2006 Subaru Legacy 2.5i sedan
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Review and photos by Greg Wilson

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It’s hard to believe, but the 2006 Subaru Legacy is still the only mid-size car with standard all-wheel drive starting under $30,000. While there’s no shortage of SUVs, trucks, and luxury cars available with all-wheel drive and four-wheel drive systems, mid-size family cars have temporarily abandoned this traction-enhancing technology.

There is a smattering of AWD compacts available: the Toyota Matrix/Pontiac Vibe, Suzuki Aerio, and the upcoming Dodge Caliber; and full-size cars like the Chrysler 300 AWD and Ford 500 AWD; and of course luxury cars like the Audi A4 quattro and BMW 325ix; but cars like the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Mazda6 (except Mazdaspeed6), Nissan Altima, Chevy Malibu, and Hyundai Sonata don’t offer it. Apparently, Ford has plans for a 2007 Fusion AWD, and maybe this will revive the trend.

The Legacy is unique in another way too: it’s the only mid-sized car in its price range with a horizontally-opposed four cylinder engine mounted longitudinally in the engine bay and connected to a longitudinally-mounted manual or automatic transmission which, in combination with a transfer clutch, drives all four wheels in a 60/40 front/rear split which can vary depending on traction. Most non-luxury cars nowadays have transversely mounted engines and transaxles, even those that feature all-wheel drive.

The advantage of the Legacy’s longitudinal ‘boxer’ engine and drivetrain is a lower centre of gravity, a more even lateral weight distribution, and fewer driveline vibrations.

2006 Subaru Legacy 2.5i sedan
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And unlike on-demand all-wheel drive systems which run in front-wheel drive and ‘react’ to a loss of traction by sending power to the rear wheels, the Subaru system always has some power going to all four wheels.

As good as this sounds in theory, it’s only when you’re behind the wheel, or a passenger in the Legacy, than you can appreciate what it means to the driving or riding experience when compared with other cars. I’ll explore that in my driving impressions in a minute.

What’s new for 2006

After a major upgrade last year, the Subaru Legacy sedan and wagon enter the 2006 model year with a few minor changes. Horsepower from its standard 2.5 litre horizontally-opposed SOHC four cylinder engine is up marginally to 175 from 168, and torque is up to 169 lb-ft from 166, primarily due to a new i-Active Valve Lift System, similar to Honda’s VTEC system, that varies valve opening timing to create more low-end torque and lower emissions. The 2006 Legacy now meets Low Emission Vehicle (LEV2) standards.

2006 Subaru Legacy 2.5i sedan
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The 2006 Legacy 2.5 GT sedan and wagon have a turbocharged 2.5-litre twin cam boxer four-cylinder engine with 250 horsepower, and range in price from $36,795 to $41,795 � but I’ll leave discussion of those cars to another time.

The 2006 Legacy 2.5i sedan and wagon receive larger 17-inch Yokohama tires and alloy wheels (up from 16-inch), new dual-piston front calipers for improved braking, an engine immobilizer. While the base price of $28,495 has risen by about $500 from 2005, that’s not unreasonable considering the equipment upgrades.

Standard equipment includes a five-speed manual transmission, air conditioning, CD player with six speakers, cruise control, variable intermittent wipers, power windows, power locks with keyless entry, power heated mirrors, variable-temperature heated seats, 17-inch tires and aluminum alloy wheels, four-wheel disc brakes with ABS and EBD, and dual exhausts. An automatic transmission, fog lights, and an engine block heater are optional.

2006 Subaru Legacy 2.5i sedan

2006 Subaru Legacy 2.5i sedan
Click image to enlarge

My Legacy 2.5i sedan test vehicle had one option, a 4-speed automatic transmission ($1,200). With Freight and A/C tax, the total as-tested price came to $30,330. It’s worth noting that Subaru’s Freight/Destination charge of $535 is lower than most of its competitors, however dealer preparation is additional.

Compared to popular four-cylinder imports like the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry and Mazda6, the all-wheel drive Legacy 2.5i is more expensive. Apart from the addition of standard all-wheel drive, the Legacy’s standard equipment level is roughly equivalent to the mid-level trim of its competitors. Such items as 17-inch tires and alloy wheels, 4-wheel disc brakes with ABS, 8-way power driver’s seat, curtain airbags, and heated seats are all standard on the base Legacy.

However, there is one item missing from the Legacy sedan’s standard equipment list: a folding rear seatback. All its competitors have single or split folding seatbacks as standard equipment. The Legacy sedan does have a standard centre pass-through behind the rear centre armrest for long but slim cargo items, but those wanting a folding seatback will have to opt for the $29,495 Legacy Wagon which is offered with standard 60/40 folding rear seatbacks.

Interior impressions

2006 Subaru Legacy 2.5i sedan

2006 Subaru Legacy 2.5i sedan
Click image to enlarge

Unlike earlier Subaru interiors, the Legacy’s current interior design makes use of high quality plastics and trim pieces and excellent woven fabric seat covers. It’s a very rounded, tasteful design without any gimmicks or oddities apart from the requisite silver-coloured dash trim.

Little things I liked about the Legacy’s interior were the comfortable cloth seats with two-tone design and driver’s 8-way power adjustment; grippy three-spoked tilt steering wheel; covered storage bin at the top of the instrument panel for phones, garage door openers, sunglasses or what-have-you; standard seat heaters with four temperature settings; easy-to-use heating and radio controls; outside temperature display; two cupholders with a sliding cover in the centre console; and an armrest/storage bin with a 12 volt powerpoint inside.

2006 Subaru Legacy 2.5i sedan
Click image to enlarge

Things I didn’t like, or had some concerns with, were the power windows which are slow by current standards; the unavailability of a 6-disc CD changer in the base model; and of course the lack of a folding rear seatback.

Unlike most sedans, the Legacy has frameless windows which make a loose ‘thunk’ when the doors are closed. However, inside the car at speed, they seal out wind noise and rain effectively.

There’s adequate headroom and legroom for four adults in the Legacy, and the back seat will seat three in tight quarters. However, as mid-size sedans go, the Legacy is smaller than many.

2006 Subaru Legacy 2.5i sedan

2006 Subaru Legacy 2.5i sedan
Click image to enlarge

The Legacy’s trunk (433 litres/15.2 cu. ft.) is spacious, easy to access, fully lined, and has hinges that won’t damage trunk items when closing the trunk lid. As well, there is a hidden storage area under the trunk floor for smaller items. A temporary spare tire is located underneath.

In terms of safety, the Legacy excels. The Insurance Institute for Highway safety rated the 2006 Legacy sedan a ‘Gold’ top safety pick in offset frontal, side and rear impact crash tests. Standard equipment for 2006 includes dual stage front airbags, seat-mounted front side airbags, and head curtain airbags for both rows of passengers. As well, the Legacy includes five height-adjustable head restraints, rear child door locks, rear ISO FIX/LATCH child seat anchors, front seatbelt pretensioners and load limiters, height-adjustable front shoulder belts, anti-theft system with immobilizer, keyless entry, ring-shaped reinforced frame, side impact door beams, collapsible steering column and collapsible brake pedal.

Driving impressions

My first impression after getting into the Legacy’s driver’s seat was how comfortable the driving position is. Everything felt right for my average adult frame: the shape of the driver’s seat, the position of the steering wheel relative to the gauges and controls, the position of the pedals, the height of the dash and the side windows, and the view out the windshield. Concerning visibility, the extra side windows at the rear are helpful when changing lanes, and the three rear head restraints can be adjusted low enough so as not to impede rear vision.

2006 Subaru Legacy 2.5i sedan

2006 Subaru Legacy 2.5i sedan
Click image to enlarge

The driving experience in general is very positive, in part due to the bump-absorbing independent suspension (front strut/rear multi-link), grippy P205/50R17-inch Yokohama Advan tires, and its balanced longitudinal drivetrain layout with its low centre of gravity. In general, the ride is comfortable, handling is neutral if not sporty, and the engine-speed sensitive rack and pinion steering provides the right amount of assist for the speed you’re travelling. The Legacy’s tight turning circle of 10.8 metres (35.4 ft.) is surprisingly tight for a car with all-wheel drive.

But while the standard 175 horsepower 2.5-litre 4-cylinder engine offers good off-the-line response, it feels a bit weak when pulling out to pass a slower car on the freeway, and this would be exaggerated if you had five people in the car. In addition, the optional 4-speed automatic transmission, while very smooth, hesitates slightly under kickdown. However, it has a manual shift option which can be used to prepare for passing by gearing down earlier.

At steady speeds on the freeway, the engine is quite relaxed and the cabin is comfortably quiet. Standard disc brakes at each corner with anti-lock and electronic brake differential provide excellent braking performance.

2006 Subaru Legacy 2.5i sedan
Click image to enlarge

The all-wheel drive system is completely automatic and most of the time, you aren’t even aware that it’s there. It consists of an electronically controlled multi-plate transfer clutch that sends torque to the front and rear axles in a 60/40 split which can vary depending on traction. Since this system is ‘always on’, response is immediate so if you go from a dry road to an icy road, torque transfer is immediate. It not only enhances traction in rain, snow and ice, but also improves stability, which helps prevent understeer and oversteering when cornering on slippery surfaces. My experience with Subaru’s all-wheel drive system on a snow-packed road is that you don’t notice that it’s working – but for some reason, the other cars on the road are slipping and sliding all over the place.


The base 2006 Subaru Legacy 2.5i sedan is the only sub $30,000 family car available with all-wheel drive. Comfortable and well-appointed, the Legacy is easy to drive, but the engine feels strained during highway passing and it lacks a folding rear seatback.

Technical Data: 2006 Subaru Legacy 2.5i sedan

Base price $28,495
Options $1,200 (4-speed automatic transmission)
Freight $535
A/C tax $100
Price as tested $30,330 Click here for options, dealer invoice prices and factory incentives
Type 4-door, 5-passenger midsize sedan
Layout transverse front engine/all-wheel drive
Engine 2.5-litre H.O. 4-cylinder, SOHC, 16 V
Horsepower 175 @ 6000 rpm
Torque (lb-ft) 169 @ 4400 rpm
Transmission 5-speed manual/4-speed automatic
Tires P205/50R17 Yokohama Advan
Curb weight 1493 kg (3291 lbs)
Wheelbase 2670 mm (105.1 in.)
Length 4730 mm (186.2 in.)
Width 1945 mm (76.5 in.)
Height 1425 mm (56.1 in.)
Cargo capacity 433 litres (15.2 cu. ft.)
Fuel consumption City: 10.3 L/100 km (27 mpg Imp)
  Hwy: 7.2 L/100 km (39 mpg Imp)
Fuel type Regular unleaded
Warranty 3 yrs/ 60,000 km
Powertrain Warranty 5 yrs/100,000 km
Assembly location Lafayette, Indiana

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