Subaru's new Legacy Remarkable station wagon takes the all-wheel drive marque into the four-cylinder luxury market.
The Remarkable, based on the 2.5-litre Limited, sits between that model and the range-topping six-cylinder H6.
Its $56,990 pricetag adds $7000 to the price, but includes full leather upholstery, side airbags, dual sunroofs and the vehicle dynamic control system which has previously only been available on the H6.
Like the Limited, the Remarkable uses the 2457cc horizontally-opposed flat four motor with a single overhead camshaft per cylinder bank.
It produces 115kW of power at 5600rpm, and delivers peak torque of 223Nm at 3600rpm.
Both are useful gains over the 2.0-litre flat four which produces 92kW and 184Nm.
It's enough to give the stylish wagon good punch for overtaking and effortless open road and motorway cruising.
The improvement over the 2.0-litre-powered Legacy is most evident in hilly going where the smaller-motored car can sometimes feel a little breathless and in need of more urge.
We were reminded of that - and of a curious fact about Subaru motors - in our first few kilometres with the test car.
It had covered less than 2000 kilometres, and initially we wondered if we hadn't picked up a 2.0-litre by mistake. The engine felt tight and a little down on power.
Subarus used to carry decals saying the engine wouldn't develop full power till it had covered more than 5000 kilometres.
They don't seem to carry them any more - if the test car did we couldn't locate it - but it seems evident that Subarus still need a few kms under their belts before they sign at full pitch.
Subaru motors also used to throb with a gruff, throaty beat which you could both hear and feel.
They're much quieter and smoother in feel now - especially when they're idling. Whether you think that's a good thing is up to you. The number of older model Legacys sporting bigger bore tailpipes to amplify the motor's beat seems to indicate that plenty of people like their Subarus to sound like Subarus.
But the Remarkable is a luxury car, and the motor's muted exhaust note and general air of mechanical refinement is in keeping with the car's mission.
So too is the standard - you can't order a manual version - four-speed automatic gearbox.
It shifts smoothly and has well-chosen ratios. The engine's good torque means the car will make good cross-country progress on demanding roads even if you leave the shift lever in Drive.But if you want to you can shift the gears manually.
The Legacy's long shot, though, is its chassis composure.
Front end weight reductions, including an alloy bonnet which can be susceptible to stone denting, are designed to reduce understeer.
BY how much will always be subjective and is hard to assess without running back-to-back tests with a steel-bonneted version on the same sequence of corners, but the new Legacy feels a little more agile and more eager to turn-in to corners.
Steering feel is good and the car turns-in crisply. When you're pressing on, you're conscious of turning-in hard - indicating understeer - though the chassis' all-round composure ensures the Legacy wagon never feels cumbersome or clumsy.
In fact, the feeling of rear-wheel bite as you round a tightish corner taken hard is one of the most satisfying aspects of driving a Legacy.
Roadholding is unshakeable and the wet road grip reassuring and confident.
You don't realise how well a Subaru will corner on wet roads - and for that matter how much the car flatters your abilities - till you try to do the same in a two-wheel drive car.
That composure carries over to gravel surfaces where the Legacy wagon remains stable and controllable. It gives ample warning of any loss of traction.
Ride quality is a Subaru - and particularly a Legacy - long suit and the test car reinforced just how comfortable a Legacy can be when hammering along a bumpy road. The suspension - MacPherson strut front, multi-link rear - is long travel and supple. The car's ground clearance is a good 150mm.
The four-wheel disc brakes perform strongly and didn't fade during hard use.
Cabin comfort is good, with plenty of legroom and headroom. The nicely-shaped front seats - which always bring to mind Audi's - offer excellent back and shoulder support. Despite being leather and not particularly aggressively-bolstered, they also provide good lateral support in brisk cornering.
Standard equipment includes effective climate-control air-conditioning, a six-speaker Compact Disc sound system with dashboard disc-loading, security cover for the generous loadspace, power windows and exterior mirrors, remote-control central door-locking, cruise control, security system with immobiliser, leather-wrapped steering wheel, alloy wheels, cargo-carrying roof rails, front foglights, read windscreen wiper, and sports body kit. The car has the usual and very welcome automatic headlights-off feature whe you switch off the engine.
Active safety equipment includes the four-wheel drive transmission and ABS anti-skid braking.
Passive safety gear includes dual front and side airbags and three-points seatbelts for all five occupants.
We rated Subaru's Impreza WRX STi as one of the two best cars we drove in 2001.
The Legacy Remarkable 2.5 is no sports car, but it does have some of the attributes that make the STi so great.
Like the chassis poise and massive grip in all weather conditions; the general user-friendliness; the feeling of quality design, development and construction.
Subaru NZ chief Wallis Dumper likes to say that if you've driven an AWD Subaru for an extended period you'll never want to go back to driving anything else.
We've only driven the cars for a few days at a time, but we've got a pretty good idea of what he's on about.
For instance if you were looking for a 2.0-litre sedan in which to travel long distances frequently in all weathers, we figure you'd want to consider a Legacy sedan or wagon carefully. What they might trade off in speed and performance is more than compensated for by their roadholding, grip, handling and feeling of on-road security.
The Remarkable is not cheap and we could live without some of its features - the sunroofs, for instance - but it offers the usual Subaru 2.5 Legacy mix of good performance (once fully run-in), stupendous roadholding, excellent comfort and practicality with a real amount of luxury added in.
Whether it offers enough to be worth the extra $7000 over the Limited is something you'd have to decide for yourself.