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Subaru Legacy 3.6RS

 

You can no longer have a Legacy wagon, but you can have the sedan in an aspirational RS version. We put it to the test.

Base price: $49,990.

Powertrain and performance: 3.6-litre petrol six, 191kW/350Nm, continuously variable transmission, four-wheel drive, Combined economy 9.9 litres per 100km, 0-100km/h 7.2 seconds.

Vital statistics: 4795mm long, 1500mm high, 2750mm wheelbase, luggage capacity 493 litres, fuel tank 60 litres, 18-inch alloy wheels on 225/50 tyres.

We like: Smooth performance, all-wheel drive traction, lavish equipment levels.

We don’t like: Conservative styling, thirsty engine.

How it rates: 8/10

WHAT DO I NEED TO KNOW? The Legacy wagon is dead. Long live the Legacy.

The overwhelming popularity of the sports utility vehicle (SUV) genre worldwide has prompted Subaru to discontinue its Legacy wagon. That seems incredible for a company renowned for its estate cars, but the fact remains that most buyers who want a medium-large Subaru wagon these days opt for the off-road-style Outback (which has always been Legacy-based anyway).

The Legacy sedan continues however, and is available in just two variants for New Zealand: the $39,990 four-cylinder Sport and the $49,990 six-pot 3.6RS.

It’s the latter that’s expected to account for 70% of sales; that’s the version on test here.

WHAT’S IT LIKE TO DRIVE? The platform and powertrain of the RS are identical to the Outback 3.6, so it will come as no surprise that it’s a lot like its high-riding sibling.

The distinctive aural character of Subaru’s boxer engine seems to become less and less apparent with each new generation: the flagship 3.6-litre is smooth and strong, especially when you put the Subaru Lineartronic Transmission (SLT) – other known as continuously variable technology – into the mix.

The SLT is arguably the best CVT-type gearbox in the world right now: it avoids the kind of high-rev flaring normally associated with gearless transmissions and will automatically revert to a stepped operation (mimicking separate ratios) when heavier throttle pressure is applied.

You could quite easily drive this car and mistake the SLT for a conventional automatic transmission. Which is a compliment.

However, despite the supposed efficiency of SLT, the RS is still relatively thirsty. The official Combined figure of 9.9 litres per 100km is not brilliant and you’ll do a lot worse with enthusiastic use.

The Legacy 3.6 is swift and surefooted, with full-time four-wheel drive. But it might not be as sporting as you’d expect from the massive RS badge on the bootlid. Remember, the Legacy RS was the model that took Subaru to its first World Rally Championship win in 1993 and it been attached to some pretty hot Legacy road cars since.

The latest RS isn’t entirely that kind of car, despite the badging and macho twin exhausts. It’s quite refined and the steering is surprisingly light, albeit accurate, when you’re pressing along a winding road.

That’s probably a sign of the changing times. Legacy has grown up quite a lot and is now almost Holden Commodore-sized. Which is, funnily enough, where Subaru sees some of the business for this car coming from, as big-six buyers come to grips with the fact that Australian-made sedans are now winding down.

There are some flashes if a more spirited nature. Like the SI Drive system, which gains an extra mode in the RS. Along with the standard Intelligent (read economy) and Sport settings from the four-cylinder Legacy, the RS gets a Sport Sharp mode which makes the engine and transmission more aggressive still. You do really feel the difference.

Subaru’s excellent EyeSight active safety system is standard on both Legacy models. It uses twin cameras mounted above the windscreen to enable active cruise control, lane departure warning and a variety of pre-collision and autonomous braking functions.

IS IT EASY TO LIVE WITH? The Subaru Legacy is a generously-sized family car, no question. The styling is crisp but conservative, both inside and out. So don’t expect a massive design statement in the cabin, but the interior is logically laid-out and nicely assembled.

The RS has extra equipment over and above the Sport. There’s more chrome on the outside, LED self-levelling headlights, heated/folding door mirrors, keyless entry/start, leather upholstery, an integrated satellite navigation system with touch screen and Harman Kardon audio, plus an extra USB input on the centre console.

SHOULD I BUY ONE? Exclusivity will be on your side with Legacy. While Outback is expected to hit sales of 1200 this year, Subaru New Zealand will only have about 150 Legacy models. Nor is it in a huge hurry to flood the market: large cars only account for 5 percent of the market and fleet sales dominate.

The RS is not as overtly sporty as the name suggests, but as a driver-focused all-wheel drive alternative to the likes of the Commodore, Mazda6 and Ford Mondeo, the Legacy is still mighty appealing. Thirst counts against it, but at $49,990 with an impressive standard specification, it’s a lot of very capable car for the money.

EQUIPMENT CHECKLIST

  • Blind spot warning: No
  • Lane guidance: Yes
  • Cruise control: Adaptive with stop and go
  • Automatic lights/wipers: Yes/yes
  • Parking radar: Yes with camera
  • Self-parking technology: No
  • Head-up display: No
  • Satellite navigation: Yes
  • Keyless entry/start: Yes/Yes
  • Stop-start: Yes
  • Air conditioning: Dual climate
  • Heated/ventilated seats: Yes/No
  • Power seat adjustment/memory: Yes/Yes
  • Leather upholstery: Yes
  • Power boot or tailgate: No
  • Split/folding rear seats: 60/40

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