2005 Subaru Legacy 2.5i
Photo: John leBlanc. Click image to enlarge

Review and photos by John LeBlanc
Additional photos by Grant Yoxon

Since the launch of the road-rocket Subaru Impreza WRX in 2002, car enthusiasts have justifiably ignored Subaru’s senior Legacy line-up.

Sure, there was last year’s Legacy GT model, with its upgraded suspension and sporty trim bits, but the overall handling and banal styling kept the previous generation Legacy off of many an enthusiast’s wish list. In terms of making the Legacy a car worth considering if one loves to drive, (and with the added challenge of rising above the ubiquitous Accord-Camry-Altima triplets) Subaru has targeted primarily two of the last generation’s main weaknesses: unrefined ride and handling characteristics, and the last Legacy’s downmarket driver’s environment.

Even this lowest-rung-on-the-ladder Legacy 2.5i sedan (base priced at $27,995) has been tasked to compete against the ride and handling attributes found in other four-cylinder, entry-level sport sedans such as the Acura TSX ($34,800), Audi A4 1.8T ($34,285), Mazda6 GT I-4 ($28,195) and Volkswagen’s Passat GLS ($29,550).

As a starting point, and similar to BMW’s approach with its new 5 Series, Subaru has attempted to make the 2005 Legacy more nimble by increasing the use of aluminum and high strength steel – specifically at the front of the car. To the point where a base Legacy sedan is now lighter than an Impreza WRX STi by 34 kilograms, gaining structural rigidity to boot.

2005 Subaru Legacy 2.5i

2005 Subaru Legacy 2.5i

2005 Subaru Legacy 2.5i

2005 Subaru Legacy 2.5i

2005 Subaru Legacy 2.5i
Photos: John LeBlanc. Click images to enlarge

The already low-centre of gravity inherent to the flat cylinder configuration of Subaru’s boxer engines has been additionally enhanced by mounting the engine even lower, and further towards the centre of the chassis to reduce polar inertia when the car is turning. The track has also been widened 2.54 centimetres front and back. The aforementioned lightened front end, combined with an increase in the front wheel’s castor angle to 6 millimetres from 3, means initial turn-in is much livelier than a Passat’s, but not quite up to Mazda6 standards.

The increased body rigidity obviously supports the new chassis’s overall goals, as the Legacy is now a more willing dance partner when out for a spirited drive. The car is more balanced when approaching its not-so-modest grip threshold. Initial understeer can be shooed away if one has the patience to stay on the throttle through a curve. Don’t get too excited, though. The Legacy 2.5i sedan has not tuned into an Audi A4-killer. In fact, the Mazda6 is still the fun-to-drive champ in this price class. However, it is an engaging leap forward compared to last year’s base Legacy.

Subaru employs various all-wheel-drive systems throughout the 2005 Legacy lineup – choice is determined by drivetrain selection – all marketed as “Symmetrical All-Wheel-Drive”. Technically, my test car, with its base 2.5-litre engine combined with an automatic transmission, came with Active All-Wheel-Drive, an electronic all-wheel-drive system that checks wheel speed variances and the throttle position to forecast wheel slippage before you end up eating culvert dust. If dry roads are on the menu, the system doles out 90 per cent of the engine’s grunt to the front wheels. Shift-for-yourself cars get a simpler mechanical system with a viscous-coupling centre differential that maintains a 50/50 split of power, assigning power only when slippage occurs.

My Legacy 2.5i sedan test car came with 16-inch alloys wrapped in 205/55 Bridgestone Potenza RE92 all-seasons. Ho, hum. Want more rubber and you will need to pimp for the new 2005 Legacy 2.5 GT sedan ($36,495) with its 17-inch wheel and performance tire combo, or simply give the Tire Rack a call.

Despite the Legacy 2.5i sedan’s relatively modest rubber, steering is surprisingly well weighted, and has a very quick ratio with lots of feel as well. Even in this base car you get a nice, three-spoke soft grip steering wheel that would not look out of place in a BMW. Antilock disc brakes all around with Electronic Brakeforce Distribution are standard. And further to Subaru’s dedication to improving the driving experience: engineers have installed a new brake booster mount to give the pedal a firmer, more progressive feel.

Once one has spent a few hours thrashing the Legacy around one’s favourite Sunday morning backroads, as I happened to, one will find the new 2005 Legacy’s more rigid body also provides a quiet ride on the highway for the cool-down trot back home.

As I was discovering that the new Legacy could dance with the class leaders, my mind drifted to Subaru’s secondary goal: to improve the driver’s environment. To say it’s better than the 2004 model is like saying Michael Schumacher’s on a bit of a streak. The overall sense of refinement in the ride and handling qualities, and the much-improved driving environment, are the two attributes that will jump out immediately when you first drive this car.

After I settled myself into a great driving position – found easily courtesy of the tilt steering wheel and multi-adjustable driver’s seat – I discovered a cockpit that is one of the nicest for the price. Visors, pillars, and the headliner are all covered in woven fabric and the dash and door skins have a fine grain and soft feel. The standard cloth seat upholstery is grippy, and the seats are German-firm. The design and feel of the dials for the four-level heated front seats reminded me of those found in Porsche’s Cayenne. A combination of Mazda (with its fake aluminum trim), and Volkswagen (with clear, well marked instrumentation, including a tachometer and speedometer given equal billing hooded under a symmetrical, sweeping cowl), the interior will make you feel like you are sitting in a car costing at least $10K more.

2005 Subaru Legacy 2.5i

2005 Subaru Legacy 2.5i

2005 Subaru Legacy 2.5i

2005 Subaru Legacy 2.5i

2005 Subaru Legacy 2.5i
Photos: Grant Yoxon. Click images to enlarge

I guess the handling improvements and the interior gentrification ate up most of the 2005 model development funds, because the naturally aspirated 2.5-litre flat-four cylinder base engine is a carryover. There is an unnoticeable 3 horsepower improvement to 168, with the pound-feet of torque number remaining at 166. As in the 2004 model, power delivery is smooth and available low in the rev range with the fun ending around the 5,500-rpm mark. So, the base mill will not blow your socks off. However, those numbers are competitive to the 1.8-litre turbocharged-four found in the Passat and A4, and are 8 horsepower and 11 pound-feet of torque respectively more than found in the Mazda6 GT I-4. Once again, if this is not enough performance for you, for a little more coin, Subaru will gladly put you into its more powerful 2.5 GT sedan with its 250 horsepower, 250 pound-feet of torque produced by a modified version of the WRX STi’s 2.5-litre turbocharged engine.

Another leftover is last year’s four-speed automatic transmission that was found in our test car. Slow downshifts, a wide gap between second and third gears, and the fact that it is a four speed, has me recommending the five-speed manual quicker than a Greek Olympic sprinter falling off a motorcycle. The only redeeming factor of this manumatic slushbox – that was offered on the previous-generation Baja and Legacy GT – is that it allows blasts to the redline without shifting up to a higher gear on its own accord. Small consolation.

Subaru has always been a company that has put engineering first, styling second (Guigiaro-designed SVX coupe excepted). With the appointment of former Fiat designer Andreas Zapatinas as head of Subaru’s Advanced Design studio in April 2003, we are starting to see more of a European sensibility to some of Subaru’s concept cars. The B11S Coupe – shown at the Geneva show last March – gives an indication of what the new, very non-bland look of future Subarus will be. The 2005 Legacy’s styling certainly will not rock any boats in the existing Subaru fleet, as it is definitely an evolutionary redesign over the 2004 model. Obviously, the car was too far along in the product pipeline to have adopted any of Mr. Zapatinas’s future ideas. The new exterior design has been tastefully cleaned up, though, and like a lot of newer cars, the external lighting on the new Legacy has become a form of automotive jewellry. Overall it reminded me of the 1996-2001 first gen A4 – others saw Chevrolet Epica – go figure!

All of these changes for 2005 have produced a much more stable car, even in the base model 2.5i sedan. Despite being the lightest Legacy in price, the new 2.5i sedan weighs in with all of the core handling and interior upgrades – save the carryover drivetrain – that went into the entire 2005 Legacy range.

In overall value, the Legacy 2.5i sedan leapfrogs over the usual four-cylinder suspects in this price class – Accord EX-L ($28,600), Altima 2.5 SL ($29,498), and Camry XLE ($30,485) – and has met Subaru’s lofty goals of being a serious contender in the entry-level sports sedan class.

The Legacy 2.5i is more fun to drive than a Passat GLS, is more sure-footed than an Acura TSX in bad weather, and less expensive than an A4 1.8T, yet offers similar refinement and added traction capabilities standard. At this price, for dedicated driving enthusiasts, I would still recommend the more athletic Mazda6 GT I-4. But, if overall refinement and all-wheel-drive are a priority on your own wish list, than go ahead and start your own legacy.

Technical Data: 2005 Subaru Legacy 2.5i sedan

Base price $27,995
Options $1,200 (Automatic transmission)
Freight $1,195
A/C tax $100
Price as tested $30,490
Type 4-door, 5-passenger mid-size sedan
Layout longitudinal front engine/all-wheel-drive
Engine 2.5-litre four cylinder, horizontally-opposed
Horsepower 168 @ 5,600 rpm
Torque 166 lb.-ft. of torque @ 4,000 rpm
Transmission 4-speed automatic
Tires 205/55HR-16 all-season
Curb weight 1470 kg (3,240 lb.)
Wheelbase 2670 mm (105.1 in.)
Length 4730 mm (186.2 in.)
Width 1730 mm (68.1 in.)
Height 1425 mm (56.1 in.)
Trunk capacity 433 litres (15.3 cu. ft.)
Fuel consumption City: 10.4 l/100 km (27 mpg)
  Hwy: 7.2 l/100 km (39 mpg)
Fuel type Regular unleaded
Warranty 3 yrs/60,000 km
Powertrain warranty 5 yrs/100,000 km

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