Test Drive: 2008 Subaru Legacy 2.5GT sedan  car test drives subaru
2008 Subaru Legacy 2.5GT. Click image to enlarge


Review and photos by Chris Chase

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Photo Gallery: 2008 Subaru Legacy

Ottawa, Ontario – I got my first experience driving this current generation Subaru Legacy last winter when Subaru lent me the keys to a 2.5GT wagon and Spec.B sedan. Subarus are impressive in the winter, when the company’s capable all-wheel drive system gives these cars an advantage over their (mostly) front-drive competition.

I find that driving an all-wheel drive vehicle in the winter can skew my opinion of a car if I’m not careful: the extra snow and ice traction afforded by four driven wheels tends to make me appreciate a car more than I might in fairer weather, when two-wheel drive works just fine.

However, when I reviewed the 2007 Legacy 2.5GT wagon last winter, I didn’t fall in love with it, despite the benefits of all-wheel drive in the snow. Driving the mildly-revised 2008 Legacy – a sedan this time – in July seemed like it might be a good way to see if my likes and dislikes remained the same.

Test Drive: 2008 Subaru Legacy 2.5GT sedan  car test drives subaru
Test Drive: 2008 Subaru Legacy 2.5GT sedan  car test drives subaru
Test Drive: 2008 Subaru Legacy 2.5GT sedan  car test drives subaru
Test Drive: 2008 Subaru Legacy 2.5GT sedan  car test drives subaru
2008 Subaru Legacy 2.5GT. Click image to enlarge

While Subaru has made a few changes to the Legacy line-up for 2008, you’d be hard-pressed to pick them out if you weren’t paying attention. Outside, there are new front and rear fascias, while inside, the 2.5GT gets more wood trim on the dash, and the steering wheel, with its stereo controls (a welcome addition) and Si-Drive selector (a curious addition), is new, too. Oh, and in automatic-transmission models – both this car and the 2007 GT wagon I drove last winter were so-equipped – you get paddle shifters behind the steering wheel to activate the gearbox’s manual shift feature; more on these later.

One thing that was conspicuous by its absence in last year’s GT was stability control, which was only offered in a few higher-priced Subaru models. For 2008, though, it’s standard in the Legacy GT.

In some ways, the 2008′s same-ness is a good thing: the dash features the same user-friendly layout, the seats are comfortable and the seating position is sports-car low. But as with last year’s car, a little more interior space would be welcome. Average-sized people fit just fine, but taller riders will find limited room for their legs and heads, particularly in the rear seats. If rear-seat passengers will find a lack of toe room under the front seats, at least the seats back there are quite comfortable. The low seat height makes for a great sporty feel behind the wheel but makes it more difficult to get in and out than it needs to be. The trunk is small too, but at least the rear seats fold down.

Test Drive: 2008 Subaru Legacy 2.5GT sedan  car test drives subaru
Test Drive: 2008 Subaru Legacy 2.5GT sedan  car test drives subaru
2008 Subaru Legacy 2.5GT. Click image to enlarge

Fit and finish inside my tester was of the same high quality I’m used to from Subaru with one exception: a piece of wood trim was loose and wouldn’t stay snapped into its place to the right of the centre stack. All the controls work nicely; while I didn’t use the paddle shifters – I find these annoying even in the sportiest cars – Subaru at least had the forethought to make sure they didn’t obscure the markings on the turn signal and wiper stalks that share steering column real estate.

Subaru’s done away with frameless doors on the all-new-for-2008 Impreza which may be a sign of things to come for the Legacy, but for now, this mid-sized model retains this signature design cue. I have a love-hate relationship with this Subaru tradition: while it makes for doors that are nice and easy to swing open and shut, closing the door with the window down results in a load of rattles. Also, I always feel like I’m going to take the corner of the glass in the eye whenever I get out of the car because it’s tougher to judge where the corner actually is without a metal frame around it.

Little changes in the performance department for 2008; the 2.5GT’s turbocharged engine still puts out 243 horsepower and 241 lb-ft of torque, with smooth power delivery and a broad torque curve along with smooth, quiet operation.

Test Drive: 2008 Subaru Legacy 2.5GT sedan  car test drives subaru
2008 Subaru Legacy 2.5GT. Click image to enlarge

Still, even with its strong power output, the engine doesn’t feel like it’s a good fit with the optional five-speed automatic found in my tester. Sure, acceleration is fine, shifts are smooth and the transmission is eager enough to kick down a cog or two when you need more speed, but the slushbox takes away some of the urgency you get in these cars with a manual transmission. Of course, that’s probably a moot point: if you choose the automatic, it’s because you don’t drive stick and won’t miss the added sportiness that a manual would contribute, or you’re simply willing to give up that aspect for a car that’ll do a little more of the work.

This is where Subaru’s Si-Drive system might come in handy. I’m not convinced it’s much more than a gimmick, but switch it to Sport-Sharp mode and you get quicker throttle response that might appeal more to drivers who prefer manual transmissions. Then again, choose Intelligent mode and you get a lazier tip-in, and, ostensibly, better fuel consumption. I left the car in Intelligent mode for most of my week behind the wheel, and I will admit to being almost convinced of its effectiveness: I managed to keep fuel consumption – according to the trip computer – to a little more than 11 L/100 km in mostly city driving: that’s actually better than Subaru’s claim of 11.9 L/100 km in city driving, though keep in mind that most trip computers tend toward the optimistic in their calculations. The only downside here is that the turbocharged GT requires premium fuel, while base model Legacys are happy with regular unleaded.

Test Drive: 2008 Subaru Legacy 2.5GT sedan  car test drives subaru
2008 Subaru Legacy 2.5GT. Click image to enlarge

Opting for the automatic doesn’t change the rest of the car’s behaviour, though, which is another good thing carried over from 2007. Handling is terrific, with sharp steering response, flat cornering and a neutral handling attitude that only transitions to mild understeer when you flatten the throttle mid-corner.

Another aspect carried over from last year is the price: all 2008 Legacys sport the same prices as last year’s models, which means that my tester comes with a base price of $40,295. Add to that $1,500 for the automatic transmission – the only option available on the 2.5GT sedan – and $1,495 for freight and $100 in A/C excise taxes and the bottom line grows to $43,390.

Test Drive: 2008 Subaru Legacy 2.5GT sedan  car test drives subaru
2008 Subaru Legacy 2.5GT. Click image to enlarge

Even at the same price as last year, the GT’s still pricey compared to many of its competitors. One could argue the standard all-wheel drive system offsets that, but in everyday-slog-to-work-and-back driving, it’s really only beneficial in winter. Only the harder-driving enthusiast would reap the plusses in fairer weather, where four driven wheels might – theoretically – make for better-balanced handling and cornering near the car’s limits.

I think the Legacy’s real advantage comes from the fact that it’s available as a wagon. There aren’t many mid-size wagons around, and with Subaru positioning the Legacy GT as a premium model, it actually competes more closely with BMW 3 Series Tourings and Audi A4 Avants, where its competitive advantage is competitive performance at a significantly lower price: the 3 Series Touring starts north of $45,000, while A4 Avant pricing opens at $42,340. Neither of those cars is all that much roomier, and the Legacy GT comes close to being as satisfying to drive.

My opinion of the Legacy, like the car itself, remains mostly the same for 2008: too pricey for what it is and too small inside for what it wants to be.


Pricing: 2008 Subaru Legacy 2.5GT sedan


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