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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 past.

Understated style
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

Subdued interior
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 unit.

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.

Split personality
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.

399: Autophile
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397: Roar of the Kannon

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395: The Comfort Zone
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393: Luxury for less
Second-hand luxury cars
389: Having it both ways
Toyota’s new Estima
387: The best of British
Triumph’s hot new 600cc sports bike
385: Fast family fun 
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383: Power rockets
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381: Practically perfect
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379: A bug's life
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377: Puttin' on the Ritz
Fancy cars for over JY 10 million
376: Prime time
Nissan's futuristic Primera
375: All revved up
Ducati's CEO Carlo Di Biagio
374: Retro rocket
BMW's sensational Z-8
373: Sales drive
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372: How Swede it is
Volvo's new S60 sports sedan
371: Moving on up
The new Honda Civic
370: Two-wheeled oddities
The 28th Tokyo Motorcycle Show
369: Scooting along
Piaggio's Vespa Vintage range
368: Sportslander
Land Rover's new release
367: Snatch
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366: Lending a helping hand
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365: Get down
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364: A Runx for your money
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363: It's a gas
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362: Power lunch
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361: Smart attack
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360: SLK320
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359: New year classics
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358: On your bike
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357: Custom crazy
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356: A TRIBUTE to Mazda fans
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355: Biking the open roads of Izu
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354: Blast from the past
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352/3: White Christmas
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351: History in the hills
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350: Rest insured
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