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Subaru Legacy wagon

 

Staid family car, sales rep's transport, a bit boring.

That's the kind of reaction Subaru's naturally-aspirated 2.0-litre station wagon often gets - at least from people I know.
There's no bonnet scoop atop the sleekly wedge-shaped bonnet, so it doesn't have the overtly-aggressive look of the GT wagon.
It's got only half the power of the turbocharged GT, so who are you kidding if you insist this is a driver's car?
The only people kidding themselves are the people who underestimate this Japanese wagon with the maybe a little conservative, but beautifully realised and exquisitely detailed lines.

For this workhorse has one of the best chassis on the road; forgiving handling; a supple ride; excellent and comfortable accommodation for five, and more flair and panache when the road gets demanding than most of the fabled sports cars of yore.
This is indeed a driver's car which gets better and more involving the longer and harder you drive it.
Its chassis feels alive and responsive, the car beautifully sorted and satisfying to drive.
No five-door wagon should be expected to hang in with a sports car on a winding country road, but the Legacy will.
Sure it's no fireball in a straight line, but show it a road that switches and turns and twists and the Legacy's chassis will let you use every ounce of available power and torque without presenting you with the slightest drama.
A 1994cc naturally-aspirated, fuel-injected boxer engine provides the power. The single overhead camshaft flat four develops 101kW at 5600rpm - a 9.8 percent improvement on the previous model's output.
Peak torque of 187Nm arrives at 4400rpm.

The engine is smooth and refined. Its exhaust note is a muted reminder of the characteristic boxer flat four that was a Subaru trademark in times when noise regulations weren't so strict.

It provides reasonably brisk performance, but don't expect neck-straining acceleration or severe g-loadings when you floor the throttle. The Legacy wagon is a moderately heavy car - the manual wagon weighs 1380kg, the auto 1390 - so expect 0-100km/h times of around 10 to 11 seconds.

 But standing start acceleration times are mainly a benchmark, a means of rating one car against another.
In the real world the Legacy has adequate power for the cut and thrust of city traffic; on the motorway or open road it's a relaxed cruiser.

On steeper hills you'll need to shift down a gear, but the Legacy's performance is generally strong enough. Subaru says its top speed is 193km/h.

The five-speed manual gearbox has moderately long-throw, but they're precise and slick with a nice level of feel.
The transmission has selectable high and low ranges, the latter useful for ultra-slippery conditions or mild off-road use.
The clutch is light enough. But in stop/start city traffic, it will occasionally remind you - by emitting some odour - that the wagon is a fairly heavy car and the clutch is working hard to haul it away from rest repeatedly, especially in hilly terrain.
The electronic, speed-sensitive power steering has good feel and is precise. It firms up nicely at speed, but provides strong assistance for parking.

Dynamically, the Legacy's chassis is its strongest point. Though the car is around 60kg lighter than the previous model, its rigidity is 10 percent greater.

That, suspension revisions and the new steering system produce a car that's a joy to drive.
The new car's track is wider than the old model's - 35mm at the front, 30mm at the rear.
The centre of gravity is 20mm lower, and the front and rear suspension roll centres have been lowered.
The Legacy turns-in to corners crisply and accurately, and understeer is well contained.
The Legacy changes direction instantly and is completely unfazed by a sequence of tight left/right/left corners (or for that matter, right/left/right).

The 16-inch alloy wheels - Subaru also provides a full-size spare wheel - are shod with 205/55 R16 tyres.

The tyres and chassis combine to provide excellent grip, whether the road is dry or streaming wet. All-wheel drive Subarus provide just as much grip in the wet as they do in the dry.

Pushed very hard into slow corners, there's some rear-end movement which is quickly adjusted using the throttle and steering wheel.

 The overall feeling is one of great security, and the Legacy wagon generates enough grip and has such handling poise that it will stay with much more overtly sporty cars on stretches of demanding road.
The Legacy offers the driver immense satisfaction.

The car still delivers an excellent ride, the long-travel suspension soaking up bumps impressively.
Stability is excellent. We drove the car for an extended period on a fine but very windy day, and it was seldom upset by the sidewinds, remaining stable and keeping on a straight-ahead path.

The Legacy's sports-style front seats are exceptional, providing a soft, comfortable cushion and high levels of lateral support.

The usual front seat passenger remarked - unsolicited - on the amount of support the seats were giving her. Even during very vigorous cornering, the seats were holding her firmly in place and she didn't need to use a grab handle or brace her knees to retain a comfortable seating position.

Gravel road handling is very good, the car retaining a feeling of stability and engendering confidence in the driver.

The brakes - ventilated discs at the front, solid discs at the rear - provide excellent stopping power. On tight and winding roads they get less of a hammering than usual because the Legacy doesn't need to be braked as much. An ABS anti-skid system is fitted.
Standard equipment includes a built-in, six-speaker Kenwood sound system - with single-disc Compact Disc player - in the dashboard, and manually-controlled air conditioning.

Windows and exterior mirrors are wound and adjusted electrically; and there are map lights, oddments nets on the front seatbacks and a trip computer.

An engine immobiliser is standard, along with a data dot theft-protection marking system.

 The wagon's rear seatback can be folded forward in a 60/40 split to increase cargo space. With the seatback upright, a blind covers the load area.
Safety equipment includes dual front airbags, active headrests on front seats (they move forward to support occupants' heads during a rear-impact crash.
All five seatbelts are three-point, lap/sash.
Could I live with a 2.0-litre, non-turbo Legacy day-in and day-out?
No question. The car would be among my first choices for a 2.0-litre workhorse with its blend of excellent space, quality materials and finish, supple ride, adequate performance and outstanding handling and roadholding.
The manual Legacy 2.0 wagon costs $37,990.

- story and photographs by Mike Stock.

Key dimensions

Length, 4720mm. Width, 1730mm. Height, 1470mm. Wheelbase, 2670mm. Front track, 1495mm. Rear track, 1485mm. Ground clearance, 155mm. Kerb weight, 1380kg.


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