1988 Subaru GL 1.8L F.I. from North America


Rock solid, economical, utilitarian mountain car!


Replaced drive-side cv joint, A/C belt tension pulley bearing failed (cheap fix -$25), 4WD indicator light works sporadically, passenger-side front window does not operate, replaced battery.

General Comments:

Great car! Where else will you find rock-solid reliability, hi & lo range transfer case, up to 38mpg, loads of cargo room, full complement of dash gauges, very comfy seats, and ease of maintenance?

Ergonomics: I've taken several long road trips in this car and I never get tired from sitting in the seats; plenty of support and the adjustable lumbar helps too. I used to own a 240 series Volvo and I must say the seats in the Subaru are better (for me, but I'm slight-to-average build). Love the dash layout, everything is intuitive, and I really dig having an oil pressure gauge and ammeter instead of idiot lights for these two critical engine operating parameters. It's a shame the Legacy series got away from this practice. Good cargo room, not as cavernous as my Volvo wagon was, but close.

4WD: I love having a car that is front wheel drive that can be MANUALLY shifted into hi or low range. It's sooo good on snowy roads, and I'm running marginal all season tires and it still gets around great. The low range is incredible, lots of torque this car doesn't have, but it still managed to scrap its way through the spring melt mess on some local logging roads no problem. Plus, the part-time system yields better fuel economy and creates less wear on the vehicle.

Power: OK, there really isn't much at what, 88HP, but still she does OK. I used to own an '87 GL that was carburated and it was a real dog, and best mileage came in at 26mpg. But this '88 is fuel injected and it manages to hold its own. No, you're not going to win any drag races, but that is not a concern anyhow. But, I have managed 38 miles per gallon on a few occasions (proper tire pressure, no more than 60mph). On average, I'm seeing 32mpg highway, 23-26 city, that's with the original drivetrain that has close to 300K miles on it!!!

Reliability: Turn the key, it starts. The usual suspects at play here: cv axles (fail partly due to the incredible turning radius these cars have - don't use it all and save wear on the axles), timing belt intervals of around 30-45K miles as that drive-side belt has to stretch a long way.

Usefulness: I move a lot, and this car packs a lot of gear around. During one move I had so much weight in the back that, as driving through a downpour, I could feel the front end floating around. Threw it in 4 hi and problem solved. Anyhow, I mountain bike a fair bit and I like being able to just throw the bike in the back and not up top, still have plenty of room for gear. I'm 6'1" and have managed to sleep in it too, a la Hotel Subaru!

Overall: very satisfied, great car if you're not looking for anything fast, but something that is bulletproof, a good mountain car, can enable a fair bit of exploring on back roads, logging roads, mild 4WD trails, good hauling car, good road tripper, good all-weather vehicle. It fits the bill very well for all these rolls, and it just keeps on rolling too! Shame that Subaru discontinued the model, I'd much rather have a 'new' Loyale (or GL) with the 2.2L engine from the first Legacy series coupled with a 5 speed manual and part time transfer case than a new WRX, but that is just me.

Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Yes

Review Date: 11th December, 2005

24th Dec 2007, 13:43

Original poster here again to give an update on my '88 GL10. Now have 300,000 miles on the clock and have the following to report:

-Left rear wheel bearing about to go, will cost $300 to fix

-Timing belts should be replaced ($400 to do)

-Trip meter stopped working

-Vacuum assist that keeps HVAC controls 'pushed in' in-op

-Headlights cracked from rock impacts

-Passenger-side window switches not working

-Rust, rust, rust...

Other than the above, the only ailment is a cracked windshield and an erratic non-start issue, but it always turns over. Not sure what it is; just clicks over like the battery is dead (it's not) then starts.

I think I've seen a slight decrease in fuel economy, but hard to say with trip meter out, and I haven't taken the time to calculate.

Still a fantastic car! Got lost on the way to a trail head this summer, spent a good deal of time in the low range, working on my 'Idaho Pin striping' (branches scraping the paint), crawling up stream beds and old roads that looked more like trails. Never ceases to amaze!

I don't drive it much as I commute by bicycle, but when I do need it it's always there for me. Looking at a diesel truck to do the bio thing, but finding it hard to justify the added expense.

Highly recommend these old GL style Subarus!

29th Jul 2010, 16:03

I just bought a 1988 Subaru GL wagon, and so far, so good. The thing runs like a champ!

The timing belts and brakes need to be done soon; also, if I don't rev it and let it warm up for about half a minute when first starting, it dies, but just needs to have some filters cleaned out.

I love all of the space and 4WD options - sure is great on rough roads in the middle of the woods. Couldn't have spent a better $700. If you get a chance to buy one of these for a good price - don't pass it up!

To the comment about head gaskets - I have had no leaky/faulty gaskets yet, period.

1988 Subaru GL Station Wagon 1.8 from North America


Can't beat it for the money


Had problems with the right, front axle twice in the first year.

Odometer stopped working within a month of buying it.

Heater core has a leak that has resulted in overheating several times, but as long as I don't run the heater on the highest setting, it stays cool.

The timing belt just broke today, estimated mileage 200,000.

General Comments:

I highly recommend old Subaru 4WD wagons. I have driven this car through standing water that reached the front bumper and climbed a mountain in snow just as deep without any serious problems. The Subaru just keeps going.

I paid $1200 for the car 26 months ago and driven it at least 60,000 miles, through blizzards, rivers, trees (resulting in a cracked windshield) and until today it had always gotten me home. I don't take great care of her, but she's always taken care of me.

The only downside is the lack of power, but I drive slow anyways so no big deal.

Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Yes

Review Date: 20th April, 2004