Excellent economy joins stellar handling
Fuel economy has never been a Subaru strong point, the brand’s appeal resting on its cars’ good performance and sublime chassis.
But now, you can get those fine dynamics and good fuel economy, sort of like having your cake and eating it too.
The only glitch is having to pay Road User Charges because the engine in your new Legacy or Outback is a diesel.
Subaru says its newly-introduced – and quickly sold-out – mid-sized diesels and wagons are good for overall fuel economy of 5.7 litres/100km.
On the 2008 AA Energywise Rally, a fastidiously-driven Legacy diesel achieved overall fuel economy of 5.151 litres/100km
We didn’t achieve better than fuel use in the low eight litres per 100km bracket, in a mix of mainly city and some spirited country driving (and little constant-speed motorway running).
That’s still good, and far better than you’d get from petrol Legacys, and probably easily improved on with a little more care on how you use the throttle. CO2 emissions are 151 grams/kilometre.
Subaru has stuck with the horizontally-opposed boxer layout for its new 2.0-litre diesel, reaping the benefits of its compact dimensions, especially its height.
That allows it to be mounted low in the chassis which helps keep weight and the centre of gravity low-down in the car, enhancing handling and agility.
The engine has common-rail fuel-injection and a turbocharger and develops maximum power of 110kW at 3600rpm. Peak torque is a meaty 350Nm, developed at 1800rpm.
The torque curve is peaky, with 200Nm available from 1000rpm and then climbing steeply to 350Nm 800rpm later. There’s a relatively-short plateau to around 2500rpm and then the torque falls away to 200Nm at 4500rpm.
So there’s no need to make much use of high revs, the engine doing its best work in the mid-range which makes for strong open-road performance.
However, there’s not a lot of torque at low revs, or during initial acceleration and the Legacy diesel can feel surprisingly-sluggish in city driving.
But once the torque hits the sweet zone, the Legacy is quick and the delivery seamless. Acceleration from standstill is brisk enough (Subaru quotes 8.9 seconds for the sprint to 100km/h) but it’s the mid-range punch that impresses.
The test car was a wagon, with a commodious load-space that is practically-shaped and easy to use. We find its styling more appealing than the maybe a little anonymous sedan’s.
Subaru offers only a manual gearbox on Legacy/Outback diesels, but the five-speeder has good feel and can be shifted quickly.
I used to find Subaru clutches a little tricky, with sudden take up, but they’re now much improved and much more user-friendly.
For the first day or so we were underwhelmed by the Legacy’s performance in city driving, but then we hit the highway and again fell in love with the car.
Subaru’s symmetrical all-wheel drive (you can’t buy an officially-imported front-wheel drive Legacy, Outback or Impreza) gives its cars outstanding handling and dynamics, and we’ve tended to prefer the Legacy to the Impreza.
There’s just something about the way the bigger car feels on the road that gives it added appeal. I can’t find a way to put it into words really, other than to say it’s sublime.
The rack-and-pinion steering is accurate and has good feel, and the car fairly revels in hard cornering, with crisp turn-in and unflappable roadholding.
The grip is phenomenal, and the 4720mm long, 1470mm high, 1510kg wagon will tackle demanding, winding country roads with sports car eagerness.
There’s none of the feeling of a greater mass high above the rear wheels that characterises most wagons’ handling, nor is there the feeling of weight transfer that’s also common to the body style.
You can quickly establish a real feeling of oneness with the car when you’re pressing-on in the Legacy diesel wagon, and its all-round competence and vice-free manners make getting into a rhythm easy.
That’s enhanced by the fact that at open road speeds the engine is in the torque sweet spot, and consequently the whole driving experience is sheer delight.
The driver’s seat is well-shaped and offers excellent support during the high g-force cornering the Legacy is capable of.
Brake performance from the four-wheel discs (ventilated at the front) is strong with no hint of fade during our brisk open road testing.
The chassis’ superbly-sorted dynamics and the massive grip from the 215/45 R17 tyres mean you use the brakes less frequently than in most two-wheel drive cars anyway.
The Legacy is manoeuvrable in the city, with a tightish 10.8-metre turning circle.
The suspension – MacPherson struts at the front, multi-link at the rear – delivers a comfortable ride.
Legacy diesel wagons are well-equipped. There are front foglights, auto switch-off of headlights (a traditional Subaru feature), rear roof spoiler, roof-mounted cargo-carrying rails, 17-inch alloy wheels and a full-sized steel spare wheel. The windscreen wipers have a de-icing function.
Legacy diesels are data-dot marked to deter thieves, and the remote central door-locking system includes an immobiliser.
The sound system is a six-speaker Kenwood CD player with a six-disc, dashboard-mounted stacker. There’s climate-control air-conditioning, heated front seats, a retractable security blind for the load space, black cloth seat upholstery, power windows, and power-adjustable exterior mirrors.
The rear seatback split-folds in a 60/40 ratio to extend the load space from 459 litres to 1649. The driver’s seat offers eight-position power adjustment.
On the dynamic safety front, there’s the on-road security of all-wheel drive, ABS anti-lock braking with electronic brake distribution (EBD) and brake assist which increases pedal pressure during panic stops. Electronic stability control is standard (Subaru calls its version Vehicle Dynamic Control).
Passive safety kits includes lap/sash seatbelts for all five occupants, six airbags (front and side for front cabin occupants, and side curtains to protect all), Isofix anchor points for child seats, and height-adjustable active front seat head restraints.
Subaru’s first diesel Legacy wagon arrives as the current, cleanly-styled, bodyshell reaches the end of its life.
It’s a good-looking car with good proportions and an elegant air. We’re not so impressed by the diesel’s performance in the city but blown away by its smoothness and seamless open-road ability.
The Legacy has always been an exceptionally-fine open road car and the diesel engine adds to that with impressive smoothness and muscular eagerness at highway speeds.
And even better, it does what no Legacy has been able to do before, run high average touring speeds with low fuel economy. If only the government would move to scrap the RUCs for diesel cars.
Read more about Subaru's diesels in the AA Energywise Rally here.