2009 Subaru Legacy

Conservative Comfort for a Niche Market

2009 Subaru Legacy

We all know beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but Subaru has yet to produce a truly beautiful car. Handsome, perhaps; but the company obviously values function over everything else. Perhaps that’s why it found success in rallying, because the products would be half-covered in mud or dirt all the time?

FAST FACTS

1. The Legacy 3.0R Limited is powered by a 3.0-liter six-cylinder boxer engine that makes 245hp and 215 ft-lbs of torque.

2. The SI-DRIVE feature lets you choose you driving style, with the default Sport setting, Intelligent fuel-economy setting and Sport Sharp setting for increased performance.

3. 3.0R Limited models come with 18-inch wheels.

Regardless, if you were to line up the current generation of Subarus as in a beauty contest, the Legacy would easily be the one walking away with the diamond tiara. This generation of Legacy scored a little plastic surgery in 2009, seeing enlarged and reshaped headlights, a wing-like front grille and a deeper front air dam. Seeing as how the rest of the body hasn’t changed since 2005, it’s more like a facelift. Other sport sedans keep growing in size; sometimes it’s justified, as in making the new Audi A4 habitable to humans. Others, like the new North American Mazda6, not so much. It’s refreshing to drive something relatively compact with a good power to weight ratio. It’s more direct, nimble and satisfying.

MIDDLE-WEIGHT PERFORMER

The 3.0R Limited guise hits midway along the performance chart, above the four-cylinder base model, but lagging a little behind the turbocharged 2.5GT and spec.B. The 3.0-liter horizontally opposed six-cylinder puts out 245 hp, which is reasonably competitive, but its 215 ft-lbs of torque leave it feeling a tad underwhelming, especially with the standard five-speed automatic transmission. While the turbo motor brings only two fewer horsepower to the equation, it has an additional 26 ft-lbs at its peak, making for a more flexible drive. And the GT comes standard with a six-speed manual, meaning a much more involving experience.

Still, the Legacy 3.0R is a smooth operator, and that engine is very willing to rev cleanly to 7000 rpm. There are optional steering-wheel-mounted shift paddles to give some additional control over what gear you’re in, but you can’t help but wish you were swapping cogs yourself. It would certainly improve on the car’s current fuel mileage ratings of 17/24 mpg (city/highway).

The 3.0R features Subaru’s new, driver-selectable SI-DRIVE engine mapping, which gives you three very different options for how the Legacy will behave under throttle. Looking more like an iDrive multimedia controller, push the SI-DRIVE knob down, and it switches to Intelligent, which actually detunes the engine’s ultimate power rating, and is intended to improve fuel economy. It’s perfect for long highway drives where you won’t get deep in the powerband often. The system’s default is Sport, which is, well, sporty. Finally, Sport Sharp (S#) does wonders for throttle response, and the opposite for fuel economy.

NOT A WORLD RALLY CAR

Handling is firm, but not harsh. It won’t get you into trouble, that’s for sure. Especially with Subaru’s all-wheel drive system, traction control and stability control. There’s lots of security here; the 3.0R feels like the kind of vehicle you’d drive to Tuktoyaktuk for ice cream in nasty February weather without a care in the world – if you had the right tires, of course.

But should you encounter trouble on the way to the Arctic Circle, the Legacy’s ABS with EBD, VDC and tire-pressure monitoring should help keep you out of the ditch, while its ring-shaped reinforcement frame and six airbags would help if you somehow got in there backwards. On 3.0R Limited models, the Legacy’s exterior is highlighted by attractive 18-in aluminum wheels, chrome door strips and a dual exhaust. It even comes offered in Ruby Red Pearl, which is refreshing because you rarely see a Legacy in a color other than silver, black or gray.

The interior sees a much more thorough update, including a smaller steering wheel with integrated audio and cruise controls, a “S#” button, and the aforementioned aluminum gear-change paddles. The DVD-based navigation system with touch-screen display looks about two generations behind. The standard 385-watt, 9-speaker Harmon Kardon audio system is loud enough, but always sounds muffled, leaving you reaching for the volume knob. Otherwise, all the usual near-luxury amenities are present, including heated power-adjustable leather seats and a moonroof.

THE COMPETITION

In terms of competitors, there’s the usual list of Honda Accord, Toyota Camry and Mazda6, but with the 3.0R Limited’s price tag of $31,895 ($38,995 CDN), it sits three or four thousand dollars further up the price ladder. The new Nissan Maxima is priced similarly, is significantly larger, more powerful and more fuel efficient, but wouldn’t appeal to the typical Legacy buyer. No, the comparisons are more like entry-level BMW 3-Series territory, or Saab 9-3.

THE VERDICT

The Legacy won’t appeal to folks who purchase vehicles by the pound, because you could get a very nicely equipped Ford Taurus Limited for the same amount of money. No, it’ll attract those who prefer a vehicle with a smaller footprint, all-weather capability and comfort in a conservative package.

PLUS

All wheel drive Compact dimensions Go-anywhere security

MINUS

Fuel mileage Rear-seat room Price tag

Things we’d love to see from the Legacy in the future? Perhaps fitting the new 256-hp 3.6-litre six-cylinder engine from the revised Tribeca couldn’t hurt. Neither would bringing over the excellent turbo-diesel boxer engine that’s truly making waves in Europe.

Until then, the 3.0R remains the flawed flagship in the Legacy line: handsome, workable and a gem in the rough.

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