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Review and photos by Jil McIntosh
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When I first get into a car, I’m looking for the conspicuous stuff. I want to find the new-and-improved features that will blow me away, or the glaringly poor designs that I can razz.
But I couldn’t find anything on the Subaru Legacy wagon. Nothing screams “look at me”, and there’s not much with which to find fault. This machine simply does what’s asked of it, smoothly, quietly and unobtrusively. Despite all the hoopla the press and the auto companies make over new cars, that’s pretty much all the average buyer wants a car to do. The Legacy may not stand out, but it’s a standout.
The Legacy Wagon is the mate to the Legacy sedan, and like that model, is available as the naturally-aspirated 2.5i, with a 2.5-litre, four-cylinder horizontally-opposed engine, or as the 250 hp GT, with turbocharger and intercooler. The 2.5.i makes 175 hp, up from 168 hp in 2005, thanks to a new active valve lift system; peak torque also increases from 166 lb-ft to 169.
The 2.5i wagon starts as a base model, at $29,495; a Special Edition (SE) version is $30,194, while the Limited trim line is $36,895. (The GT wagon starts at $41,795.) A five-speed manual transmission is standard equipment; add another $1,200 for a four-speed automatic with Sportshift manual mode.
All models feature Subaru’s trademark “symmetrical” all-wheel drive (which refers not to the torque distribution, but to the fact that the engine crankshaft, transmission and differential are mounted longitudinally along the vehicle’s centre axis, for better balance), with a lower centre of gravity thanks to the boxer engine’s flat design. Under normal driving conditions, the system maintains a 60/40 front bias, but can transfer up to 50 per cent per axle under hard acceleration or poor road conditions.
Even the base model comes very well equipped, including side and curtain airbags, four disc brakes with ABS and electronic brake force distribution (EBD), air conditioning, power locks, mirrors and windows, roof rack, 17-inch alloy wheels, variable intermittent wipers, intermittent rear washer/wiper, eight-way power driver’s seat, heated front seats, CD player and cargo cover. Unlike the sedan, which only has a small rear seat pass-through, the wagon’s 60/40 rear seats fold flat, and without removing the head restraints. When they’re folded, the 109-cm-long cargo area expands to 165 cm in length, which is as much as some small SUVs. There’s also a two-compartment storage bin under the cargo floor, and four tie-downs and two grocery bag hooks to help manage whatever you need to bring home.
My SE tester added fog lights, twin-panel sunroof and mirror-integrated LED turn signals, for a reasonable $699 premium. (The hefty swing up to the Limited adds leather interior, premium stereo, and automatic climate control, among others.)
Unlike the entry-level Impreza, which puts most of its money in the driveline at the expense of the interior, the Legacy has a well-finished and elegant cabin, with soft-touch plastics, metallic centre console and stylish cluster. The smooth look is continued with covered cubbies, including a small one in the centre of the dash, and one in the console that can be used as an out-of-the-way cupholder, or its divider removed to turn it into small-item storage. If there’s any complaint, it’s that the heater controls could be larger and easier to turn; their compact size looks good, but it makes them harder to grasp. Almost all controls are backlit, save for the toggle switch that operates the power locks.
The seats are comfortable, and it was easy for me to find a good position; visibility is very good. The windows have no frames, and while the doors make a somewhat disconcerting hollow sound when they close, the windows seal tightly, so wind noise is minimal.
The double-paned sunroof, part of the SE package and standard equipment on the Limited (it can’t be added to the base model), comes with a full-length sliding cover; the front section lifts up to reduce buffeting. I’ve occasionally received letters from pet owners, who complain that a large sunroof can prevent the use of a pet barrier, but Subaru offers two dealer-installed dog guards, one of which will work with the glass roof.
While lacking the pulling power of the turbocharged GT – and the turbo’s premium fuel requirement – the 2.5i is still a good fit to the Legacy wagon, and only when called on for more passing power at high speeds does it even remotely feel like it’s straining. True to the car’s advertised claims, it feels very balanced, cornering flat and effortlessly; there’s enough feedback to know what the front wheels are doing, without seeming so close to the asphalt that you might as well be sitting on it. There’s no mistaking it for a sports car, but it’s a prime example of an excellent daily commuter.
I’m the first one to say that many people who think they need all-wheel drive should first try a set of quality winter tires (or driving lessons); the car’s mechanicals should not be expected to overcome poor-quality rubber or a poor-quality driver. I won’t budge from that, but I will say that a true all-wheel system such as this does make for better handling on twisty roads, and although turning all four wheels does use more fuel, the Legacy returned a respectable 8.7 L/100 km for me in combined driving.
The Legacy isn’t the cheapest wagon in the bunch; you can get family haulers such as the Chevrolet Optra, Malibu Maxx, Mazda6 Sport Wagon and even the base Dodge
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IMagnum for less. But the Legacy brings together a good combination of comfort, performance, quality and practicality that find extremely appealing; this is simply a very well-done wagon, and at a reasonable price for everything you get. Subaru hasn’t stood the automotive world on its head; it’s simply made a simple wagon that does everything right, and for the majority of buyers, that’s exactly what a car should do.
Crash test results
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