Home » Conquering Snowmageddon: 2004 Subaru Outback vs 1991 Honda Civic Wagon RT4WD

Conquering Snowmageddon: 2004 Subaru Outback vs 1991 Honda Civic Wagon RT4WD

Outback Vs Civic

Welcome back to Shitbox Showdown, arguably the best way to start your morning. Today we’re looking at two all-weather Japanese wagons, cars that will get you and your stuff wherever you need to go, and then back again. But first, let’s take a look at how yesterday’s entirely irrational battle went.

924 Vs 380sec Final

I guess nobody wanted to deal with the mold in the 380SEC, as the 924 has shuffled its way to victory. It’s a bit of a shame as those AMG parts are worth a mint, but that’s just the way the game is played. Anyway, large swaths of America are about to get their shit rocked by Jack Frost, so let’s bolt on some snow tires and see which practical AWD car can pull us out of this mess.

2004 Subaru Outback – $2,000

2004 Outback 1

Engine/drivetrain: 2.5-liter flat-four engine, five-speed manual gearbox, all-wheel-drive.

Location: Antioch, California

Odometer reading: 216,492 miles

Runs/drives? Yes.

Is the Subaru Outback a car to blame for killing low-riding wagons in America, or a car to praise for saving wagons in America by lifting them up? The right answer depends on your personal beliefs, but the way this is even a question suggests the impact of this car was monumental. This is a second-generation Outback and while not mechanically perfect, it should take just about everything you need to your campsite.

2004 Outback 2

Under the hood sits a 2.5-liter flat-four engine that’s known for being a bit shit. Cooling system issues and external head gasket leaks often conspire to keep these things off the road, so owning an EJ253 can often be a labor of love. Still, at least it’s hitched to a five-speed manual gearbox and all-wheel-drive. On the plus side, this Outback has recently had its timing belt done, but on the minus side, it failed smog.

2004 Outback 3

On the outside, this Outback looks fairly clean, with just a mark on the rear bumper to detract from the gleaming blue paint. Even the headlights look fairly clear, an uncommon sight on vehicle this old. Then again, I’ll likely need a few more pixels to determine exactly how well-kept this Subaru is.

2004 Outback 4

Moving to the interior of the Outback, the good news continues. The driver’s seat is in great shape, with none of the unsightly splits that can come from years of sliding across the bolster. The dash plastics and carpets look well-kept, and although the wood trim is egregiously fake, it’s still brighter than black plastic.

1991 Honda Civic Wagon RT4WD – $1,750

Civic 4wd 1

Engine/drivetrain: 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine, six-speed manual gearbox, all-wheel-drive.

Location: Fairfield, California

Odometer reading: 130,412 miles.

Runs/drives? You bet.

I bet you didn’t expect to see one of these things today. Upon first glance, the Civic Wagon RT4WD is a weird artifact of Honda history. It doesn’t seem to fit into any traditional Civic pattern. However, think of this as the CR-V’s daddy, the forerunner of a car that helped permanently reshape American roads.

Civic 4wd 2

Under the skin, this patinated Civic packs something even a brand new Type R doesn’t – all-wheel-drive. Its 1.6-liter D16 four-cylinder engine puts power through a six-speed manual gearbox to all four wheels, an anomaly for American-market Civics. Also, that six-speed manual is really a five-speed in daily use. First is an ultra-low granny gear for when you need greater torque manipulation. Neat, right?

On the outside, this Civic Wagon shows evidence of a life well-lived. The clearcoat is flaking, dents abound, and the left front fender is a completely different color from the baby blue paintwork, but the California weather means that the bodywork looks free of rust.

Civic 4wd 3

Unfortunately, the seller hasn’t included any pictures of the interior, so we have no idea what shape the cloth upholstery or interior panels are in. West coast sunshine probably hasn’t been the kindest to the plastics, but who knows? At this point, it’s probably easier to expect nothing and potentially be delightfully surprised.

So, here we are, two very different Japanese wagons that put power to all four wheels. One has a longitudinal layout and a legendary name, the other packs a certain joie de vivre along with a granny gear. As ever, choose wisely.

(Photo credits: Craigslist sellers)


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60 Responses

  1. If the Outback has service records showing the head gasket has been changed within the last 100k I would consider it, for sure. I have a 2002 Impreza Outback Sport currently at 210k, which had the head gaskets replaced at 110k and I have have no trouble and I intend to drive this car until it won’t drive no more.
    That said, I would love that Honda, but at the price it’s either a scam or completely trashed.

  2. I have always loved the design of that generation of Outback and wanted one with a manual. I’d prefer the six cylinder with a manual but I don’t even know if they made those.

    Subaru it is!

    1. They never did pair the 6 with a manual, though they did offer the manual on Limited wagons with leather and the dual moonroofs, so pretty loaded for the time. Always kind of hoped to find one of those but they’re also tough to find.

  3. I’m reading this, lean back and just happen to glance at my coat tree: 20-year-old slightly shredded cuffs/collar Carhartt Detroit jacket in light gray. Next to this in my boot tray: 15-year-old Red Wing Loggers scuffed and gouged appropriately.

    Damn if they don’t like this Honda. Time fer a test drive.

  4. Owned an ’03 Legacy L wagon and a ’91 Civic wagon- I’d take the Civic here, for the (lack of) head gasket worries, the lower mileage, and honestly it’s about the perfect ‘just getting around’ car for places with snow.
    I miss that old Civic, but I bought a Fit which is damn near the same thing, and would be perfect if it had AWD and another inch of ground clearance.
    Definitely rustproof the hell out of it though.

  5. This is tough. On condition alone I’d go for the Outback – yes, the engine is gonna cost you more money, but as far as we can tell it’s well-kept and that’s worth a lot. And it would make a better DD for most people. But I love Wagovans and they’re way cooler.

  6. I think the Civic is a scam. Either or, I am gunning for it. Currently have a 91 hatch in the same terribly worn color. This would be a perfect bigger brother.

  7. That 31-year-old Civic is a moderately insane choice, but having just gotten out of my 2003 Outback, I’d take it anyway. The final year with my Outback was a pain in the ass, and has pretty much soured me on Subarus across the board.

  8. I daily drive a 1990 Civic Wagon 2wd and it is hands down my favorite car I have ever had. If I got another I would be looking for the rt4wd model. The driveshaft and rear differential on the car in this listing, each, sell for quite a bit more than the asking price. Hopefully an autopian buys this!

  9. Outback for me. That Civic should be a more solid car than the Outback in theory.

    In reality, that Civic has been beat to shit by a kid who lives with his parents and managed to kill a Honda D16 before it hit 100K miles.
    And THAT tells me that not only was it beat to shit, it also was not properly maintained.
    And I bet there are no interior shots likely because the interior is trashed.
    And he’s “selling it to move out of his parents house”… riiiight. For some reason, that explanation doesn’t add up in my mind.

  10. As someone whose favorite car is a Legacy wagon of this generation, the Outback all the way (though I like the Legacy better). It likely needs a new cat, but a clean, rust-free CA Outback is a great car. I’d pay cost of the cats even doubling the overall cost and take it. It will run another 20 years if you keep up with the maintenance. There’s an Outback of this generation that hit one million km (including one of the original head gaskets) towing campers around as a job and is still going.

    The engine is actually a good one except for the head gaskets. It’s almost a certainty that the head gaskets have been replaced by 150k miles much less 210k miles. If they were replaced by MLS gaskets and done properly, it’s a one-time permanent fix. It’s worth getting under the car and looking at the edge of the head gaskets to see if they are MLS, but if its leak free, that’s good enough.

  11. All Autopians need to know is that the Civic was named the Civic Shuttle Beagle 4WD in Japan, and had “Beagle 4WD” stickers on the rear doors.
    I had a manual 2WD one for a loaner for a couple of days and it was a hoot to drive. The engine had that magic Honda get-up-and-go, very Beagle-ish.

  12. The windshield banner is a big red flag to me. Seems to be a correlation between those and a special kind of driver. Like the concept of the Honda more but have to go with the outback that looks loved.

    I was in the market for a used outback at one point but decided I didn’t want to deal with Subaru engines.

    1. There was a younger guy at work years back that had an old Mazda 3 hatch with “Hot Carl” plastered across the top of its windshield. His name was Carl, and he had a super weird sense of humor. That is always what I think of when I see a windshield banner.

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