The 2.5-liter turbocharged boxer engine has been upgraded to an impressive degree, with the introduction of a technology that's currently only available on some BMWs and Ferraris. Called Subaru Intelligent Drive (SI-Drive), it allows a driver to twist a knob to select one of three engine performance levels: Intelligent (economy), Sport (sport) and Sport Sharp (high performance).
The Legacy GT spec.B is much like the WRX is to the Impreza, except it's far more refined; it's a gentleman's sports sedan, complete with a navigation system, exotic sound system and charcoal leather seats with smoky blue suede-like Alcantara inserts. It also has a six-speed gearbox, Bilstein suspension and wide, low-profile summer performance tires on 10-spoke, 18-inch alloy rims.
The Legacy still comes in tamer versions, each with Symmetrical All-wheel-drive, standard on all Subaru models. The GT Limited uses the same engine as the spec.B, but an excellent five-speed automatic transmission is available, and its suspension is not so aggressive.
If you're not excited by all this performance, and simply want the trusty, reknowned around-town Subaru, there's still the Legacy 2.5i Sedan, non-turbocharged, which hasn't changed much from 2006, other than the addition of a 60/40 fold-down rear seat with trunk pass-through. The Legacy 2.5i harks back to the Subarus we know and love.
And of course there are the extremely popular wagons. The Legacy Limited and Outback wagons use the turbocharged engine with SI-Drive, but there's still the bread-and-butter Legacy 2.5i wagon that remains one of the best values in versatile transportation.
Subaru Legacy 2.5i; Legacy GT Limited; Legacy GT spec.B; Legacy 2.5 Wagon; Legacy Limited Wagon; Legacy Outback
So far, the Legacy nose hasn't gone the way of the Impreza, which looks decidedly like an Alfa Romeo. The Legacy grille has lost some clutter, but it's changed least of all. The front fascia, however, now sports an impressive opening between the fog lamps, and the hood boasts a thin, wide scoop to draw air into the turbocharger intercooler.
The hood is made of aluminum, which is lighter. The new wheels are elegant, a starburst design with 10 thin, tapered spokes. The profile is rakish, with a nice coupe-like roofline. Our spec.B test model had aerodynamic side ground-effect bodywork.
At the rear, blocky taillamps are connected by an integrated spoiler lip on the trunk over the ordinary bumper.
Under the speedometer, there's a small gauge intended to provide useful information about instantaneous fuel mileage, but it's analog, which means there are no numbers to read, and it's too small to read at a glance. Plus, it's calibrated relative to recent driving; it tells you whether you're getting better or worse mileage than with the previous tank. It wasn't useful for us at all.
The aluminum pedals are neat but the brake and gas pedal are squeezed together, with the clutch pedal spaced farther to the left. This makes it difficult to blip the gas with the heel of your right foot for a downshift, while the toe of that foot is on the brake pedal, a technique that results in smooth downshifts when you're slowing down quickly.
We tuned into XM Satellite Radio a lot during our time in the GT Limited, hanging on the Bluesville station, and the 120-watt, sound system was rich and satisfying, using what Subaru calls SRS WOW technology. It's easy and intuitive to tune, and if we'd had an iPod, we could have plugged that in. The satellite radio antenna is a black box about three by four inches, mounted in the upper right corner of the windshield, which seems awkward but is probably better than somewhere outside the vehicle.
Interior storage is good. The center console is reasonably deep and there's a useful pocket on the driver's door. The glovebox has a convenient separate shelf inside, so small stuff can be better organized.
The power moonroof really lets the natural light in, and in the wagon it's a dual panel, panoramic job.
The Legacy is a roomy car up front. There's excellent legroom in front with 44.1 inches, although we found that our knees hit the steering wheel climbing in and out, unless the comfortable eight-way power seat was set rather low, or the steering wheel higher.
In the rear, for 2007 Subaru has returned to a previous idea, the 60/40 split seat with center armrest and pass-through to the trunk, for carrying long things like skis. The rear seat doesn't offer an abundance of legroom, with 33.9 inches, despite the two-inch stretch that came with the 2005 redesign.
The turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine in the GT makes 243 horsepower and 241 pound-feet of torque at 3600 rpm. (On paper that's 7 horsepower and 9 pound-feet less than last year, but the difference is only in a revised method of horsepower rating by SAE.)
The SI-Drive influences horsepower, torque and throttle response, but not turbocharger boost or valve timing; and with the five-speed automatic transmission, SI-Drive also changes the shift points. In Intelligent mode, peak horsepower is reduced to about 195, and peak torque to 228 pound-feet.
The throttle response in Intelligent mode is quite soft, designed to make stop-and-go driving, for example in freeway jams, smoother. It's not the mode for abrupt throttle application. We found a stunning lag when our foot hit the floor; in fact, we drove down the highway pumping the gas pedal on and off the floor, and the car never felt a thing: not a single lurch or waver from our 50-mph cruising speed. The engine uses electronic throttle control (ECT), which eliminates mechanical linkage to the throttle pedal and theoretically improves response; however, because it's electronic it's mapped, and the mapping can be the culprit behind most anything that's not an improvement when it could or should be.
The throttle gets more responsive as you move the dial from I to S to SS, although it's still not immediately responsive until the tachometer needle approaches the lofty height of 5000 rpm.
Intelligent mode doesn't provide strong acceleration, but the dial can be used to fix that; on a freeway on-ramp, when we weren't satisfied with the acceleration, we moved the dial to Sport Sharp, and the car zoomed as if it had been kicked in the rear license plate: not surprising, considering it was an instant addition of nearly 50 horsepower. Our spec.B test car felt like it had an Indy Car's push-to-pass button; and come to think of it, the dial could be used like that during passing on two-lanes.
Subaru says Intelligent mode delivers about 10 percent better fuel mileage (91 octane required), so if you used it half the time, figure 5 percent. That's about the same claim that Chrysler and GM make, with their variable displacement egines, which can switch from eight cylinders to four when your foot is very light on the pedal. During a 180-mile drive with other automotive journalists, the highest mileage anyone got in a GT was 25 mpg, and the lowest was 18. That was us.
The engine incorporates AVCS, or Active Valve Control System, which electonically varies the camshaft and valve timing for optimum efficiency in pusuit of the sweet spot between torque and horsepower. The Engine Controle Module (ECM) regulates the AVCS based on input from various sensors.
The four-channel anti-lock brakes on the GT are big and solid, with vented rotors measuring 12.3 inches in diameter in front and 11.3 inches in rear. The feel is heightened by a tandem booster like that used on some expensive European sedans.
There's also a new Torsen limited-slip rear differential, and the spec.B gets a stronger, four-pinion front differential.
The roads in Quebec were pretty bad, with a lot of unfixed potholes from the previous winter. But our GT spec.B was never uncomfortable over the many sharp bumps, despite being very firm on its Bilstein shock absorbers; this versatility is the mark of an excellent suspension. Only once did we feel a harsh thunk like bottoming, when a rear wheel clipped a pothole at speed.
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The Subaru Legacy is refined, polished, powerful, agile. It's fun to drive, with a smooth, pleasant ride. It's equipped with state-of-the art active and passive safety features and boasts better-than-respectable fuel economy. For 2007, Subaru scores a technological coup with SI-Drive, which brings unheard-of versatility under the hood. The spec.B is the gentleman's WRX, sophisticated, smoother and longer, while the GT Limited or Outback wagon move the trusty old Subby into the BMW or Mercedes neighborhood, without the price tag.
New Car Test Drive correspondent Sam Moses drove the Legacy GT Limited and Spec.B models in Quebec.