“David is a very attached to his mother,” stated my pre-school report card. It seems I was, even relative to other four-year-olds, a mama’s boy. I cried when she dropped me off and cried when she wasn’t first in line to pick me up at the end of the day. I just couldn’t understand why I couldn’t be with my mom all the time.
Sometime in the intervening years, the tables turned. I left home for college ten years ago and haven’t lived in the same state as my parents since. These days, my mom is usually the one crying after me, opening our phone conversations with a plaintive, “You never call,” and concluding with, “When are you coming to visit?”
Still, when I had the rare opportunity to bring a companion along for a drive of the 2015 Subaru Legacy out in Big Sur, California—on the day after Mothers Day no less—my first thought was to invite my mom. As a bonus, she drives a 2013 Subaru Outback (her second Outback in a row), so this will provide a sneak preview of what’s likely to be her next car. I do warn her, though, that it won’t be at all glamorous. Most of the time we’ll just be riding together in a car.
“You mean I get to spend all day with you? Oh, I’m going!” my mom says. She also promises to refrain from embarrassing me and generally to respect the fact that I’ll be an adult at work. “Do you want me to pack extra socks for you?” she adds.
After flying in from our respective homes, my mom and I climb into a well-equipped 2015 Subaru Legacy with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine. I proceed as I always do on these trips—as quickly as I can. I brake hard before turns and accelerate out of them like I’m Steve McQueen’s stunt driver. My mom, normally a very vocal assistant driver, wills herself to stay silent, although she does occasionally duck her head as if participating in a tornado drill. The 2015 Subaru Legacy affects the same grudging acceptance, its boxer engine and CVT automatic humming quietly but without much enthusiasm as we pick up the pace. Finally, my mom notes, “No one is actually going to drive this car like this.”
As we cruise along the Pacific Coast Highway, verdant mountains to our left and the ocean shimmering to our right, I realize I might have undersold the glamor aspect. New car launches tend to take place in idyllic locations with great food and plenty of fanfare. Imagine an extravagant Bar Mitzvah, only in place of Morty Birnbaum and his proud parents you have beaming engineers presenting the 2015 Subaru Legacy. My job here is to tune out the attractions and focus on the car. My mom, however, is free to soak it all in. “Look at this view!” she gasps as we climb higher into a forest of oaks and redwoods. “It says on the itinerary we can order breakfast!”
She’s now almost apologetic as she unpacks the items she’s brought for me from home—mandelbrodt baked by an elderly family friend, my favorite boxed mac ‘n’ cheese from the supermarket back home, and socks. “I realize it’s not much for someone who’s always traveling to fancy places like this.”
The next day we’re riding in a 3.6-liter car with Subaru product coordinator Kenichi Yamamoto and engineer Yoichi Hori. My mom and Hori-san quickly bond over the fact that they drive Subaru Outbacks of about the same age and configuration—she in Boynton Beach, Florida, and he in Ota-Shi, Japan. She then asks why the Bluetooth system on her car is so hard to use. Hey, she’s getting the hang of this auto journalism thing.
We drop off the Subaru employees and start along a slithering stretch of the PCH. I want to get back to the hotel and finish writing a story, and am driving quickly enough to make the tires howl in corners. My mom, intermittently snapping iPhone photos out the window and covering her eyes in terror, insists we pull off at a beach in San Simeon to look at some elephant seals. We park at the edge of a bluff, below which dozens of seals are lounging together and enjoying the midday warmth. We do the same, chatting idly and wondering if one of the whiskered mammals looks a little bit like Dad. It occurs to me that it’s been a long time since I just sat with my mom and chatted. As we walk back to the car, I admit it was worth stopping. “It’s always worth stopping,” she says.
She takes the wheel for the final leg. She’s a social worker who spends much of her workweek in her car, driving from client to client. No surprise, her priorities differ from mine. She doesn’t care that the 2015 Subaru Legacy is predictable and controllable at its handling limit because she comes to a near stop before each hairpin curve. I don’t recall—in my entire life—an instance where my mom has accelerated to 60 mph at full throttle, so she hardly notices that the flat six produces some 70 hp more than the four-cylinder in her car.
What does matter to her? Seat heaters, for one thing. She uses them all the time because they ease her backaches, and she appreciates that Subaru offers them even with cloth seats. She also declares the Bluetooth pairing much improved. She’s pleased with the more powerful six-cylinder engine not because it’s faster but because of the quiet ease with which it operates. Her main gripe is with rear visibility, which is why she prefers the Outback. (I’ve yet to see a commercial for a crossover or SUV that follows the adventures of a middle-aged woman who does not like to strain her neck, but it would be the most honest advertisement ever.)
She pulls over after about fifteen minutes and switches with me once more. This mother of an auto journalist has no problem admitting she hates to drive. But she loves the chance to spend time with me and see what I do for a living. Sitting in my cubicle the next day, eating the snacks she had packed for me and writing about the 2015 Subaru Legacy, I realize the feeling is mutual.