A wolf in sheep's
clothing, Subaru's revamped Legacy is for families in a hurry. Marish Mackowiak grabs the
kids and takes off.
Back in the mid-1970s, Subaru gave the world a wagon that looked like a plain
four-cylinder runabout during the week but could be taken bush-bashing on the weekends. It
was a concept that has since been copied by many. Today, Subaru's new All Wheel Drive
Legacy models aren't designed to go off-road. Nevertheless, the Legacy continues the
spirit of innovation in a sophisticated package that belies the company's utilitarian
Subaru's latest Legacy maintains the model's sports demeanor while looking like a standard
sedan. Aerodynamic aids all round, together with tinted windows, help create the solid and
quietly impressive look that is so essential for a Japanese family's weekend chariot.
Changes to the latest model include a wider front grill and blinker lights. Redesigned
headlights feature High Intensity Discharge (HID) lamps. Part of the B4 range, the RSK
Legacy we tested is completed by new gunmetal gray, five-spoke sports wheels wrapped in
low-profile seventeen-inch Potenza tires. A rear spoiler is available on some models.
Despite quite different capabilities, the sporty B4 Legacys are almost indistinguishable.
Even the fastest, the RSK, only differs from its siblings by having a hood scoop. It is a
relief to find that there isn't the long list of technical specifications emblazoned on
the exterior, as on many other high-performance vehicles. Apart from the Legacy name
lurking inside the translucent rear taillight assembly, only modest badges on the back and
on the grill identify this car as a B4. If you want to show off, a host of accessories can
be purchased for a more extreme look.
Interior is tastefully understated
A conservative approach is also evident inside. All instruments and controls are
conventionally located. The basic set-up will be quite familiar to Legacy drivers of the
past ten years. There is little gimmickry, and two-tone charcoal shades help create a
sense of understated quality. The center console panel has a slick gloss finish, which
adds to the luxury feel and includes a trick pop-out drink-holder. Backlit instrumentation
is crystal clear. The stereo sounds good and customers can choose between the CD player
and a combination CD/MD system, both with an AM/FM tuner. A variety of optional sound
systems from the likes of Kenwood and McIntosh are also available. The optional navigation
system is now DVD-ROM driven, with a six-and-a-half-inch display replacing the old CD-ROM
Despite the low-key ambiance, the RSK's Momo sports steering wheel makes it obvious that
this car is targeted at the enthusiast market, not just the family man; it matches the
leather gear knob and handbrake grip. However, even this overtly sporty touch blends in
seamlessly-this Legacy's no accessory shop special. Similarly, the seats provide more
lateral support than usual without looking like they've been lifted from a racing car.
Leather upholstery is optional. A good driving position can be found with seats that are
partially power assisted. In the back, there's plenty of legroom, although headroom for
taller passengers is fairly average. A great feature is the folding center armrest, which
has a removable panel for storing long objects.
On the road, the sense of subdued style continues, particularly since this is such a quiet
vehicle. It's easy to imagine that an undemanding driver would never realize the Legacy's
full potential. The mechanical specifications give some hint of what auto otaku
can expect. The RSK boasts a tw-liter, DOHC 16-valve boxer engine with twin turbos,
generating 206kw/280PS of power and 343Nm of torque through a five-speed manual gearbox. A
four-speed automatic transmission with Tiptronic-style steering wheel-mounted controls, is
also available. Other B4 Legacys come in two-and-a-half- and three-liter versions,
including both turbo-charged and non-turbo models.
The B4 Legacy s low-key on the
outside, revved up under the hood
Open 'er up, and you realize that this car has a split personality, with the ability to
leave most cars far behind. Compared to the company's race-bred Impreza WRX, which took
the world by storm in the 1990s, the Legacy is like an older and more sensible brother.
It's fast but not as aggressive. Subaru's Katsuyuki Kiyota says that the Legacy lacks the
WRX's shove-in-the-back acceleration and is more of a high-performance touring car.
Indeed, the Legacy is most at home on the highway, where it has plenty of chance to stay
in the 3000-plus rev range it needs to keep the power happening. Peak power is developed
at 6500rpm and the more it revs the faster it goes and the better the boxer engine sounds.
Despite power plus performance potential, the RSK achieves 11.4km/liter fuel efficiency,
and all Legacy models are certified as Low Emission Vehicles (LEV).
Subaru's traditional AWD (All Wheel Drive) system is the heart of this car, partly
explaining the confidence-inspiring handling. In addition, the RSK has goodies like
Bilstein shock absorbers and a "Cross Performance Rod." Four-wheel disk brakes
and an improved antilock braking system (ABS) facilitate stopping. The Subaru B4's price
range is between JY2,175,000 and JY2,598,000, representing excellent value for the money
for a mid-sized luxury/sports sedan.
Subarus of the past looked rather plain and some people used to think they were a little dasai
(uncool). In fact, to strengthen the brand, the company has reintroduced Subaru's
traditional six-star emblem on the front grills. The latest high-tech Legacy should prove
once and for all that the company is a high-performance leader and very cool indeed.