Subaru is synonymous with all-wheel-drive nowadays, but that wasn’t always the case. The first-generation Leone, as it was called in Japan established a Legacy (ha!) when it was offered straight from the factory with four-wheel-drive as a production model. In the US, it was simply called the DL/GL depending on equipment, and holds a special place in history as the first station wagon equipped with 4WD. For decades, Subaru has capitalized on this basic format. But how does a modern Outback wagon compare to a Leone off-road?
The Fast Lane recently got their hands on a 1978 Subaru DL to answer this exact question. They took it to some light off-road courses in Colorado and pitted it against a 2015 Subaru Outback, which comes with standard all-wheel-drive. Though both are wagons, get power to front and rear wheels, and wear blue paint, the two are still vastly different.
The Outback has full-time all-wheel-drive, with an army of silicon sensors that can calculate and split torque from front to rear and side to side. That helps the it grip in situations where the Leone can’t get traction, but the modern Subie also suffers from a continuously variable transmission.
The Leone, on the other hand, has a mechanical diff that you can lock with a lever on the floor, to be used only in loose traction situations. Even better, the Leone appears to have been built for thornier off-road situations. There’s vast ground clearance, a high-mounted fuel tank, and thick steel skid plate to protect the oil pan. The only downside is that its carbureted 1.6-liter boxer emits only 67 horsepower, compared to the Outback’s 175. But, it also has the weight advantage — approximately 1900 pounds versus the Outback’s 3,600.
So, despite being 42 years old, the Leone holds its own and even outperforms its descendant in many cases. There’s entertainment value in watching the latest technology face off with the primitive originator. Well, technically the ff-1 was custom converted to 4WD before the Leone, but it was not available to the public. Regardless, it’s fun to see the DL clawing up the side of a rock-strewn hill, even if the potential of sharp rocks against classic sheetmetal makes us cringe.