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2013 Subaru Legacy (Petrina Gentile for The Globe and Mail)
2013 Subaru Legacy (Petrina Gentile for The Globe and Mail)

First Drive

EyeSight a clear advantage in the Legacy and Outback Add to ...

While some might consider Subaru a niche player in the automotive industry, company officials point to to rising sales numbers for the Legacy mid-size sedan and the Outback wagon to show Subaru is levelling the playing field with the competition.

Canadian sales of the last-generation Legacy and Outback totalled only about 4,500 units in a year. But with this current generation, sales have doubled to more than 10,000 units. Despite production disruptions because of last year’s tsunami, Subaru still sold 3,100 Legacy sedans and more than 7,000 Outback wagons last year.

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“I think when you generate those kinds of numbers you become more than a niche player. Rather than niche, I’d like to think of us as an attractive alternative to other mainstream brands,” says Ted Lalka, vice-president, product planning and marketing, at Subaru Canada.

The Legacy was introduced in Canada in 1989 as a 1990 model with the last full model revamp in 2010. For 2013, the Legacy and Outback are being refreshed – both receive exterior/interior tweaks, a new base engine and innovative technology, dubbed EyeSight, which you’d expect to find on more expensive, luxury brands.

EyeSight is a driver assistance system that integrates adaptive cruise control, pre-collision braking and a vehicle lane departure warning.

The system uses two cameras mounted inside the car’s upper windshield to identify vehicles travelling in front, as well as other obstacles such as pedestrians, bikes, and traffic lanes. Once detected, the information is sent to the EyeSight computer, which is also linked with the car’s braking system and electronic throttle control. When travelling less than 30 km/h, if EyeSight detects an object in front of your vehicle and you don’t do anything, the system kicks in, applying the brakes and actually stopping the vehicle to avoid an accident.

I tried out the technology in a parking lot at Subaru Canada’s head office in Mississauga, Ont. At the wheel of a new Outback, I accelerate down a straight line driving towards a large sign stamped with the EyeSight logo. I reach 30 km/h and fight the urge to apply the brakes as I approach the sign head-on. I let the vehicle take over and it grinds to a stop several inches in front of the sign without hitting it. The technology is impressive. While it can detect pedestrians and other objects to help avoid a collision, it can’t detect animals or low-moving objects out of the camera’s range.

The system’s adaptive cruise control is equally impressive – just touch a button and it maintains a safe distance from the vehicle in front, braking and accelerating the car as needed – the driver doesn’t touch a pedal. EyeSight’s lane departure system monitors the lane markers so if your car crosses a line unintentionally it warns the driver you may be crossing into the path of danger.

EyeSight is an option, and it’s not expensive at $1,500, but unfortunately it’s not available on the base model. It’s only offered on the top Limited trims of the Legacy and Outback.

Another big change in the Legacy and Outback is the new base engine. It’s a more powerful 2.5-litre horizontally opposed, boxer-four-cylinder engine mated to Subaru’s signature symmetrical all-wheel-drive system. The new engine has increased performance – it produces 173 hp and 174 lb-ft of torque (up from 170 hp/170 lb-ft in the outgoing model).

2013 Subaru Outback
 

The new models are also more fuel-efficient. The 2013 Legacy is rated at 8.4 litres/100 km city and 6.0 highway (compared with 9.1 city/6.4 highway fro the 2012 version); the 2013 Outback is rated at 8.6 city/6.5 highway (compared with the 2012’s 9.5 city/6.9 highway). That’s an improvement of 8 per cent in fuel economy. The numbers are impressive, especially for an all-wheel drive vehicle.

If you want more guts under the hood – the 256-hp, 3.6-litre, six-cylinder Subaru boxer engine is still offered on both models.

Chassis enhancements improve the ride quality of the Legacy. The handling is smoother and slightly more agile than the last version. On the Outback, body roll has been reduced by 40 per cent and you can really feel the difference when taking corners quickly or merging onto the highway – there’s significantly less body lean.

A second-generation continuously variable transmission is also new. It’s a big improvement over the transmission it replaces. But under hard acceleration it sometimes feels underpowered and noisy. You can also choose a six-speed manual instead of the CVT with the four-cylinder engine.

The exterior styling on both models has also been tweaked, but the changes are subtle – The front end is redesigned with new headlights, grille and front bumper. The Outback also gets handy, new adjustable rear crossbars on the roof rails. They can be moved further back towards the rear to accommodate longer items such as kayaks and canoes.

Prices for the 2013 Subaru Legacy and 2013 Outback have dropped slightly compared to the 2012 models. The Legacy base 2.5i trim starts at $23,495 ($500 less than the outgoing model) and tops out at $36,195 for the 3.6R Limited with the optional EyeSight driver assistance system. Prices for the 2013 Outback range from $28,495 (also $500 less than the outgoing model) to $39,995 for the 3.6R Limited model with EyeSight.

pgentile@globeandmail.com

Tech Specs: 2013 Subaru Legacy

Type: Five-passenger, mid-size sedan

Price range: $23,495-$36,195

Engine: 2.5-litre, DOHC, four-cylinder

Horsepower/torque:173 hp/174 lb-ft

Transmission: CVT

Drive: All-wheel

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 8.4 city/6.0 highway; regular gas

Alternatives: Nissan Altima, Chevrolet Malibu, Mazda6, Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Hyundai Sonata, VW Passat

2013 Subaru Outback

Type: Five-passenger wagon

Price range: $28,495-$39,995

Engine: 2.5-litre, DOHC, four-cylinder

Horsepower/torque:173 hp/174 lb-ft

Transmission: CVT

Drive: All-wheel

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 8.6 city/6.5 highway; regular

Alternatives: Audi A4 Allroad wagon, Volvo V50, Cadillac CTS Sport wagon, BMW 3-Series Touring wagon

Follow on Twitter: @PetrinaGentile

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