City cousin to the adventurous Outback, the Subaru Legacy features the same base engine and all-wheel-drive in a buttoned-down package that's both lower to the ground and lower in price. Legacy costs less than other mid-size sedans that don't offer all-wheel drive, and it easily motors past those other cars when it snows. It'll also stop much more quickly than an SUV, whether the roads are dry, wet, or covered with snow. Even when the roads are dry, the Legacy is fun to drive.
The Legacy lineup comprises three sedan models and two station wagons. The sedan lineup consists of the L ($19,295), the GT ($22,895), and the GT Limited ($24,695). Wagons come in L ($19,995) and GT ($23,795) guise. (Look for a separate review of the Legacy-based Outback at NewCarTestDrive.com.)
All Legacy models are powered by Subaru's 2.5-liter four-cylinder boxer engine, which produces 165 horsepower. A five-speed manual transmission is standard; a four-speed electronically controlled automatic is optional ($800).
Legacy L models are equipped well, with anti-lock brakes; air conditioning; power windows, mirrors and locks; and AM/FM/cassette stereo.
GT models add a sport-tuned suspension, bigger wheels and tires, bigger front brakes, slightly different gear ratios, a limited-slip rear differential, sporty cloth upholstery and other features.
Limiteds get side-impact airbags, leather upholstery and a CD player. For 2002, Limited trim also includes an All Weather Package consisting of heated seats, heated mirrors, and windshield wiper de-icers.
Subaru represents many good things, but it has never been known for making beautiful cars. However, the clean lines and short overhangs of the Legacy give it a purposeful look. The more time we spent with it, the more its looks grew on us. Subaru's designers have come up with an attractive design that looks at home among its European competitors.
A high trunk line on the sedans lends a distinctive look, aids aerodynamics and increases cargo capacity. The profile tapers down from rear to front. A low hood line gives the Legacy a wedge-shaped stance. The cabin is relatively long with decent-sized doors and a fairly low belt line. All the door windows are frameless, which is quite unusual in a four-door sedan and gives the car the sporty look of a coupe. Simple cladding along the middle of the doors and along the sills adds character. The front of the car features a big grille and large headlights that fit flush with the bodywork.
Station wagons are the most popular Legacy models sold in the U.S. There is little difference between the sedan and station wagon variations other than carrying capacity and appearance.
The interior is far more contemporary than previous Subaru interiors; it was substantially redesigned for 2000. Switches and controls are all within easy reach of the driver, so stretching is not necessary. Drivers with short legs have complained of scant knee room, but most folks find plenty of head room and leg room. The seating position offers excellent visibility.
There are four round gauges in the instrument pod: a large tachometer and speedometer along with a smaller fuel gauge and water temperature gauge. They are well shaded and easy to read in all lighting conditions. The dash is covered in a nice black and gray plastic trim with a heavy grain finish. The Limited model has imitation wood paneling as well. The shifter surround is an attractive piece finished to look like brushed aluminum. The leather-wrapped steering wheel feels comfortable.
Climate and radio controls fall to hand conveniently in the center. The Limited model we drove featured a six-CD player with the changer built into the dashboard. The sound system worked well, though the tuning buttons are a bit small. Climate controls are above the audio controls and are straightforward and without frills. Window controls are conveniently located on the doors.
Rear-seat passengers will be pleasantly surprised by the Legacy's generous legroom, which is better than in many cars in its class. Headroom in the rear is adequate for those shorter than six feet. The moonroof, which is standard on high-line models, reduces about an inch of headroom.
There is a pass-through hole from the trunk behind the arm rest in the center of the back seat, but the sedan's rear seats do not fold down.
Subaru Legacy strikes an excellent balance between handling and ride quality. This car feels smooth, refined, and sure-footed. This balance comes from a combination of suspension design, all-wheel drive, and a low center of gravity aided by the horizontally opposed four-cylinder engine. Subaru and Porsche are the only two automakers who use this so-called boxer engine layout.
Subaru's all-wheel-drive system is one of the best in the business and it ensures power is distributed to all four wheels. This makes the car easier to control on dry pavement and is especially helpful when the road surface is slippery. Unlike part-time four-wheel-drive systems designed for off-road use, Subaru's system continuously redirects the power to the tires with the best grip, improving driver control. Also unlike part-time four-wheel-drive systems, Subaru's all-wheel-drive system adds little weight. The key to the system is a viscous coupling that is no larger than a grapefruit; this effectively replaces the hefty transfer case you'd find in a truck or SUV. (Legacy models with automatic transmissions use an electronically controlled clutch instead of a viscous coupling, but this is still a light and compact unit.)
The four-cylinder engine produces 165 horsepower, which is good for this size of car. More important, the engine generates good low-end torque, which is the force that propels you away from intersections and up steep grades. Subaru's engine is more powerful than the four-cylinder engines in the Audi A4, Honda Accord and Toyota Camry, and those are bigger cars. Under hard acceleration, the Legacy's four-cylinder engine sounds boomy at low rpm, but the boom quickly gives way to an enthusiastic growl at higher rpm.
The manual transmission is smooth and pleasant to use. It helps get the most out of the engine.
A well-designed gated lever on the floor controls the optional automatic transmission. It's a straight shot from Drive to Third and back, making it easy and fun to shift between them. Move it over into a dogleg to downshift to Second and First. Who needs a Tiptronic? Subaru's system even allows quick shifting between Drive and Reverse when turning around, yet there's never any doubt which gear is being selected. It isn't cumbersome like some older Mercedes-Benz gated shifters. Gear ratios are spaced well to make maximum use of engine power.
In regular driving on smooth dry roads it is all but impossible to notice that the Legacy has all-wheel-drive. It is transparent to the driver, which is as it should be. The steering feels nice and precise and there is no torque steer when accelerating hard.
Handling is very balanced. Dive into a corner with too much speed and the Legacy understeers mildly; lift off the throttle and it transitions into mild oversteer. Translation: it's easy to drive, even at the limit of the tires. That's good news if you're ever called upon for an evasive maneuver. Anti-lock disc brakes and the all-wheel-drive system help the driver avoid accidents by managing grip while the driver steers around the obstacles.
Subaru's Legacy GT doesn't offer a lot of sex appeal, but it's well-designed and fun to drive.
If you live where there's lots of snow and rain, and you enjoy driving, then take a test drive in the Subaru Legacy. Even if you're not a professional rally driver, you'll find you can travel more safely in foul conditions with Subaru's all-wheel drive.
|Model Line Overview |
|Model lineup: ||Sedans: L ($19,295), GT ($22,895), GT Limited ($24,695); Wagons: L ($19,995), GT ($23,795) |
|Engines: ||2.5-liter sohc 16-valve flat-4 |
|Transmissions: ||5-speed manual, 4-speed automatic |
|Safety equipment (standard): ||ABS, front airbags, and all-wheel drive |
|Safety equipment (optional): ||side-impact airbags |
|Basic warranty: ||3 years/36,000 miles |
|Assembled in: ||Lafayette, Indiana |
|Specifications As Tested |
|Model tested (MSRP): ||GT Limited ($24,695) |
|Standard equipment: ||air conditioning, AM/FM/cassette/CD with weatherband, power windows, power mirrors, power locks, cruise control, tilt steering, sport-tuned suspension, 16-inch wheels and tires, viscous limited-slip rear differential, leather upholstery, carpeted floor mats |
|Options as tested (MSRP): ||automatic transmission ($800) |
|Destination charge: ||($525) |
|Gas guzzler tax: ||N/A |
|Price as tested (MSRP): ||$ 26,020 |
|Layout: ||all-wheel drive |
|Engine: ||2.5-liter sohc 16-valve flat-4 |
|Horsepower (hp @ rpm): ||165 @ 5600 |
|Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm): ||166 @ 4000 |
|Transmission: ||4-speed automatic |
|EPA fuel economy, city/hwy: ||22/27 mpg |
|Wheelbase: ||104.3 in. |
|Length/width/height: ||184.4/68.7/55.7 in. |
|Track, f/r: ||57.5/57.5 in. |
|Turning circle: ||35.4 ft. |
|Seating capacity: ||5 |
|Head/hip/leg room, f: ||38.1/51.3/43.3 in. |
|Head/hip/leg room, m: ||N/A |
|Head/hip/leg room, r: ||36.6/51.9/34.2 in. |
|Trunk volume: ||12.4 cu. ft. |
|Payload: ||N/A |
|Towing capacity: ||2000 Lbs. |
|Suspension, f: ||Independent |
|Suspension, r: ||Independent |
|Ground clearance: ||6.1 in. |
|Curb weight: ||3435 lbs. |
|Tires: ||P205/55R16 |
|Brakes, f/r: ||disc/disc with ABS |
|Fuel capacity: ||16.9 gal. |
Unless otherwise indicated, specifications refer to test vehicle.
All prices are manufacturer's suggested retail prices (MSRP) effective as of June 21, 2001.
Prices do not include manufacturer's destination and delivery charges. N/A: Information not available or not applicable.
Manufacturer Info Sources: 1-800-782-2783 - www.subaru.com
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