The last couple of months seem to have evaporated into thin air, and as a result, I missed February’s scheduled fleet update. Some thoughts from both February and March in this instalment, then.

2002 SEAT Leon 20VT

I met up with a friend the other week, and as I pulled up in the Leon, he remarked that it sounded ‘quite healthy’. That is in part owing to the non-factory back box a previous owner fitted, which somewhat accentuates the lower frequencies of the engine note. But it is also simply because the car continues to run as well as ever. The last month has seen me behind the wheel of the Leon quite a bit more, because my wife has suddenly decided she really likes the Outback and uses it much more often. Far from complaining, however, I’ve found it to be just fine for motoring round, whether that be shorter commutes, or a couple of hundred miles up and down North Yorkshire with a friend a few weeks ago (seen below admiring the car mid-way through a blast over Blakey Ridge).

SEAT Leon 20VT

Aside from when the water pump started leaking a couple of years ago, the Leon has never really had any real mechanical issues, and this continues to be the case. Especially following the little bit of fettling I did prior to its last MOT, it has been perfectly reliable. It hasn’t lost any more coolant, nor has there been any discernible oil consumption, which I’m given to understand is somewhat unusual for the 1.8T. The only minor irritant is an audible creak when going over bumps at slow speed; I have yet to investigate, but I think it might be the central exhaust clamp, which has needed some adjustment before.

That will be added to the small list of jobs to be done in this coming month, which include an oil change and a gearbox oil change. But the more I drive the Leon, the more I find myself slipping into ‘sensible motorist’ mode: it runs so well and is completely reliable, so why get rid of it? We’ll see what happens.

Current mileage: 85,941
Mileage since last update: 744

2004 Subaru Outback 3.0Rn

Previously, I’ve remarked that the Outback is the sort of car you can just get in and drive long distances without any fuss. It feels designed for, and indeed encourages, calm, comfortable motoring. I put that to the test several weeks ago after a very busy and stressful week – my wife left me at home with the kids over half term! – and drove back up to some of my favourite roads in some of the quietest parts of County Durham. I lazily cruised in silence, enjoying the stunning scenery, and at the end of the day, after 280 miles, still felt rested. There is a lot to be said for cars that you can just get in and drive and be comfortable.

Subaru Outback

Though we are well into spring now (and it is lovely to get that big sunroof open again) it wasn’t too long ago that I finally got a chance to really put the Outback’s all-wheel drive system to the test. After heading up into the Yorkshire Wolds, I was confronted with quite a bit more snow than I had anticipated, but soon discovered that this would be no issue for the Subaru. I don’t know quite how the system works, and online reports yield conflicting information, but the car feels rear-biased initially, calling in further backup from the front wheels once you lose traction. Again, I can’t say this is for sure how it works, but that’s certainly how it feels. Regardless of the mechanics of it all, the fact is that, even in eight inches of snow, you can stomp on the accelerator, and after some initial slip, it scrabbles for grip and you’re off. It is very impressive.

I don’t have winter tyres fitted, so naturally braking could be improved in the snow, but if you are gentle and calculated in applying the brakes, it will still stop predictably and with composure on a slippery surface. Should you find yourself in a place where you can safely unsettle things and have some fun, however, the car will cooperate – to a point. It will happily let you drift all day long, but stops short of letting you do a full 360, because of the front wheels working to find grip. Given enough room, I’m sure you could spin it right round, but you’d need a big, open area to play in.

The Outback is due an MOT at the end of this month, so there will be a little bit of work to do in preparation. The main thing is to fit some new brakes, as the current set are nearing the end of their life. I confess to being a little worried, however, because of the check engine light I saw a couple of months ago; the ECU threw a code indicating the catalyst system was working below efficiency. It hasn’t come back on since, and the evidence doesn’t really point to a knackered convertor – I did a temperature test recently, for example, which showed it working as it should – but you never really know until they stick the probes in. Everything else should be fine, as far as I can tell, so really all I can do is cross my fingers.

Aside from that, the Outback continues to do everything it is pressed into duty for without complaint: ferrying the family round, airport runs, and carrying loads of stuff. There is really not much to find fault with, and I could see us living with it for quite a while.

Current mileage: 146,347
Mileage since last update: 1711

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