The Legacy 2.5GT is a one of those sedans that, for no fault of its own, flies below the radar. Recognition can be tough when going against the monsters of the midway in the midsized sedan segment, namely the Honda Accord, Chevy Malibu, Acura TL and BMW 3-Series. Combining the soul of a WRX, upscale amenities and the control of Subaru’s Symmetrical All-Wheel-Drive system, the Legacy 2.5GT impresses on many levels.
The Legacy comes in seven distinct flavors: 2.5i, 2.5i Special Edition, 2.5i Limited, 2.5GT Limited, 2.5GT Spec B, 3.0R and 3.0R Limited. All 2.5i-branded models feature naturally aspirated 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engines. The 3.0R models are motivated by naturally aspirated 3.0-liter 6-cylinder powerplants. The GT-designated models, like our Ruby Red Pearl Limited tester, represent the top of the line and sport turbocharged 2.5-liter 4-cylinders.
The Legacy lineup became strictly sedan in 2008 when all of Subaru’s midsize wagons moved under the Outback banner. New equipment for the 2009 model includes a standard 385-watt Harman Kardon audio system with nine speakers, an integrated key remote transmitter that puts the buttons on the key instead of a keychain fob, and some minor interior trim enhancements.
Under the Hood
The GT-series Legacy Limited and Spec B are powered by a WRX-based turbocharged and intercooled 2.5-liter boxer 4-cylinder that sends 243 horsepower coursing through the Legacy’s all-wheel-drive system. It also delivers 18 mpg city and 24 mpg highway mileage. Subaru’s signature horizontally opposed engine features a specially reinforced aluminum block, integral cast-iron cylinder liners and a semi-closed deck design with five main bearings for added strength and peace of mind. On the thrill side, 13.5 psi of max boost is at the ready.
Although Subaru’s SI-Drive seemed a bit gimmicky when we first climbed behind the wheel, we soon appreciated the capabilities of the system that allows cockpit control of engine behavior. SI-Drive alters the actuation of the electronically controlled throttle, offering three different programs. In automatic-transmission models, the system also controls shift points and shift firmness. "Intelligent" mode backs off engine torque and maximum power and switches to a more relaxed throttle-response curve and can also help increase fuel efficiency in certain driving situations. Clicking the SI-Drive knob, positioned just behind the shifter, to "Sport" mode results in a smooth, more linear onslaught of power. Jumping to "Sport Sharp" mode unleashes maximum ferocity with super-fast throttle response and quicker turbo spool-up.
We took the "set it and forget it" approach and used the Sport Sharp setting a vast majority of the time. Switching between Sport Sharp and Intelligent, while dropping the hammer on back-to-back blasts, vividly illustrated the Legacy’s split personality. In Intelligent mode, the car was a docile, dependable and competent cruiser showing average get-up-and-go. Clicking into Sport Sharp there was an immediate eagerness under your right foot, and our 5-speed automatic-transmission model was brazen, to say the least, revving out to the engine’s 6500-rpm redline before up-shifting and giving the Legacy a decidedly formidable feel. Simply put, the SI-Drive’s intensity gave the 2.5-liter engine the personality and pulling power of a bigger engine.
The Legacy cabin is a welcome combination of subtle styling cues and upscale appointments with ample room for five adults. The 2.5GT Limited edition includes a touch-screen navigation system, an excellent gauge cluster and plenty of standard-equipment features and controls. The seats are soft, perforated leather with built-in electronic warmers, and the cabin is trimmed with quality materials including wood trim. In short, the interior is well beyond pedestrian; it’s comfortable and quiet but not in the same league as Lexus or BMW. And at this price point, a more upscale vibe would have been appreciated.
On the Road
The balance exuded by the Legacy was immediately recognizable. Like an honor student, it gets good grades in all areas. The Subaru’s ride is stable and compliant but in no way soft or spongy. Push matters and the chassis responds with good road feel and an overall sense of confidence.
The senses are again rewarded when the SI-Drive knob is moved into Sport Sharp mode. With the added zest in throttle response, we took full advantage of the engine’s 13.5 psi of turbo boost. The Legacy has substantial passing power and an unexpected crispness that belies its subtle styling.
Automatic 2.5GTs include paddle shifting, a feature that has become the rage of manufacturers trying to play the "sporty" card. While we appreciate having the choice to determine gear changes, the system’s slow-motion shifts and lack of a rev-matching downshift feature relegate it to marketing mumbo-jumbo. The bottom line is that the automatic shifts firmly enough. If you want more real-world control, opt for the 5-speed manual.
Right for You?
The Legacy 2.5GT’s biggest advantage over its competition is Subaru’s Symmetrical All-Wheel-Drive system. It represents different things to different people depending on their approach to driving. Light-footed family commuters see it as safety insurance, while McSporty types are in touch with the performance attributes all-wheel drive can deliver. Subaru signs on both dotted lines because pleasing the masses is good business.
Our Legacy 2.5GT Limited tester with an automatic transmission and fitted with zero options sported a sticker price of $32,395. Opting for a 5-speed stick drops the price to $28,895. The Legacy 2.5GT is priced in line with Accord and below the TL and 3-Series, so there is value to be had. And for those who dare the monsters, the Legacy 2.5GT will deliver a robust driving experience in all seasons.
Evan Griffey served as an editor of Turbo & High Tech Performance, a pioneering publication about sport-compact tuning. Today Griffey freelances for Import Tuner, Sport Compact Car, Car Audio and Siphon.