Road Test - Subaru Outback
It’s all in the details
The CEO of QASA, Ari Seirlis, needs no introduction. His name has become synonymous with fighting for the rights of people with disabilities.
Not many C5 quadriplegics have the strength to drive. By observing what Ari achieves few people really have an appreciation of how limited his mobility is, due to his spinal injury. What gives Ari this level of independence is his stubborn determination, and his attention to detail. Before purchasing a vehicle, he worked out exactly which features and adaptations he needed in his car to enable him to drive, and it was his eye for detail that led him to select the Subaru Outback.
Ari is proof that the Subaru theory is true – ‘once you’ve driven a Subaru you will always drive one.’ He has only ever owned a Subaru. Having driven a Subaru Forester, for many years, Ari, was in no rush to move away from the Subaru brand. The customer service, vehicle comfort, safety features and value for money is hard to beat. Unfortunately, the ground clearance on the new model of the Subaru Forester has been raised and the driver’s seat is too high for him to get into the car, so he decided to try a different model.
He chose the Subaru Outback, instead. This car features an 8 way, electrically adjustable driver’s seat which provides the perfect positioning for both driving and transfers. The seat has a large height range which enables him to position it low when transferring into and out of the vehicle, and then raise it, for optimal driving position. Due to the limited strength in his arms and shoulders, his seat needs to be raised and positioned close to the steering wheel, while driving.
Fortunately, for Ari, Subaru has not opted for bucket seats in the Outback model. The flat leather seat is perfectly shaped to accommodate a transfer board, which he requires as his transfers are weak. The adjustable lumbar support and seat angle helps to stabilize his body, which is particularly important for a person with poor balance. He finds that the vehicle is very spacious, with a wide console between the two front seats. He has fitted a support on the console, to rest his left elbow and a similar gadget on the door, to support his right elbow. These devices help to reduce the strain on his shoulders when driving with hand controls, and provide him with the additional stability he needs.
Ari says that the power steering of the Subaru Outback is extremely light, enabling him to maneuver the vehicle effortlessly. He loves the all-wheel drive handling, along with the flowing power, as it glides through the gear changes, thanks to the lineartronic continuously variable transmission. The responsiveness of the vehicle makes it a joy to drive. It stops in an instant due to its superb braking system which can be controlled by a gentle touch of the hand control. The sensitivity of the brake and accelerator pedals, means that he requires minimal strength to operate the vehicle and he is able to drive much longer without tiring. He has become a more confident driver than he has ever been before. The all-round comfort of the vehicle and superb suspension also adds to the driving pleasure. It is hard to tell the difference between driving on and off-road, as the suspension just irons out the bumps – no more spasms when driving on a dirt road.
Ari’s hand control system needed to be carefully designed to accommodate his limited mobility. Ivor Lee, at Lee Motors, built his controls to perfection, with his attention to detail matching Ari’s personality. His right hand is used to control the brake and accelerator while his left hand is secured in a spinner. Ari prefers to have the indicators on the right side of the car so that he does not need to take his left hand out of the spinner to indicate. The gear shift has a safety release button on the front of the hand grip, unfortunately this is one of the more difficult positions to adapt for quad hands. The gearshift had to be redesigned with a lever that Ari can lift with his wrist to release the button. The triptronic gear box has paddle shift levers on the steering wheel, which are not suitable for quadriplegics, but they are excellent features for paraplegics driving with hand controls, as they give the equivalent of full manual control.
With limited hand function, Ari has some difficulty pulling the driver’s door closed. However, a small loop of string has been attached to the door handle that enables him to close it, independently. Built up knobs have been placed on the window opener buttons which allow him to use his knuckles to push these buttons. The cruise control is positioned perfectly for easy reach and required no extra adaptations although he still has some difficulty using the twist grip for adjusting the side mirrors.
Ari loves giving other people the pleasure of driving his Subaru Outback, unfortunately, this means that his mirrors are often repositioned, leaving him with the challenge of resetting them, but it has also given him the opportunity to experience the comfort of the passenger seat. The boot is spacious enough to accommodate a wheelchair and for anyone using an electric wheelchair, there is adequate space to fit a boot lift to load a heavy electric wheelchair.
Ari struggles to regulate his body temperature and is particularly sensitive to overheating. The automatic digital dual zone climate control system is extremely effective since it allows him to accurately manage the temperature of his immediate environment without affecting his passengers, as they can set the temperature for their zone.
The Subaru Outback comes standard with a sun roof, which unfortunately, cuts into the headroom of the vehicle and makes the ceiling a bit lower than Ari would have preferred. He also finds that his view from the rear window is slightly restricted, when compared to the Subaru Forester.
Subaru is one of the few motor manufacturers that really understand the rebate process for drivers with disabilities. The price list includes the disability rebate amount, so that customers are aware of the discounted price. Disabled’ customers only pay the discounted price, unlike many other manufacturers, that expect the client to pay the full amount and wait to claim back the rebate amount, once the vehicle has been cleared by SARS.
The retail price of the automatic Subaru Outback is R409 000, but with the rebate, Ari received a R87 000 discount, bringing his total to R330 000 (including an additional R8 000 tow hitch).
As Ari explains, before he purchased the Subaru Outback, he would only drive because he needed to get from point A to point B, now he looks a for any excuse to drive from point A to point B!