Suburu scores high on headroom, but low on environmental ethics. Read on.

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Mar 01, 2004

Dear Tom and Ray:

On your show a few weeks ago, I heard a guy explaining why he needed a huge Chevy Tahoe. After hearing his needs, you recommended a Subaru Forester to him, and he seemed to imply that the Tahoe has more headroom (he was around 6 feet 2 inches, if I remember). Well, I just wanted to say that I'm 6 feet 5 inches and found that the Forester has the best headroom of ANY SUV!! I replaced my '93 Blazer with an '02 Forester, and now I can finally adjust my seat back to sit up straight. My father-in-law has a Tahoe (he needs it to load up his hunting dogs), which doesn't have the headroom the Forester has. His old Suburban was a little better, and the other large and small SUVs I checked out when shopping (Explorer, CR-V, Escape, RAV4, Navigator) were all pathetic when compared with the headroom in the Forester. So, when folks ask you about one of those monstrous vehicles because they're over 6 feet tall, please set them straight.

P.S. I don't work for Subaru. And its other models aren't as tall-folks-friendly as the Forester. The Outback Sport is OK, but the Outback is a few inches short for me. -- Joe

RAY: OK, all you basketball players, take note. There's lots of headroom in a Subaru Forester.

TOM: We have to admit, though, we're a little ticked off at Subaru these days. It recently decided to modify the new Outback wagon AND sedan so they would qualify as "trucks" under the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's fuel-economy rules.

RAY: This is a sleazy little move, in our humble opinion, to get around the federal fuel-economy guidelines -- which are different for trucks. And a company like Subaru, which counts many environmentalists among its customers, should be embarrassed to take advantage of a loophole like that. I'm sure customers will let Subaru hear about this.

TOM: But we would be remiss if we didn't point out that other companies do this, too, because the loophole is the size of a Ford Excursion. It's something the federal regulators really ought to close.

RAY: Right. I mean, an exception to the fuel-economy rules is made for trucks, because they've traditionally been considered work vehicles. And we don't want to limit a person's ability to work for a living. But is a Chrysler PT Cruiser a work truck? Is a Volvo station wagon? A minivan that's designed to carry kids?

TOM: How do you define a truck? Well, the feds have a variety of definitions. Some of them make sense -- like, a vehicle with an open bed, such as a pickup, is a truck. But then they have other definitions that are too easy to meet. Like, if the back seat folds down and leaves a flat loading floor, they'll call it a truck. I don't think so. That's a car with a flat loading floor, isn't it?

RAY: Or if you have a certain amount of ground clearance, you can call your vehicle a truck (that's the alteration Subaru is making to the Outback). But lots of all-wheel-drive cars have good ground clearance these days -- for styling as much as anything else.

TOM: So NHTSA really needs to close these loopholes. Maybe it should define trucks as having a minimum amount of load capacity. You can't just add a couple of spacers to the suspension of a Subaru and make it carry 1,500 pounds of gravel!

RAY: I actually don't know the best way to define a truck. But, to quote Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart's famous line about pornography, "I know it when I see it." And the Subaru Outback sedan ain't a truck. Shape up, Subaru.

Get the Car Talk Newsletter

Got a question about your car?

Ask Someone Who Owns One