REVIEW DATE: 05 Jul 2007
Although Many Will Associate Subaru's Legacy With Upmarket Executive Motoring, The Range Starts At Family Hatch Prices. Andy Enright Reports
Many new car buyers do themselves a great disservice by never removing their blinkers. They think in narrow, rigidly defined terms and will often fail to look beyond two or three popular marques. Broaden your automotive horizons a little and a whole wealth of possibilities become apparent. For the price of a reasonably well-appointed 1.8-litre family hatchback, you could get your hands on something with a little more panache. Something like Subaru's latest 2.0R Legacy model.
If the neighbours are twitching the curtains as you pull into your drive, they'll be thinking numbers the other side of £20,000. It's understandable given the Legacy's imposing styling and general quality air. You could have spent just £18,022 on the Legacy 2.0i saloon and you'd still get all the Subaru trademarks. The frameless windows, the boxer engine and the all-wheel drive transmissions are all present and correct, but the big difference is that the Legacy is, at last, a car that your passengers will enjoy as much as you do. Subaru poached Andreas Zapatinas from Alfa Romeo and in doing so they snagged a very capable designer. Subaru now seem to have a little more integration between their engineering and design departments. The latest model is distinguishable from pre-facelift cars by its revised light clusters and grille as well as its further smartened-up interior.
This Legacy is at last the car that most car nuts wish it always had been. The styling has been sharpened up, excised of all the fussy detailing and gawky lines. The basic silhouette still shouts Subaru, but the deftness of detail in the headlamps, the swage lines and the perceived tension in the body is something that had eluded the crayon-wielders at Subaru in the past. Everything is just that little bit neater. The mirrors house Mercedes style side repeaters, the wheelarches bulge gently out, topped by a pronounced hip. The roof pillars are elegantly slim and the wheels do a better job of filling the arches. The 2.0-litre car obviously doesn't have the showroom appeal of the 3.0-litre Spec B model - it lacks the big wheels and spoilers - but it nevertheless presents a very clean profile.
"If the neighbours are twitching the curtains as you pull into your drive, they'll be thinking numbers the other side of £20,000"
If you think that the exterior lines have been sharpened up, just wait until you drop into the cabin. Although it's probably too much to expect Audi or BMW style at the first strike, the fascia is one of the better designs out there. Gone are the acres of brittle grey plastics, flimsy cupholders, scratchy fabrics and uninspiring dials. In its place is a dashboard of sleekly industrial finish, overlapping aluminium-ringed dials, soft-touch surfaces and rubber and felt-lined door pockets and cubbies. Despite only featuring height adjustment for the steering column, it's an easy cockpit to get comfortable in. Head and legroom are generous up front and the seats are reassuringly supportive. This is a Subaru, remember.
Access to the rear isn't the best, the wheelarch making the door shape a little awkward, plus there's a big transmission tunnel marring foot space for a third central passenger. The estate version boats better headroom but the penalty for the saloon's swooping lines is rear headroom that's a little restricted for the taller passenger. Consolation comes in the form of one of the most accommodating boots in the class. The load area is usefully free of intrusions, is fully carpeted and the estate version features a split rear seat and a very long and flat load area.
The 163bhp 2.0-litre flat four is a fascinating piece of engineering with a character all of its own. Fire it up and you're greeted by a warbling thrum that is reminiscent of the rally-bred Impreza. It's an all-alloy unit tuned for strong low and mid range torque but it also feels willing at the top end of the rev range. It's a good deal more powerful than the 2.0-litre engine that featured in the pre-facelift Legacy line up, offering a chunky 26bhp increase in shove. With a top speed of 133mph and a sprint to 60mph time of 9.2 seconds, the Legacy is quicker than most comparably priced family hatches too. Subaru flat-four engines have a rather unwarranted reputation for being a bit heavy on the juice but the latest car will return an average of 32.5mpg which isn't too bad.
Tweaks to the suspension geometry and componentry make the latest car an even more accomplished handler than its predecessor but attention has also been paid to the ride comfort which had received some criticism. The body is more rigid too, so handling responses are improved. Think of it as a scaled up, calmed-down Impreza and you're not too far off beam.
You certainly get a lot of car for your money in the shape of a Legacy 2.0R although it's worth going easy on the extra bells and whistles. That shouldn't be difficult as all models come with dual zone climate-control, cruise control, front, side and curtain airbags, a leather MOMO steering wheel, 215/45 tyres on 17x7 ins alloy wheels and - of course, Subaru's acclaimed symmetrical all-wheel drive system. The plusher RE model adds full leather trim and a heated, electrically adjustable driver's seat. Automatic gearboxes tack another £1,000 onto the prices of the standard model but if you want a Sports Tourer estate it's £1,000 more than the saloon. It's all refreshingly easy to get a handle on.
The manual entry-level saloon looks to be the pick of the bunch at £18,022, although if you really want to push the boat out you can easily end up with a hole nearer £21,000 in your savings account. Owning a Legacy is almost as easy as buying one thanks to Subaru's three year/60,000 mile warranty which includes three years' free membership to Subaru Assistance, a Europewide home and roadside repair/recovery package. Given the Legacy's continually excellent results in customer satisfaction surveys, this may prove a formality.
|OVERALL||7.1 OUT OF 10|
|Space / Versatility||8|