Some day the people who run Subaru will grab hold of and then start running hard with this very core idea in marketing: sexy sells. Yes it does. Sexy is everywhere selling everything. Cars, even.
But instead of sexy, from Subaru we get: “Subaru named only manufacturer with IIHS Top Safety Picks for all models four years running.”
Safety is certainly important and it might move vehicles, but sexy? Nah.
Alright, I am impressed to learn that the 2013 Legacy and Outback models (built after August, 2012) won the Top Safety Pick + award from the U.S. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety – meaning both had “good” ratings for occupant protection in at least four of five IIHS evaluations. The trickiest of the five is a new Small Overlap test and it’s a killer to pass and a lifesaver for owners of cars that get a “good” rating: it is intended to measure how a vehicle will do if its front corner collides with another vehicle or, say, a tree or utility pole.
Okay, now consider this from Subaru: “Best Mid-size Car in the Automotive Lease Guide Canadian Residual Value Awards.”
So Subies hold their value. In fact, ALG says Subaru is the No. 1 mainstream brand for residual value in Canada – better than Honda and Toyota – retaining about 42 per cent of their value after four years, says ALG.
Resale values matter, but they won’t get your heart fluttering. If I tell you that the $23,995 2012 Legacy I recently tested will be worth, according to ALG, $13,537.10 in 2016, are you all in, emotionally? Doubt it.
Which brings us to reliability. “Subaru,” notes Consumer Reports in its most recent study of predicted reliability, “also improved its standing, with its redesigned Impreza debuting with top marks and none of its models scoring below average.” Subaru is ranked fifth overall (behind Scion, Toyota, Lexus and Mazda) and my Legacy tester is ranked third among family cars (behind the Toyota Camry and Camry Hybrid). That safe Legacy with the high value rating is expected to be about 40 per cent more reliable than the average for family cars, says CR.
Very nice. But isn’t risk-taking considered sexy? If you buy a Legacy, you’re not taking much of a risk. It’s not likely to break, you’ll be protected in a smash and over time you’re not going to get whacked with outsized depreciation. How sensible. And dull.
But not really, not in the driving. Subaru doesn’t play up how interesting and entertaining its cars are to drive, unless you happen to follow rally driving, which on the scale of popular sports, ranks right up there with arm wrestling and barrel jumping. A few triathletes also understand what a Subie can do because they haul around their biking, swimming and running gear from race to race in a reliable, safe and affordable ride – one that, because all-wheel-drive is standard, won’t get stopped by bad roads or rotten weather.
Moreover, the “boxer” engine design, with its pistons laid flat in opposition to one another, is just superb for pushing the car’s centre of gravity way, way low down to the ground. A low centre of gravity does all sorts of wonderful things for handling and cornering. And the very base Legacy I tested felt as solid and planted as any mid-size car I’ve driven this year – at least among cars less than $40,000.
I know some of you who are familiar with Subie’s boxer four-bangers will say they sound a little clunky and I’d agree. There’s nothing sexy about the sound of the four in a base Legacy. It, in fact, sounds a little like a lawnmower on its last legs. But we all know that Subarus last and last (see above), so durability and reliability are not issues. Unfortunately that engine just does not sing like a high-revving four-cylinder of a more traditional design – such as you get, say, in a Ford Focus.
The Legacy’s fuel economy is not particularly brilliant, either: 10.6 litres/100 km in the city, 7.4 on the highway. That’s okay, but not eye-popping. At least regular fuel is all that Subie asks for.
The real issue here is, well, there are two fuel economy issues. First, weight. A base Legacy weighs 44 kilograms more than a base Camry (1,485 versus 1,441) and that $23,700 Camry is a front-driver, versus a Subie with its Symmetrical AWD (all-wheel drive). The AWD piece adds weight, complexity and mechanical drag. Not good for saving gas.
Last of all, let’s quickly touch on design. The Legacy’s sheetmetal is not sexy and the cabin is equally bland, though perfectly functional. This Subie is roomy inside and has a big trunk, too. Yawn.
By now I’m sure you’ve got the picture. Subarus make sense, but the Legacy is not exactly the automotive equivalent of Eva Mendes in a bikini. All that said, Subaru is having a record year for sales in Canada. Sensible does sell.
Just imagine what might happen to Subaru sales if the company ever discovered sexy.
2012 Subaru Legacy
Type: Mid-size sedan
Base price: $23,995 (freight $1,595)
Engine: 2.6-litre four-cylinder
Horsepower/torque: 170 hp/170 lb-ft
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 10.6 city/7.4 highway; regular gas
Alternatives:Ford Fusion, Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Chevrolet Malibu, Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima, Nissan Altima, Volkswagen Passat, Chrysler 200, Dodge Avenger, Mazda6