Magazine article The Spectator

The First Estate

Magazine article The Spectator

The First Estate

Article excerpt

Like many essentially useless and superfluous persons, I venerate utility. The fact that something does its job well, is durable and achieves a perfect integrity of design and function is sufficient to endow it, in my eyes, with some of the better human qualities. Thus, an old and handsome walking-stick may be a greater pleasure - and certainly more sustaining than many whose hands might sully it.

So it was that my childhood enthusiasm for tractors, steam-rollers, lorries and military vehicles - all things that look as if they're for something -- became one of the strata of so-called mature personality. My unfulfilled youthful longing for my father to have a Morris Minor Traveller or shooting-brake, as they were commonly called (or, better still, the larger Morris Oxford version), translated itself into a fondness for estate cars that survives to this day. I didn't need spouse, children, labradors and wellies to prod me into my first Volvo estate; I got one anyway and derived great pleasure from driving around imagining how much it could accommodate if it had anything to carry. Requests from friends to help them move house gave me weeks of pleasurable anticipation and, on the day, a glow of achieved utility. It's easy to please the useless.

Thus, when the Legacy Outback, Subaru's top of the range estate, came to stay for a week I searched eagerly for load-lugging tasks, but with typical mistiming our house-move was a fortnight later. There was a fair bit of running around nonetheless, enough anyway to get the feel of the beast. Is it a good estate? Yes. Would I like one on celebrity loan? Yes, please (fat chance). Would I buy one? Probably not.

The early four-wheel drive Subaru estates and pick-up had a deservedly high reputation for reliability and durability at reasonable prices, and became favourites among farmers, foresters, vets and horseowners. Later Subarus were more expensive and complicated and had lower ground-clearance, thereby losing a portion of that market which the latest are apparently designed to regain. The top of the range 2.5 litre Outback is certainly a capable and well-built vehicle and the one tested came with everything - two sunroofs, climate control, leather trim, roof rail, ABS, full-time four-wheel drive and airbags everywhere. You also get Subaru reliability (three-year manufacturer's warranty) and performance (0-62 in 9. …

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