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2008 Subaru Legacy Expert Reviews

Expert Reviews

2008 Subaru Legacy

New Car Test Drive
© 2008

The Subaru Legacy gets fresh styling and new features for 2008. A variety of models is available, all of which are sedans. If you need a wagon, look to the Outback.

We've found all the 2008 Subaru Legacy models to be solid, tight sedans that inspire confidence when the going gets nasty. They offer a refined drive that's surprisingly agile in a sensibly sized package that won't bust the budget. Subaru's all-wheel-drive system is among the best in the world and performs beautifully in slippery conditions.

New for 2008 is the Legacy 3.0R Limited, which delivers the compact luxury you'd expect from an Acura TSX, Audi A4 or Volvo S40, with six-cylinder refinement, all-wheel drive the Acura doesn't offer, and a competitive price. The 3.0 R Limited uses similar high-end running gear and 18-inch wheels as the 2.5 GT spec.B, but with a smoother, more refined six-cylinder engine and a luxury-oriented demeanor.

The 2008 Legacy gets fresh styling: The Legacy sports a new front chrome crossbar and sheetmetal, new bumpers, new headlights and taillights. It is at once sleeker than previous models and a hint less distinctive. Some onlookers pronounced the 3.0R a Volvo, so Subaru's claim of more European styling isn't a reach.

Also revised for 2008 are the instrument panel and cabin fabrics. A telescoping function has been added to the tilt steering wheel, for improved adjustment for different size drivers. Tire pressure monitoring is standard across the board. Electronic stability control is available on more Legacy models, and paddle shifters have been added to the steering column on five-speed automatic cars.

A wide range of Legacy models covers the price spectrum from $21,000 to $35,000. Lower trim levels are high on value. The performance model is the spec.B, devoted to enthusiasts who need sedan practicality and all-wheel drive.

All Legacy models are four-door sedans. Subaru has dropped Legacy wagons for 2008, content to steer wagon buyers to the more aggressive looking Outback.

Every Subaru comes with all-wheel drive but none require any driver intervention and Subaru has an almost cult-like following among the snowbound. The Legacy earned top safety pick honors from the insurance industry's Insurance Institute of Highway Safety and 5-star ratings for front and rear passengers from the U.S. government's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Model Lineup

Legacy 2.5i ($20,495); Legacy 2.5i Limited ($24,095); Legacy 2.5GT Limited ($28,295); Legacy 3.0R Limited ($31,295); Legacy 2.5 GT spec.B ($33,995)

Walk Around

The Subaru Legacy was completely restyled and re-engineered for the 2005 model year, and this fourth-generation has been updated slightly since. For 2008, it gets what we call a mid-cycle freshening. This is the same as keeping the classic blue blazer or little black skirt and changing the accessories that go with it, and accessories can really update an outfit.

Every evolution of the Legacy results in a sleeker profile, and the 2008 continues that process. While early Subarus and some recent Imprezas wore easily distinguished snouts the Legacy presents an angled-back grille with just enough chrome for highlights. A broad lower grille opening implies power, as does the sliver of hood scoop on turbocharged models.

Headlights employ projector low-beams and reflector high-beams, with the aluminum hood forming a lip above them that tapers into the front fenders. There's symmetry in the angles that form the sides of the upper and lower grilles, fog light housings, and sidelight markers.

All Legacy models use frameless door glass so there are no huge pillars to the front or sides. The rear quarter windows use a version of BMW's Hofmeister kink and viewed from the side, the rear end appears to be indented at a similar angle.

The rear view of the Legacy is perhaps its most distinctive. Dual chrome exhaust outlets and clear lenses for the signals aren't unique, but the wide low decklid and vertical reflectors in the rear bumper, as opposed to the typical horizontal setup, will make it much easier to spot in a parking lot full of ordinary sedans.

Since every Legacy comes with alloy wheels there are no cheesy-looking hubcaps to fall off at the first pothole, and many models have a chrome trim strip just below the door line. Visual appeal is one aspect, but, on light colored cars especially, this chrome should limit the shoe scuffing that eventually ends up underneath every driver door.

Although it is Subaru's largest sedan, the Legacy is not a big car. On average it's about a half-foot shorter, two or three inches narrower, and an inch or two lower than the Accord/Camry/Altima/Malibu group. We'll explain the benefits of this.


Inside, the Legacy has a functional layout and shows good fit and finish of suitable materials, regardless of trim level. The driver gets the benefit of superior visibility. It's a car that's both easy to live with and easy to operate. It's sized to 15/16-scale of a typical mid-size four-door. Most notice this only in rear-seat room or trunk space, but the seating is a little narrower.

Front seats provide good comfort and support, although taller drivers might find the seat cushions on the short side. Sport seats on the GT add a sprinkle more lateral support without becoming confining, and the Alcantara inserts on the spec.B add another degree of grip to your torso and breathe better than leather. On those cars with leather upholstery, the perforated fabric just oozes money.

A relatively high seating position, narrow windshield pillars, very low cowl and sloping hood over the flat engine provide great outward visibility with no downsides. Even reversing is good because the trunk isn't a bulbous appendage and the rear-seat headrests stow in a low position.

Not overly wide, the Legacy still has lots of room up front, with more legroom than most full-size SUVs; angling the power seat allows those same tall types to clear the moonroof and the new telescoping wheel means you needn't drive like an ape anymore. The front seats are thick and take up a smidge of kneeroom in back, and on the top-line 3.0R only the passenger's side has a net pocket.

The rear seat is raked well rearward and the cushions as long as the front, though legroom is more in line with the smaller Audi A4 or Volvo S40 than the midsize Camry/Altima brigade. Each position has an adjustable headrest, the armrest includes a trunk pass-through, the seatbacks fold flat with the narrow section driver's side, and the baby seat anchors are nicely concealed under an upholstered pad that appears part of the seat until you pull the hook-and-loop fastener for access.

The three-spoke steering wheel on GT and R models is ergonomically shaped and very comfortable. The welcome addition of a telescoping aspect to the tilt steering column allows a much broader range of drivers to position themselves properly. The MOMO steering wheel on the spec.B is superb, as you'd expect from a company that's supplied Ferrari and other exotics and countless race cars over the years.

Midway through the model line, the gauges are upgraded to electroluminescent, which appears a blank display until you turn the key. Then red needles and gauge outlines and white numerals shine through in clarity, and the detailed information in the trip computer/odometer display is just as crisp. If not properly adjusted, such instruments can fatigue you so Subaru allows intensity adjustment at any time, not only if the headlights are on or the sensor determines it is dark or daylight again.

The layout is typical, with larger tachometer and speedometer flanked by smaller temperature and fuel gauges. Data is inset in the tachometer, while a fuel economy gauge under the speedometer essentially mimics the throttle, even swinging to minus (-) when the automatic blips the throttle electronically on a downshift. If you can't tell what your right foot is doing, this gauge probably won't either.

Enthusiast drivers will find the pedal layout on manual gearbox cars places the brake and gas pedal close together, with the clutch pedal spaced farther to the left. This makes it difficult to blip the gas with the right foot for a downshift, while the toe of that foot is on the brake pedal, the so-called heel-and-toe technique that results in smoother downshifts when you're decelerating in a hurry.

Turbocharged and 3.0 models have an SI-DRIVE button behind the shifter, which changes relative performance among three modes; there's a button on the steering wheel that does the same chores.

A proper handbrake is immediately adjacent the driver's seat and

Driving Impressions

The Legacy impresses as a solid and tight sedan that inspires confidence when the going gets nasty. Indeed, we know Subaru owners who have literally beaten the tar out of their cars and they just keep going.

Being a bit smaller than the segment volume leaders gives the Legacy a distinct edge in urban traffic as it feels much smaller and will always fit through a narrow lane. Not until you've tried to park something six inches too big do you realize a prime benefit of compact external dimensions.

And since it's a tad smaller, the Legacy tends to run a shade lighter as well, with a six-cylinder all-wheel-drive Legacy about the same or lighter than V6 front-drive versions of the mass market midsize sedans: Altima, Accord, Camry, Malibu. Finally, with the Subaru's horizontally opposed engine layout (cylinders lay flat), the weight can be kept down lower, and a lower center of gravity aids response, stability and braking.

Each of the three engines has different characteristics that change the character of the car to some extent.

Power from the 2.5i models (170 horsepower and 170 pound-feet of torque) is about par for the course and similar to the Camry et al. A four-speed automatic is available and it comes with the same fuel economy rating, but the five-speed manual makes the best of what's available.

It's a relatively easy manual to drive, with an anti-stall feature built into the engine management system to detect impending stalls and bump the throttle a bit. Clutch action is smooth and progressive, and the shifter works much better if you take your time rather than trying to rush it.

Suspension on the base model leans to comfort, with the travel to absorb relatively large bumps with ease; the primary detractors are the 17-inch wheels and low-profile tires. Having a solid structure to work from allows the engineers to deliver a good blend of compliant ride and good handling.

Steering is direct and lightens up at highway cruise speeds, cornering grip is quite satisfactory, bumpy corners telegraph to the driver but don't upset the car. Skilled drivers may find electronic stability control isn't necessary; all-wheel drive makes this a stable car with predictable handling. The Legacy does notice crosswinds and tractor-trailer turbulence, but like bumpy corners, these merely make you aware something is changed.

On the 2.5i Limited, electric windshield de-icing thaws blades frozen to the glass much faster than the defroster will, so you'll spend less time scraping or sitting and not burn up the wiper motor.

With the all-wheel drive and good safety ratings, the $21,000 2.5i makes a compelling argument for sending recent high-school graduates to school in the snow belt or using as commuter where the roads are often marginal.

GT models are powered by a similar flat-four 2.5-liter that has been turbocharged, gaining 73 hp and 71 lb-ft of torque, the latter at a very usable 3600 rpm. The GTs rate 19/25 mpg with the manual and 18/24 with the automatic, but test vagaries mean it's easy to better automatic highway numbers.

A five-speed manual gearbox is standard and well mated to the engine. On twisty roads taken quickly you may find that using a gear higher than you normally would brings the smoothest drive as there is still vast midrange torque but it comes on more progressively, and the less sudden any change is applied to a tire, the better it grips and goes.

GT automatics use the same all-wheel-drive system as the 3.0R, called Variable Torque Distribution, controlled by electronics that nominally ladles out 45 percent of power to the front wheels and 55 percent to the rear wheels to help give some rear-drive feel to it. No one will mistake a Legacy for a rear-drive car, but it does feel good from the driver's seat and automatically adjusts to changing conditions.

The five-speed automatic is properly calibrated to give the right gear at the right time, near sea

The Subaru Legacy delivers a refined drive that's surprisingly agile in a sensibly sized package that won't bust the budget. Lower trim levels are high on value, while the spec.B is devoted to enthusiasts who still need sedan practicality and all0wheel drive. The new 3.0R Limited delivers the compact luxury you'd expect from an Acura TSX, Audi A4 or Volvo S40, with six-cylinder refinement, all-wheel drive the Acura doesn't offer, and a competitive price.

Sam Moses drove the Legacy GT Limited and Spec.B models in Quebec; G.R. Whale drove 2.5i and 3.0R models in Nevada and California.

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