January 29, 2013
Next up was the skidpad test (driving around in circles trying to ‘drift’ the car). Here, it was time for the Honda Accord to go up against the Subaru Legacy. On the sheer ice, neither car would turn much at all. However, once the vehicles began to slow down, the Legacy would be the first to regain grip, off throttle, thanks again to a more balanced fore-aft weight distribution. At that point, a stab of the throttle would have the Legacy drifting circles around the Accord, literally. While ‘drifting’ isn’t a maneuver you want to replicate on public roads, much less in the middle of winter, it is an indication of the car’s balance and controllable nature. At least the Accord had a handbrake that could be pulled to allow manual rotation for the vehicle; something a regular driver is not likely to use on the road, but is fun to play with on a closed course and a good emergency skill to learn.
At the end of this test we did some ice/snow brake tests at speeds ranging from 40 km/h to 60 km/h. At 60 km/h, the Accord required several extra car lengths to stop compared to the Legacy.
Comparison Test: AWD vs FWD Family Sedans on Ice. Click image to enlarge
Lastly, we took the Accord, Camry and Legacy out on two snowy racetracks. Here, the Accord felt more balanced than the Camry, which allowed it be hustled around the snow track once underway. It still was no match for the Legacy, mostly due to the AWD system in this instance, and partially due to the weight distribution advantage. With a smaller, lighter 2.5L H-4 engine, the Legacy 2.5i felt more balanced in the snow than even the larger-engined Legacy 3.6R (with a 3.6L six-cylinder), thanks to better front/rear weight distribution. In conjunction with smaller 205-width tires compared to 3.6R’s 225-width tires, the 2.5i was faster on a short, diamond-shaped track with high elevation changes and icy tight corners. But once we got on the larger full-sized track, the 3.6R’s torque and power quickly left the 2.5i behind.
After the event was over, I can safely state that the Legacy does trump these competitors on the loose surfaces thanks to its AWD and a bit of chassis dynamics. I think a lot of people have been shortchanging the Legacy’s performance due to its bland interior and exterior styling as well as modest power outputs. But, dynamically, the Legacy still has it, albeit a loose-surface road is needed to really showcase its talent. And, despite conventional wisdom, the costs associated with Legacy ownership are on par with the Camry and Accord. At a base price of $23,495, the Legacy actually undercuts both the Camry and Accord’s base MSRPs and is within 0.5 L/100 km in all fuel efficiency estimates, and if my experience with our long-term XV Crosstrek is any indication, these are not just pie-in-the-sky estimates, but offer competitive consumption in their respective classes. Now, if Subaru could just perform a complete overhaul of the interior and exterior, they would have a serious contender in the mid-size sedan market.