ONE of the idiosyncrasies of our lexicon is that a word can have two divergent meanings even when used just as a noun. When suggesting a show is a sellout, the implication is that the event is popular. However, when one refers to a brand or a person as a sellout and claims he/she or it has sold out, the meaning is decidedly negative. Indeed, to compromise or conform in order to succeed does not impress purists or romantics (who constitute the bulk of automotive enthusiasts)… Subaru, a manufacturer that used to be quirky to a fault, wants to conquer its export markets and so has produced a largely conventional D-segment saloon in the new Legacy. While hard-core enthusiasts might be miffed, it’s already paying off on US sales charts…
The famed frameless side windows are gone and the saloon has been appropriately supersized – the wheelbase, overall length and height have all grown by 80 mm and the width is up by 50 mm. The 2,5 Sport Premium, fi nished in eye-catching metallic red paintwork that highlighted its chiselled edges, swept back projector- style xenon headlights, fl ared wheelarches and steeplyraked outer pillars, struck a distinguished, clean-shaven pose… One tester described the overall look as “very American” and another praised the Legacy’s rear three-quarter and profi le aspects. A sporty front bumper with a large, mesh-covered air intake and chrome-bezelled foglamps completed the exterior treatment that, although not revolutionary, left the test team eager to the see how the upcoming biggerwheeled GT version will turn out.
A welcome surprise of this test was the Legacy’s smart, sophisticated interior that looks and, more importantly, feels vastly improved over those of previous Subaru models. The cabin is positively cavernous and offers more than enough head-, shoulder- and legroom. The use of lightly brushed metal-look plastics in the facia, steering wheel boss and centre console lifts the ambience of the black leathertrimmed interior. Both front seats have electric adjustment (two memory settings for the driver) and impressive hip and lumbar support. The rear accommodation, meanwhile, virtually promotes the Legacy into a different class. CAR’s two tallest testers each performed the obligatory sit-behind-self rear legroom test, which the Subaru passed with aplomb in both cases. Rear occupants also benefit from rear ventilation outlets and a fold-out centre armrest with built-in drinkholders. The rear seatback doesn’t fold forward, but the boot lid, which can be opened by pressing a button on the facia or on the key (but not on its own!) reveals 384 dm³ of luggage space, which a cheeky mobster movie fan remarked “should accommodate at least five bodies”.
There was broad consensus regarding the switchgear ergonomics and quality of instrumentation, too. The radio/6 CD changer with MP3 compatibility and auxiliary input can be easily operated from the facia or the satellite controls on the steering wheel, the dual-zone climate control has a clear, easily- legible display with chunky square switches, and the permanently- lit instrument binnacle features a fuel economy instead of an engine temperature gauge. In keeping with the current trend, there is an electronic parking brake toggle to the right of the steering wheel as well as an on/off button for the hill start assist function. The luxury spec of the test unit seemed good, but not brilliant, it needs to be said. Although the standard specifi cation includes a sunroof, headlamp washers, carbon fibre-look inserts and alloy pedals, other nice-to-haves, such as keyless start, rear parking sensors, and rain-sensing wipers, let alone a self-dimming rear-view mirror, would really have sweetened the purchase proposition in a small, but tightly-contested, segment.
And whereas the previous generation Legacy was positioned as a sports saloon, the newcomer is rather a spacious family saloon with a sporty bent. Although the 2,5i Sport’s six-step continuously variable transmission is one of the most responsive and refi ned CVTs that we have tested, a fact helped by the effectiveness via the manual override via the steering wheelmounted paddles, it should still take a while for the automotive public at large, not just fickle motoring scribes, to become accustomed to the more athletic applications of a “seamless” transmission. To illustrate the point, the test unit accelerated to 100 km/h in 10,68 secs (brisk for a large family saloon weighed down by an all-wheel drivetrain), yet the performance of its otherwise torquey boxer engine divided opinion – one tester said it “pulled strongly, perkier than expected” and another remarked “not brilliant or electrifying”. On-road refi nement was impressive, with low levels of NVH and only minor wind noise generated by the enlarged side mirrors. The majority of testers suggested the 18-inch rubber and sportier suspension set-up contributed to an overly fi rm ride at lower speeds, when broken surfaces tended to announce themselves through thumps to the cabin.
However, on the plus side there was an abundance of four-wheel grip, which was aided by accurate steering and controlled levels of body roll, when pressing on.
To some it may seem surprising that the strongest traits of a Subaru test vehicle would turn out to be spaciousness, interior build quality and safety (the Legacy has seven airbags, including a knee ’bag for the driver and has achieved high safety ratings across the globe). Yes, the Legacy has lost some of its individualism, but that was a quality that never translated into local market share for its predecessor. In its metamorphosis from sports saloon to sporty family car, the newcomer has broadened its appeal – especially to those who require added rear legroom. On balance, the underrated Legacy has gained more than it has lost. North America has caught on… will South Africa follow?