What turns an ordinary, run-of-the-middle-of-the-road family sedan into a sports sedan?
Sometimes it doesn't require much more than a little misdirection.
Some car companies learned long ago they didn't need to actually increase engine power or spend money on trick suspension bits and more potent brakes. They just had to shout "sports sedan" loud enough and long enough to fool some of the people enough of the time into believing shiny alloy wheels and stick-on graphics that included the word "sport" made it so.
Other companies - fortunately for those of us who actually enjoy engaging in the act of driving - take it more seriously. They create cars a driver plugs into with the instant connectivity of a video game controller - but a with a little more real world involvement, of course.
Subaru's 2011 Legacy 2.5 GT is one of those.
Like most sports sedans, the Legacy GT isn't a pure performance car. It will fill a dual role in most buyers' lives, which includes being practical enough to serve as daily transportation that doesn't cause undue pain and suffering to those not so appreciative of its finer-tuned points. But the GT also offers elevated levels of performance and handling that make driving it an entertaining experience.
The practical side of the Legacy was addressed with the redesign for 2010 that saw it emerge just a little larger outside - it's still at the small end of the mid-size scale - but magically, quite a bit roomier inside (the trunk grew, too) thanks to wheelbase and width stretches.
The Legacy's new styling may not be too adventurous - don't want to scare anybody off - but the nose treatment is neat and overall it's got enough character for the GT to carry off the sports sedan look.
In the cabin you'll find a leather-wrapped wheel (with audio and communication controls in its spokes) framing large round instruments and a brushed-aluminum trimmed centre stack containing a large info and navigation screen. The audio system - that you can plug all sorts of things into - has nine Harman Kardon speakers and sounds great.
The supple leather-clad seats look and feel sporty and do a good job of locating you in relation to the things you need to see and touch. Access to the more spacious rear compartment is through wide doors, sound levels are low at speed and things like washers, mirrors and headlights are fine. And, of course, there are electronic aids to keep you from hitting something, and airbags that will sprout out of unlikely places to protect you if you do. Specific GT touches include dual exhausts, functional hood scoop, a spoiler and badging.
All of which is pretty much what you'd expected in a luxury-laden $38,595 mid-size sedan, right? So what about the sporty stuff?
Some of what makes this a sports sedan is purely in your imagination. Subarus have never been what you'd call middle-of-the-road and the image associated with them is that of a rally Subie carving up a gravelly stage in dust-spewing entry-to-apex-to-exit broadslides.
And this is an important part of the car's persona alluding to the fact that, while you won't likely want to do that in the GT - you kinda could.
The real "sporty stuff" includes a 2.5-litre flat four, twin-cam engine turbo-boosted to produce 265 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque, delivered via a six-speed manual (with ratios unique to the GT) to all four wheels through Subaru's asymmetric all-wheel-drive system.
Those wheels, incidentally, are 18-inch alloys shod with 245/45 R18 Bridgestone Potenza summer performance tires, and tucked inside are bigger brake discs. The independent suspension is tautly set up and allied to steering that feels quite directly connected to the front wheels results in handling that's decidedly at the sporty end of the spectrum.
The ever-ready power of the engine, whose revised turbo system makes more power and delivers it with virtually none of the turbo-lag evident in older systems, allied to that muscular, but not muscle-bound, suspension makes the Legacy GT the driver's car it's billed as. It will accelerate to 100 km/h in about 5.5 seconds.
Pleasantly driveable in traffic and comfortable enough to go places in, it's also a car that is simply enjoyable to drive and that if it was ever required to, could put a lot of kilometres behind it in a very short period of time.
2011 Subaru Legacy GT
Type: Mid-size performance sedan.
Base Price: $38,595; as tested, $40,120
Engine: Turbocharged, 2.5-litre, DOHC, horizontally opposed four
Horsepower/torque: 265 hp/258 lb-ft
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 11.5 city/8.0 highway; premium gas
Alternatives: Acura TL, Ford Fusion Sport, Nissan Maxima, Buick Regal, Dodge Charger R/T, Mazda6 GT V-6
Ford's legendary Mustang street racer is ready to rumble again
Globe rating for the 2011 Subaru LegacyOur ratings guide
The ride can be a bit stiff-legged over some surfaces, which translates into ride motions that move you around somewhat. But it also handles great - so who cares?
It's hard to be a standout when aerodynamics, engineering, packaging, safety and marketing types are all calling the shots, but the stylists managed to make it look distinctive anyway.
Style and function combine nicely inside the GT up front, rear seaters have more room and the seatback splits 60/40 for added versatility. The electronic parking brake is cool.
Good handling and brakes, all-wheel-drive, plenty of electronic control assist systems, a well-designed structure and multiple airbags add up to a high safety score.
Four-cylinder engines are green, but boosting them to 265 hp, not so much. Fuel economy ratings of 11.5 city/8.5 highway aren't exactly evil though.
(out of 10 / Not an average)
The numerical ratings are assigned by The Globe and Mail’s car reviewers on a scale out of ten. Each car is assigned a separate rating in five key categories - plus an overall satisfaction rating that is calculated separately, and is not an average of the five category ratings.
Vehicles that do not yet carry ratings on this site will be assigned them when the latest model is reviewed.