Test Drive: 2009 Subaru Legacy Wagon PZEV car test drives subaru
2009 Subaru Legacy Wagon PZEV. Click image to enlarge

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2009 Subaru Legacy PZEV

Oshawa, Ontario – I still remember the days when “greenhouse gas” was something that farmers used in big glass buildings to knock the bugs off the seedlings. These days, it’s a serious issue for automakers, who are scrambling to reduce CO2 emissions to meet ever more stringent government regulations at the tailpipe.

To that end, Subaru has introduced a new approach, the Partial Zero Emission Vehicle, or PZEV. It’s currently available on certain models of the 2009 Outback, Legacy sedan and my tester, the Legacy wagon. The designation falls on the base version of the Legacy and on the PZEV Plus trim level of the Outback, one up from that model’s base trim line.

The PZEV designation indicates vehicles that meet the strict emissions standards set by the California Air Resources Board (CARB), and Subaru reports than when compared to conventional vehicles, its models have 90 per cent cleaner emissions. The models also meet (get ready, here comes another acronym) Canada’s standards as a Super Ultra-Low Emission Vehicle (SULEV). The company also claims that in particularly smoggy areas, the PZEV’s exhaust can be cleaner than the surrounding air.

Test Drive: 2009 Subaru Legacy Wagon PZEV car test drives subaru
2009 Subaru Legacy Wagon PZEV. Click image to enlarge

All of this happens through a number of subtle changes. The PZEV model contains a charcoal canister in the air intake, to absorb unburned gasoline fumes that might otherwise escape when the engine is shut off; its fuel injectors close tighter than those of conventional models, to prevent evaporative emissions; its catalytic converter contains a finer mesh and more catalyst material than a regular one; and the Engine Control Module has been programmed to help warm up the exhaust gases faster, which in turn brings the catalytic converter up to its ideal operating temperature sooner.

Despite all of that, the company says that the only difference drivers should notice is that the engine may sound louder and idle rougher during the first few minutes after it’s started – the equivalent of the old “high idle” on carbureted engines. The difference is probably more evident in much colder weather than when I drove the car, but honestly, if I hadn’t been actively listening for it, I probably wouldn’t have even noticed it. Subaru’s horizontally-opposed engines generally have a slightly rougher idle than other vehicles anyway, and this Legacy is overwhelmingly “business as usual” when it comes to its operation.

Test Drive: 2009 Subaru Legacy Wagon PZEV car test drives subaru
2009 Subaru Legacy Wagon PZEV. Click image to enlarge

The system doesn’t cost any extra, either; the starting price is unchanged from the MSRP on the 2008 base model, which didn’t have the PZEV system, with a starting tag of $27,995 with the manual transmission and $29,195 for the four-speed automatic. The Legacy sedan PZEV is priced $1,000 less in each case.

Nevertheless, Subaru says that it is going to be gauging customer reaction to the new technology, which is why it’s only available on one trim line in each model, rather than across-the-board.

One thing you do need to remember, though, is that the PZEV system only addresses exhaust emissions. It isn’t a hybrid or alternative fuel vehicle, and it gets the same fuel economy as its more conventional siblings: a published rate of 10.5 L/100 km in the city and 7.6 on the highway (in combined real-world driving, I achieved 9.0). Subaru also reports that while the specialized catalytic converter is covered for 8 years or 130,000 km, a replacement unit out of warranty will cost more than a regular converter, and if you decide to go with a standard replacement cat, the car’s computer will have to be reprogrammed.

Test Drive: 2009 Subaru Legacy Wagon PZEV car test drives subaru
Test Drive: 2009 Subaru Legacy Wagon PZEV car test drives subaru
2009 Subaru Legacy Wagon PZEV. Click image to enlarge

Like the Touring trim line above it, the PZEV uses a 2.5-litre four-cylinder horizontally-opposed or “boxer” engine, mated to either a five-speed manual transmission or my tester’s four-speed autobox. Naturally, it also includes Subaru’s standard Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive system with 60/40 front bias under normal conditions and the ability to transfer up to 50 per cent to the rear axle when necessary; the name indicates that all components, including the engine, are arranged in symmetrical fashion along the car’s longitudinal axis for better balance. As with the regular 2.5i Touring wagon, the PZEV version makes 170 horsepower and 170 lb-ft of torque.

As the model’s base trim line, the PZEV includes such features as standard air conditioning, anti-lock brakes, dual and curtain airbags, active front head restraints, 16-inch alloy wheels, heated mirrors, Sirius satellite radio, CD stereo with audio input, cargo cover, roof rails, heated cloth seats, and power driver’s seat adjustment.

I’ve always thought very highly of the Legacy wagon, and this version upholds my opinion. It isn’t flashy, but the design is clean and elegant, and the car is very nicely proportioned. The doors, which lack window frames (a sweet styling touch, in my estimation) close with a satisfying thump, and the liftgate is easy to open and close.

It’s well-balanced, with very responsive steering. The ride is compliant enough to be comfortable, but firm enough to give the car its confident personality in the corners, where it’s effortless and almost flat even when driven hard. It’s not a sports car, but an excellent daily commuter.

Test Drive: 2009 Subaru Legacy Wagon PZEV car test drives subaru
Test Drive: 2009 Subaru Legacy Wagon PZEV car test drives subaru
2009 Subaru Legacy Wagon PZEV. Click image to enlarge

Inside, the Legacy is well-finished, with good panel fit, a handsome dash and metallic centre cluster. There are covered cubbies for small items, and the cupholders disappear out of sight under a cover that rolls forward (should you not need them, the divider comes out to form a single storage bin). I did have some complaints, though: dials and buttons could be larger for ease of use, the centre vents don’t close completely – my husband wanted the air conditioning on, and I couldn’t prevent it from blowing on me – and while the front seats are extremely comfortable, the rear seats are very hard, and there’s no centre armrest.

Those seats fold flat, without removing the head restraints, to increase the wagon’s cargo area from a length of 110 cm to 165 cm. For pet owners, the company offers a compartment divider specifically for the Legacy, which keeps dogs safe behind the barrier (there’s also one that works with the Legacy Touring’s twin-pane sunroof).

A minor point, but one that’s becoming more important in light of today’s fuel prices, is an inside release for the fuel door, which prevents anyone accessing the filler when the car is locked.

It should be interesting to see what consumer response is to the PZEV. Frankly, aside from the possibility of having to buy a more expensive catalytic converter nine years down the road (or conceivably sooner, since there are reports in some cities that converters being sawed off vehicles by thieves who sell them for their precious metals), I can’t see why anyone wouldn’t want the system. Environmentalism isn’t just about how much fuel goes in at one end; eventually, you also have to face what comes out, and as long as we’re going to be using gasoline-fuelled internal combustion engines, it certainly looks like a step in the right direction.

Pricing: 2009 Subaru Legacy Wagon PZEV

Base price: $29,195

Options: None
A/C tax: $100
Freight: $1,495
Price as tested: $30,790
Click here for options, dealer invoice prices and factory incentives

Specifications
  • TBA

    Related articles on Autos
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    2008 Subaru Legacy Outback, by Paul Williams

    Test Drives

    2008 Subaru Legacy 2.5GT wagon, by Peter Bleakney
    2007 Subaru Legacy 2.5GT wagon, by Chris Chase

    Day-by-Day Reviews

    2007 Subaru Legacy GT Wagon, by James Bergeron

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