Junkyard Gem: 1991 Subaru Loyale 4WD Wagon

Subaru began bringing the Leone to North America way back in 1972, with members of the Leone family sold as DLs and GLs and BRATs (for most of the 1970s and 1980s, every non-BRAT North American Leone model was officially named “The Subaru“). The very last Leone we could buy here was the one that finally got a proper model name instead of just a confusing trim level: the Loyale, available for the 1990 through 1994 model years. Here’s one of those cars, found in Subaru-mad Denver last fall.

The Legacy had its American debut here in the 1990 model year as well, and it proved to be a sales hit that begat the hot-selling Legacy Outback wagon later in the decade. The Loyale was smaller and its ancestry stretched back to the era of Leones mocked for being too small for sex, but it was quite a bit cheaper than its more modern big brother.

The cheapest possible 1991 Loyale wagon with four driven wheels listed at $11,999, or about $26,458 in 2022 dollars. Meanwhile, the most affordable 1991 Legacy wagon with four driven wheels cost $16,714, or around $36,855 after inflation.

There was a big difference between the two 1991 Subaru wagons, besides the size and comfort level (Subaru actually dissed the Leone for being small and boxy in its first-year Legacy ads). The Loyale wagon had a four-wheel-drive system, while the Legacy had an idiot-proof all-wheel-drive system (keep in mind that the distinction between those terms wasn’t made very clearly in the early 1990s). Note that Subaru fudged the definition by using badging that could be read as either AWD or 4WD. By the 1996 model year, every new Subaru sold in the United States came with all-wheel-drive.

So, the driver of this car had to push the button on the gearshift to switch between front-wheel-drive and four-wheel-drive. Driving in four-wheel-drive for long distances on dry pavement would damage the tires or maybe the powertrain (for some reason, Subaru shoppers could get a Loyale sedan with a true all-wheel-drive system in 1991, but not a wagon). You could get this car with a three-speed automatic, but most Loyales I’ve seen have three pedals.

It appears that this car’s final owner had a thing for three-dimensional travel.

If you can fix airplanes, you can keep a Leone going for 232,288 miles.

The engine is a 1.8-liter H4 rated at 90 horsepower and 101 pound-feet. Not much power, but the car weighed just 2,580 pounds (the ’91 Legacy wagon scaled in at a hefty 3,040 pounds; its 2023 Outback descendant has a curb weight approaching two tons). Yes, this Loyale wagon weighs less than a new Versa!

These hateful automatic seat belts were required by federal law on cars without driver’s-side airbags.

This car was well-cared-for during its 32 years on the road, but the low resale value on a small wagon with high miles and the wrong number of pedals means it wasn’t worth fixing when something major broke.

The Loyale had to share space with the Legacy in its television commercials. The indignity!

In its homeland, this car was known as the Leone Touring Wagon.


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