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2009 Subaru Legacy
2009 Subaru Legacy

2010 Subaru Legacy

Subaru goes mainstream with its Legacy Add to ...

Now it's time for the Subaru Legacy to get out there and compete with the big dogs among mid-size cars - the Honda Accord, Toyota's Camry, the Chevrolet Malibu, Nissan Altima, Ford Fusion, Hyundai Sonata and Mazda6.

Of course, Subaru's main ace in the hole is standard all-wheel drive; among the rivals we've just named, only Ford competes with AWD.

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Then there is this: The 2010 Subaru Legacy is now a proper-sized mid-size sedan with a smaller base price ($23,995 versus $25,290 for the base Honda Accord sedan), a bigger interior, more power, a new rear suspension and a far less quirky design.

Also a help are safety test scores. The revamped Legacy was recently named a Top Safety Pick by the U.S. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Better pricing for a right-sized Legacy that goes faster and drives to please someone other than a college instructor or a tax accountant, well - that means the pressure is on to get out there and move more Legacies off dealer lots.

On that score, in Canada, Subaru is actually doing okay. Sales were up 4.2 per cent in August, while the market overall was, of course, weak.

So in Canada, Subaru sales are defying gravity. And company types suggest more of the same is expected back at the home office in Japan, where parent Fuji Heavy Industries is projecting a net loss for the year. Subaru Canada is expected to take up the revenue slack created by other less-successful markets.

Ted Lalka, Subaru Canada's head of marketing and product planning, does not expect Subaru to run down Honda and Toyota, the real powerhouse Japanese brands. But he would like to see Subaru appeal to a broader group of buyers - to go somewhere beyond niche player with limited perceived appeal.

The fact is, Subaru has been steadily trying to move the Legacy into the mainstream since 2004, when the outgoing generation shed its weird styling for a more streamlined and upscale appearance. It was a move in the right direction, but not quite enough.

This time around, the look is much more aggressive - especially the taller, wider stance and the strong front end. Note that the hood is considerably higher than before to accommodate more stringent regulations for pedestrian safety in crashes.

The designers also have wrapped the headlights around the front end. The wheel arches are aggressively flared and the tail is properly finished, too.

There are also new transmissions, including a continuously variable transmission for better fuel economy. A more powerful, range-topping 3.6R six-cylinder engine uses regular fuel, while the outgoing 3.0R required premium. The four-cylinder engine has also been rebuilt and the turbocharger nicely reinvented.

You can now get a Legacy with a rear back-up camera, voice-activated global positioning system and a Bluetooth wireless connection. The range tops out at $38,395 for a loaded and potent (265-horsepower) turbocharged GT.

By the way, the Legacy station wagon is gone from the lineup for 2010. If you want a Legacy wagon today, go buy the Outback. It is, of course, an SUV-ified version of the Legacy.

The wagon decision will grate with some Subaru loyalists, but overall give Subaru credit. Here in the Legacy's 20th anniversary year, the engineering types and the product planners - whether pushed by executives or on their own volition - chose not to go the safe route, not to be content to just produce another same-old, same-old sedan.

This, the fifth time around for a Legacy remake, they've done some very nice work. You may or may not like the new design, but there is no question that the Legacy - mechanically - can compete squarely against all-wheel drive sedans like the Audi A4 2.0T and BMW's 325xi. To put it another way, it punches above its weight.

That is especially true of the budget model, the sub-$24,000 (to start) 2.5i (170-hp) with a six-speed manual gearbox. A CVT automatic transmission adds $1,200 to the price.

The racy GT, meanwhile, has a fully revised, turbocharged 2.5-litre boxer-four-cylinder. The six-cylinder car, the 3.6R, has 256 hp.

The four-cylinder without the turbo is very good and, unless you're really loaded up with people and cargo, the go-power is just fine. In driving, the car is solid, comfortable and poised going fast or slow. The key here is the new rear suspension.

The Legacy feels more responsive yet more planted thanks to new steering and a new double-wishbone setup at the rear. The latter has replaced the old multilink setup. Handling? The rear end stays low and flat in aggressive cornering. Very nice. Ride quality is better, too.

Then there is the cabin. It feels more luxurious thanks to higher-quality materials. The plastics, in particular, look and feel richer than what you'll find in the bulk of the competition. Bigger front seats have better back support and the dash layout is simple yet functional.

The market will ultimately decide whether this Legacy is a breakthrough for Subaru, but no one can argue that the car looks, rides, handles and functions in a different league than the old version.

Subaru really has a chance here to break out of the straightjacket it's worn as strictly a quirky, niche player. The new dog has some bite and the big dogs should be taking notice.

jcato@globeandmail.com

****

2010 LEGACY 3.6R LIMITED

Type: All-wheel-drive mid-size sedan

Price: $34,695

Engine: 3.6-litre horizontally opposed six-cylinder, DOHC

Horsepower/torque: 256/247 lb-ft

Transmission: Five-speed automatic

Drive: All-wheel-drive

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 11.8 city/8.2 highway; regular gas

Alternatives: Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Chevrolet Malibu, Mazda6, Hyundai Sonata, Nissan Altima, Dodge Avenger, Kia Magentis

Like

  • Cabin materials have a taken a move upmarket and the cabin itself has more room
  • Better ride and handling
  • Strong safety and reliability history
  • AWD does have an impact on fuel economy
  • Trunk opening could be larger

Don't like

  • AWD does have an impact on fuel economy
  • Trunk opening could be larger
  • Bold as it is, the nose is not to my taste

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