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Latest Legacy worth the name?

2009-10-16 07:19
Vehicle Specs
Manufacturer Subaru
Model Legacy
Engine 2.0l, 2.5l flat-four
Power 110kW @ 6 000r/min, 123kW @ 5 600r/min
Torque 196Nm @ 3 000r/min, 229Nm @ 4 000r/min
Transmission Six-speed manual, CVT
Zero To Hundred 9.5-, 11.1-, 10.3 seconds
Top Speed 210-, 203-, 210km/h
Fuel Tank 65l
Fuel Consumption 9.1l/100km
Weight 1 447-, 1 485-, 1 500kg
Boot Size 476l
ABS Yes, with BA and EBD
Airbags Seven
Tyres 2.0i: 205/60 R16, 2.5i: 225/45 R18
Front Suspension McPherson struts
Rear Suspension Double-wishbone
Warranty Three year/100 000km

Lance Branquinho

If you’re not quite keen on the value offering provided by A4, C-Class or 3 Series in the current market malaise, the only (real) alternative has been Honda’s Accord.

Problem is though, what if you demand the security of all-wheel drive traction? Well, then Subaru’s Legacy factors into the equation.

As a car the Legacy has always, much like its Japanese counterpart Accord, been criminally underrated locally – primarily due to brand equity issues. Okay, put more succinctly, people are too snobbish to buy one.

The fifth generation car, now available locally, will hopefully yield a tipping point for Subaru’s penetration into the compact premium segment.

Evolutionary looks

From a surfacing and proportion perspective fifth generation Legacy is larger without having the bumper-to-bumper expansion visiting a sense of ungainliness upon the car’s styling.

The undistinguished rear styling is clearly at odds with the rakish profile, framed by elaborately oversized headlight clusters and centred with a broadly framed chrome grille.

In typical Subaru fashion the Legacy’s flanks are flat-slabbed and if you’re looking for a bold shoulder line or some flame surfacing, well, there simply isn’t any…

Styling appears to have been done entirely with a ruler. Clearly somebody at Subaru’s design studio forgot the French curves set at home...

At 4.7m bumper-to-bumper the new Legacy is nearly 150mm bigger than a C-Class, yet Subaru has managed to shorten front and rear overhangs (despite the car's length expanding by 80mm), height and axle spacing over its predecessor.

Visually, the three models (2.0i, 2.0i CVT and 2.5i CVT) are differentiated by wheel design only, with the range topping 2.5iS rolling 18-inch alloys in its wheelarches, whilst the 2.0i manual and self-shifting models ride on 16-inch wheels.

Perhaps the fifth generation Legacy’s most important new design feature is one hidden completely from view – the engine cradle mount.

Instead of employing a traditional sub-frame connection, the horizontally opposed flat-four engine is mounted via four fluid-filled rubber mounts.

These mounts are positioned in such a way as to quell vibration and acoustics before they reach the cabin environment.

Bootspace is a capacious 476l and houses a full-sized sparewheel.

Better cabin

Inside, the new Legacy features a slightly revised instrument binnacle, boasting an environmentally minded consumption gauge.

If you’re light on the throttle the needle hovers in the green zone (which is good), whilst straying into the yellow melts polar icecaps…

In typical Subaru fashion the surfaces are uncluttered, clean and rather flat.

The metal-look finish across the facia and doors is a faux pas that would never be signed off in an Audi and the carbon-fibre finishing of the 2.5i models looks embarrassingly fake – resembling hessian glazed over with varnish.

Functionally, the new car’s handbrake repositioning factors as the most distinctive change for potential owners over the fourth generation car.

Legacy’s parking brake is now electrically actuated – you push a rectangular button to engage and pull to release.

Subaru though it would be a great idea to position the new electronic parking brake beneath the side-mirror adjuster, which gives you an idea of how inaccessible it is. I mean, how often do you reach to adjust your mirrors? Parking brake doesn't automatically release when pulling away either...

Regarding features all models boast electric adjustment for the front seats, 6-disc Kenwood audio (with an iPod jack) and dual-zone climate-control.

Cabin safety has been shored up by the presence of a seventh airbag too, with the driver’s knee airbag assisting the dual front, side and curtain arrangement to keep occupants safe in the case of a collision.

On the road

So the new Legacy is bigger yet more underwhelming in appearance than its predecessor. Does it yield a decent drive though?

Subaru did something rather peculiar on the Legacy launch, forcing us to travel four journalists to a car, which is way out of the ordinary.

We usually travel two-up, with one journo driving while the other navigates (or piles into the snacks).

I was classed into a car where I was the shortest journo (1.8m) and the tallest was 1.98m.

If ever there was going to be a test for Subaru’s claims of vastly improved cabin comfort dimensions (they said in the media conference that rear legroom increased 99mm), our Legacy’s passenger portfolio was it…

Engine now mounted on a cradle frame, which means it slides down and backwards in a collision, instead of bouncing off the subframes into the the cabin.

Not fast, yet...

Mechanically the new car is not in a position to challenge any of the German competitors on performance with the current range of available engines.

Both the 2l and 2.5l horizontally opposed engines are multi-valve units, yet the smaller engine boasts dual-overhead camshaft gearing, whist the 2.5 makes do with a single cam.

Subaru has improved the gas and fluid routing in the 2l engine (specially designed ports and combustion chambers), whilst intake camshaft timing has been calibrated for optimal flexibility.

The net result is 110kW at 6 000r/min and 196Nm of peak rotational force at 3 000r/min.

With the Legacy weighing in at just shy of 1.5t, at reef altitudes, it’s not the swiftest of cars, despite the six-speed manual and chain-driven CVT's best intentions.

Subaru’s design direction with the Legacy is unapologetically economy biased.

Sprint times from 0-100km/h for the 2.0i manual and CVT (9.5- and 11.1 sec respectively) are unspectacular, yet in practice, the easy shifting, mechanically precise six-speed manual car is a neat drive.

CVT transmission is one of the better incarnations of this often frustrating piece of fuel-saving technology. Performance from the Legacy range of naturally aspirated engines is not class leading though - for the moment.

Refined CVT

The 2.5i is only available in two-pedal CVT configuration, yet boasts paddle shift override, simulating six-ratios.

Powered by effectively the same engine driving the current Forester, porting has been altered and camshaft lift characteristics adapted for the Legacy application.

Power factors to 123kW at 5 600r/min and peak rotational force runs 229Nm at 4 000r/min.

On the road the 2.5i reacts with alacrity to paddle shift inputs and doesn’t have the acoustically strained character of many other CVT transmissions. It’s not quick though, not by any stretch of the imagination.

What the Legacy is, is supremely comfortable.

The all-wheel independent suspension (featuring double-wishbones at the rear and Bilstein dampers at each corner on the 2.5i) ensure tyre contact is optimally managed, yielding secure, practicable handling over even the worst road surfaces.

Ride comfort is superb too.

Steering, usually a Subaru bugbear with too much assistance, is peculiarly well weighted and linearly geared.

Cabin is a very happy place to be. Seats, with their dual padded design contours, are supremely comfy and there is plenty of space. Transmission tunnel truncates middle-rear passenger footroom though.

The best part of the new Legacy, unquestionably, is the cabin comfort.

As I mentioned, we travelled four up on the test route from Johannesburg to Parys and back, and I spent one stint seated in the rear behind my 1.98m colleague. Was I comfortable? Unbelievably so, the leg and headroom is extraordinary.

Subaru’s seats pamper one with elaborate padding and they’re accommodating in design too, not of the typically narrow, Oriental spec ergonomic variety.

It’s a good car, this new Legacy, it's just a shame it's so much less aesthetically appealing than the previous one.

What it does have though is that typically over-engineered Subaru feel and nearly unparalleled cabin comfort.

Early next year the 2.5 GT Sport Premium model will bolster the local Legacy range, with 198kW 2.5l turbo power that should make quite a compelling premium executive offering…


Legacy 2.0i Premium manual  -  R299 000
Legacy 2.0i Premium CVT  -  R311 000
Legacy 2.5i Sport Premium CVT  -  R345 000

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