Seeing how Subaru’s other half lives
The most obvious thing about the Subaru Legacy is how hidden in plain sight the automobile has been all these years, especially in Outback-obsessed mountainland.
We all know the Safeway parking lot can often hold as many as six-dozen forest green Outbacks, but you tend to forget that Subaru also makes other vehicles – pretty wonderful vehicles, when it comes down to it.
The 2009 Legacy is indeed one of those, looking (to those unfamiliar with the vehicle) like a mix of Outback nose and … maybe an Accord rear end.
And should you be happily resigned to a vehicle which will not, without a complex rack system, haul the dog, a claw-foot bathtub, seven pairs of multi-discipline skis, yet still maintain all of Subaru’s likably distinct character and all-season versatility, the Legacy might make you the coolest kid on the block.
I got a chance to check out the 2.5 GT version of the Legacy (there are a half-dozen iterations), powered by a 2.5-liter intercooled turbocharged horizontally opposed Boxer engine, and the 243-horsepower, 241 pound-feet of torque machine certainly exudes a different character than all those trillion or so Outbacks, despite sharing much of the same underpinnings. As a matter of comparison, the non-turbo 2.5i engine in the most similar Outback puts out 170 horsepower.
True to Suby (Subie?) form, the Boxer powerplant clatters like a washing machine full of sneakers, especially on startup. But in a nod to added (and perhaps unnecessary) complexity, the company offers the “SI Drive” knob on the center console, which, in combination with a very awkwardly oversized button on the inside of the steering wheel, apparently does the following: you either get very fast takeoffs, or you don’t.
Back in the day, applying different pedal pressure might have accomplished the same thing, but the Legacy’s tricky knob (and an accompanying sine wave chart on the display panel, which is never actually explained in any of the owner’s manuals) do allow that “fast” or “less” fast customization.
Put it in “S#” mode and the off-the-line whomp is pretty impressive, a fuel-tank-emptying careening blast that’s great for passing and spirited misbehavior. Flat-out, there’s always ample power; wheel-mounted paddles allow you to click through the Sportshift gears as fast as you’d like.
An auto writer friend who’s intent on buying a three-year-old version of much the same vehicle says a simple reprogramming computer module and a slightly modified exhaust adds nearly 55 horsepower in just a few minutes, so maybe there’s more lurking under the surface.
Legacy’s much lower ride position (5.9 inches of clearance, versus the 8.4 inches on the Outback) does give it a much more sporty demeanor; the Active All-Wheel Drive system keeps you adequately glued to dry pavement, although it didn’t take too much effort (on stock tires) to get it loose. I suspect proper footwear and a lighter touch on the accelerator will yield the same winter-beating grip, even in the very worst of conditions.
That low ride height does present some uniquely non-Outback issues, as the car feels a little low to the ground; I guess that’s just a conceptual shift.
Inside, Legacy’s very much the same as the newer Outbacks, with pleasantly updated, aircraft-inspired cabin stylings. Lots of woody trim, a combination of dark, light and silver-painted plastics and brightly illuminated electroluminescent gauges are there; a very good stereo with a Harmon/Kardon component upgrade rounds out the finery.
For the life of me, I could not figure out how to sit comfortably in the Legacy. Sporty leather seating is nice and electrically heated, naturally, but in standard driving position, I had to shove my left knee knee almost up to the dash, right up against the power mirror controls.
I’m not sure why, but the Legacy just felt unnecessarily small. The slightly undersized steering wheel is also just too complicatedly adorned with sound, cruise, trip computer and Super-Speed button controls to feel comfortable.
Fuel economy is relatively decent (18 city, 24 highway), although my travels garnered a 20 mpg average.
Different strokes for different folks? Again, those seeking a quantum leap from the standardized mountain-issue Outback might want to give the regular Legacy a shot.
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