMEWHERE in their drive toward sizzle and flash, the people at Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd., makers of Subaru cars and trucks, seem to have lost their way.
They wound up in a land of whistles and bells, a place inhabited by digital instrument panels with electronic game noises and other gee-whiz goofiness -- all fun to play with, but all woefully inept at making the machine go.
Thus, alas, we have the Subaru 4-wheel- drive Turbo Station Wagon. It is the prodigal child, the wayward offspring in a family of proud and worthy products.
One keeps hoping that this wagon would live up to its background, that it would act more like the Subaru wagons of even three years ago. Fanatical owners would fight for those older models. But defenders of this new issue probably will be few and far between.
Outstanding complaint(s): In order of priority:
1. Whattaya say about a station wagon that rolls backward when the engine is running and the automatic transmission is in drive? Seven people, three at one time and four at another, witnessed this performance.
The first occurrence was on a mild incline -- about 25 degrees, on a Rock Creek Parkway exit near the Shoreham Hotel. The wagon was carrying three adults, one man and two women, each of whom weighed less than 160 pounds. In the cargo space were two boxes of lightweight office stuff. "Whaaat? Is this car in neutral?," the back-seat passenger asked as the wagon rolled backward.
"No!," said the occupant of the front passenger seat. "The thing's in drive. Oh, you'd better say something about this," she instructed the driver.
Okay. It seems that the 1.8 liter, four- cylinder engine in this wagon is not up to puff. That turbo-boost business may be fine on highways, but it ain't doin' diddly on hills at idle speed.
2. Construction. Try this: Fully lower a window on this wagon. Spread your palm across the window well so that part of the hand is on the exterior sheet metal and the other part is on the top portion of the interior door panel. Now, squeeze in the manner of squeezing an, ahh, orange. Feel something give way? I did, and so did everyone else who did the squeeze test on this model. The entire upper portion of the interior panel moved under the pressure of a one-hand squeeze. They call this solid?
3. Left seatbelt on rear seat immediately behind the driver. It didn't work, folks. And several people at several different times tried to connect the thing. Celibate seatbelts aren't safe, Subaru.
4. That little, red four-wheel-drive button on the side of the automatic transmission shifter. It's great for on-demand four-wheel-drive -- just press it in. Problem is that, because of the button's location, several people pressed it when all they wanted to do was drive with two wheels.
5. The automatic gas-cap release levid not work. And, yes, I read the manual.
Almost redeeming virtues: The 4WD Turbo Wagon does have a nice ride, and it corners exceptionally well for a station wagon. It has a commodious interior -- seats five adults comfortably. Acceleration is a little bumpy. But when the turbo kicks in, the wagon moves and the little 1.8-liter engine almost feels as if it has a purpose in life.
Head-turning-quotient: Station wagons, as a group, lack a certain sex appeal. They say family and responsibility and all of that. Not exactly the stuff of mobile fantasy. But this one has exterior flash. Its aerodynamic styling got looks. But, then again, how deep is beauty?
Sound system: Pedestrian. Bring along your Walkman or something.
Mileage: Best guess, according to personal fuel-consumption notes, is about 23 combined city-highway, lightly loaded and medium- loaded, using air conditioner about 50 percent of the time. Unleaded fuels only.
Subaru 4WD Station Wagon price as tested: $11,917 (as of January 9, 1985), including air conditioning, warning chimes, cruise control, power windows and door locks and trip computer.