Check out how a 1978 Subaru wagon stacks up to a new Outback off road

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.






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7 Responses to Check out how a 1978 Subaru wagon stacks up to a new Outback off road

  1. Toyotageek says:

    First new car I ever owned. Wanted a BRAT, but had to be satisfied with a wagon – I was still living at home, and my dad was the manager at the dealer where I bought it, so there really wasn’t much point in arguing about it. Turns out I was still happy though. The Subie and I had some great trips together. From Anza Borrego to the Kelso Dunes. Those were the days.

  2. musubk says:

    I own a 1977 Leone and a 2014 Outback. Both of mine are manual so the CVT isn’t a factor. My Outback has a mild lift, skidplates, and all terrain tires. The Leone is probably still better in actual off-road because it has real 4WD instead of AWD, plus it’s tiny and has a lot less front/resr overhang. The Outback is LOTS better on dirt roads, as expected.

    • musubk says:

      I also have a 1986 BRAT but it’s highly modified so not a good comparison. Legacy EJ22 engine swap, Loyale dual range 4WD transmission swap, about 8 inches of lift, and more. It’s garbage on road and great off-road. Uncomfortable and impractical everywhere 🙂

  3. Frank says:

    I payed $150.00 for mine 3years ago
    2003 Legacy L Wagon with over 200,000
    Runs and drives like new
    Greatest vehicle I’ve owned and I do all I can to keep it up, It has been a TRUE God’s Blessing and I Pray it last forever as we Love it ??????

  4. Ladd Rutherford says:

    My first Subie was a ’78, from The Metric Shop in Bozeman. Our other car was a Peugeot diesel wagon we had from our San Diego days. One morning we awoke to -40 on the thermometer…no wind. The Peugeot’s fuel jelled and wouldn’t run for days. The Subie, sitting outside, cold soaked, started on the first crank. Its running gear was pretty stiff, and my max speed was 25, but by damn she ran. We’ve had at least one Subaru ever since. Deep Brand Loyalty!

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