MONTREAL, Quebec, Canada - Performance and Subaru seem to go together these days, ever since the company launched power-packed WRX offshoots of its subcompact Impreza. For 2006, Subaru introduced a performance-oriented Spec.B edition of the Legacy, too.
Mildly reworked for the 2007 model year, Subaru's Legacy 2.5 GT holds a turbocharged 2.5-liter horizontally-opposed four-cylinder engine that develops 243 horsepower at 6,000 rpm, and 241 pound-feet of torque at 3,600 rpm. (Both figures are down, due to the new SAE testing standard.)
As before, Subaru offers both Legacy and Outback sedans in 2.5 GT form, the latter with higher ground clearance. Externally, the 2.5 GT models get new 17-inch alloy wheels with full-length spokes. Internally, all Legacy sedans now have a 60/40 split fold-down rear with trunk pass-through. A new model joins the 2007 lineup: an Outback 2.5i Basic, aimed toward price-conscious buyers, with a manual driver's seat, 16-inch steel wheels, and fewer amenities than its regular Outback companions.
Last year, Subaru launched a Spec.B limited-edition Legacy, manufacturing only 500 units. For 2007, the Spec.B becomes a full-fledged model with higher sales expectations. Diamond Gray Metallic paint is used for the Spec.B, which also gets exclusive Dusk Blue Alcantara-trimmed upholstery. Although the engine is the same as in Legacy 2.5 GT models, the Spec.B benefits from a Bilstein sport suspension.
Car line manager Martyn Harding notes that it's "not a race track car" like Subaru's STI. Instead, the Spec.B ranks as a "premium handling street performance car."
Ten-spoke 18-inch aluminum alloy wheels on the Spec.B hold summer performance tires. A six-speed manual transmission works with continuous AWD, which has a 50/50 torque split. Clutch pedal effort has been reduced, and new clutch engagement assist promises smoother start-ups from a standstill.
Inside, the Spec.B driver faces a three-spoke MOMO leather-wrapped steering wheel and electro-luminescent gauges. Alcantara upholstery is said to provide more grip than leather, for performance driving. It's also considered cooler in summer, warmer in winter, and easy to clean.
New SI-Drive (Subaru Intelligent Drive) is standard on all Legacy/Outback 2.5 GT and Spec.B models with the 2.5-liter turbo engine. Billed as "3 engines in 1," the system produces three distinct engine characteristics:
1. Intelligent: for smooth, efficient, "more relaxed" driving.
2. Sport: similar to the current 2.5 GT.
3. Sport Sharp: falls between the current 2.5 GT and the Impreza WRX STI.
If an automatic transmission is installed, SI-Drive also yields three distinct shift modes.
In a Legacy Spec.B sedan, there's not that much difference between modes, though sharpness of throttle response does increase in Super Sharp. Performance is suitably energetic, though short of stunning. Unless you're in a lower gear, the impact of the turbo is modest.
With the easy-shifting manual gearbox, too, the test Spec.B sometimes suffered an annoying blip around 2,600 rpm, even when the gas pedal was pushed only moderately. Occasionally, that blip turned into an outright jolt.
Ride comfort in the Spec.B is substantially better than might be expected, despite exceptional suspension stability and confident control. A fair degree of body motion is noticeable, but most trouble spots are well subdued. The suspension is clearly firm, yet impressively compliant and fast-reacting. Steering feel ranks as top-notch. Road behavior is fine, too, as the Spec.B simply goes wherever it's pointed. At high speeds, it's amazingly smooth and stable.
Front-seat riders are likely to feel a bit snug, but comfortable. Instruments are especially easy to read, including the odometer and trip odometer. A low cowl yields good views ahead. A Spec.B isn't silent, but engine noise is significant only when accelerating, and not much even then.
Although the navigation screen isn't too big, it's high-mounted and sufficiently clear. Alcantara upholstery really does hold you in place, helped by snug bolstering (almost intrusive but not quite). Though adequate in size and reasonably easy to reach, the glovebox isn't as roomy as it appears at first.
Acceleration is generally satisfying in a regular Legacy 2.5 GT with an automatic transmission. But on moderate upgrades, that model reaches higher speeds in a rather leisurely manner. On the whole, it feels somewhat ordinary, not like a turbo. Performance verdict: good but not great.
Ride quality isn't much different from the Spec.B, except it lacks the latter's hard edge. Both are pleasant enough on the highway.
Steering feel and effort are about the same, too: positive and confident. Stability falls just a tad short of Spec.B. No blips or jolts were observed while accelerating with the automatic transmission. Drivers enjoy the same excellent gauges: bright red pointer, crisp markings, and bright digital odometer/trip.
Because it feels a bit snug, Subaru's Legacy is not quite a rival to Toyota Camry or Nissan Altima. It's more like a large compact, or at least a small midsize model.
Sales of all Legacy 2.5 GT models start on August 1. Long known for all-wheel-drive powertrains, Subaru now hopes to make AWD relevant to a broader target audience, said marketing vice-president Rick Crosson. Safety is the Number One attribute for women. Overall, it's in third place behind quality and reliability.
Subaru tries to describe safety in terms relevant to the vehicles' target group, Crosson advised. For the Legacy, that would mean "cool under pressure." Safety messages "can become boring," Crosson admitted, but promoting active safety is more apt to capture attention.