I have had two Subaru Legacys, a 1995 wagon (which is called an "estate" in the UK, I believe) and a 2003 sedan (which is called a "saloon" in the UK, if I'm not mistaken.) Surprisingly, I still own the 1995 but not the 2003 -- this will be the story of my 2003 Subaru Legacy. I paid $17,000 (about £10,600 at today's exchange rates) for the 2003 Legacy in March 2004. It was a new car but very leftover at that time, which accounts for its low price.
WHAT IT IS
My 2003 Subaru Legacy was a four-door sedan, with two bucket seats up front and a bench seat for two adults or three small people in back. The car was equipped with a 2.5-liter horizontally opposed four-cylinder engine, manual (five-speed) transmission and Subaru's standard all-wheel-drive system. Inside, there was just the level of niceties that I enjoy, including power windows and locks, moonroof, cruise control and a CD stereo. The 2003 Legacy sedan has a fairly high tail, which means there was decent space in the trunk.
I liked everything about driving my 2003 Subaru Legacy... except for the engine. The driver's seat fit me perfectly and held me in place just the way I like. Steering was confident and precise, really quite sporty. The car came with H-rated performance tires and they had good grip and firm handling. Likewise, the brake pedal was firm, and stopped the car quickly and in a predictable way. Best of all was the snick-snick feel of the transmission, nothing like the rubbery sensation of the shifter in my well-worn 1995 Legacy. The only part of the controls that I wasn't crazy about was the clutch, which engaged near the top of the throw and came on all of a sudden. It was a difficult clutch to feather for 1st-gear starts.
The stereo in the car was decent, if not spectacular. I replaced all four speakers with better ones, and that made the sound brighter and more natural. All the controls fell easily to hand and Subaru definitely improved the heater controls from those in my 1995 Legacy. Although the car had a moonroof, I seldom used it as it made a lot of noise when the moonroof was open at highway speeds. I've had other cars with moonroofs/sunroofs that weren't nearly as noisy on the highway as the 2003 Subaru Legacy. Heck, I have one such car now (a 1993 Porsche 968). The heater and air conditioning worked well, which was a blessing in the sultry Washington, DC summers.
In general, I really enjoyed the driving experience in the 2003 Legacy. The ride was firm and sporty, yet easily comfortable for long drives. Fuel mileage was quite good, frequently getting me 27-30 miles per gallon on the highway and a bit under 25 mpg on my daily commute. For a reasonably sporty AWD sedan, those are good numbers. The seat fit me well and the car was quiet on the road, with all the windows and moonroof closed. If this was the complete story, I would still have the car and would be singing its praises.
Most of my complaints with my 2003 Subaru Legacy had to do with the engine. The 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine just never ran properly, and it made the car downright uncomfortable to drive. Giving just a little push on the accelerator caused the engine to lunge forward, and backing off the accelerator slightly caused the engine to quickly spool down to idle. I'm a pretty knowledgable mechanic but I could not find an adjustment for this behavior. I took the car back to the dealer and eventually got the head mechanic to ride with me. He acknowledged the problem but said, "They're all like that." That's pure BS, of course... they are most definitely not all like that. My neighbor has a 2004 Subaru Baja Turbo that is as smooth as silk and a pleasure to drive.
I ended up keeping the car for four years and ultimately putting 20,000 miles on it, before giving up and selling it. I just couldn't stand the uneven and hard-to-drive operation of the engine. I noticed some of the same behavior in other Subarus, although my car had it the worst of any I've driven. I'm pretty sure this lack of throttle smoothness is why my 2003 Legacy was a leftover for months after the new models came out.
The uncomfortable engine operation was increasingly making me unhappy with this 2003 Subaru Legacy. It was simply impossible to drive it through my neighborhood without the car jerking back and forth, as I struggled to find a spot on the accelerator that would hold the car at a constant slow speed. Even on the highway using the cruise control, the car sometimes went into spasms as it tried in vain to hold the speed constant.
Then we had a nice soaking rainstorm and the moonroof leaked. This was a car that got little use and was well pampered by me. It spent most of its time in a garage and I never drove it in bad weather. (I have a couple other cars to drive in bad weather, notably the 1995 Subaru Legacy wagon.) Then the moonroof leaks while the car is parked in my driveway?
That was the last straw for me, and I sold the car to an independent used car business. They seemed excited to get such a clean and low-mileage car -- I was thrilled to be done with the 2003 Legacy.
My 2003 Subaru Legacy had a lot going for it but it was sunk by the most important component in the car: the engine. The engine just ran poorly and the dealer evaded dealing with the problem. The final insult was a leaking moonroof in a totally pampered car.
I'm sure there are 2003 Subaru Legacys out there that run well and have no problems but I can't recommend the car. Yes, it was comfortable and quite sporty for a four-door, but the engine often made driving a chore -- if not simply embarassing. If you are interested in buying a 2002-2007 Subaru, make sure it drives smoothly at around-the-neighborhood speeds. If it doesn't, fixing it might be impossible.
I do not recommend the 2003 Subaru Legacy.
This review is based on the 2004 model Legacy 2.0 I Sport tourer.
Firstly some explanation, I do not profess to be an expert on cars, I just listen well when my better half starts to talk about things. What I do know is how it feels to drive this car, and the difference to my usual car, the mighty Fiat Punto.
The car was £16, 985, offered at the moment with 3 years free servicing (quite a substantial chunk of dosh).
I think the number of old Subarus on the road speaks for itself, an ever growing customer base, and good customer loyalty would seem to suggest that these cars are as reliable as they come. As far as I am concerned we have not had any reliability issues with any previous Subarus and I would not expect any with this one. Im sure there are techy reviews of why this is a reliable car, but Im no techy!
I feel safe in this car, driving around the country lanes at speed I dont feel as if I am going to lose control, probably something to do with the permanent 4-wheel drive. The brakes are good, and all models come with ABS as standard. Inside, its a case of Airbags all round. Standard kit includes front and side airbags with curtain air bags on other models.
Sitting in this car, you appreciate how much space there actually is.
The driving position is very comfortable, and the windscreen is slanted so that it feels as if you have a panoramic view. There is loads of headroom and little cubbyholes for storing stuff! As a passenger I also find this car very spacious, with plenty of room for leg stretching, even with someone in the back seat.
Behind the driver there is adequate room for an adult to sit comfortably, again headroom is more than adequate, with at least 6 inches of air above my head
As expected in a Sport Tourer, the boot is large, I would say this boot is bigger than that in a Rover 75 estate, both in depth and length. The spare wheel (space saver) is stored under the floor, however there are also storage spaces above the wheel. Shopping bag hooks come in handy too!
Having driven or been a passenger in almost all of the Subaru Range, I can honestly say that this car is the comfiest of the lot. The driving position is divine, and you could easily clock up big miles without having the need for a stretch break. The front passenger position is similar to the driving, loads of legroom, in an almost laid back position.
The back is probably comparable to any other car, however the extra headroom will make this a more comfortable car for the taller people amongst us.
This is where this car explodes out of the pack, it flies around corners like its stuck to the road. At speed it is able to be thrown around with confidence (not by me though, by the more confident other half) and is much sportier than the Forester, I have been told that driving this car is more like driving the Impreza, although not quite so scary! Even on a wet road you dont lose any of the performance. I feel like I ought to mention the gearbox here, as it is possibly the smoothest gear box I have used, and as such this car drives smoothly, but accelerates quickly in lower gears if needed. Driving on a road that has subsided considerably, the car cruises easily, not jolting you out of the seat with each and every bump.
We have never had bad customer service from Oaken Garage, however if something does go wrong with one of these cars and parts have to be ordered, you may have to contend with a substantial wait as many parts are then ordered from Japan.
Comes with good alarm system: Thatcham Category 1 alarm/immobiliser
(again I dont personally know the techy bits but am reliably informed that it is!)
This car looks a bit like any other estate car, however I think it is stylish, and is not covered in badges and stuff. Understated might be the word!
All of the Legacy range comes with electric windows and CD player as standard. In addition you get climate control, electric mirrors, with the option of a twin sunroof, 6 CD changer sat nav. and all the trimmings. Of course the more money you pay the more stuff you can get, like any car, however the basic model is quite well furnished, better than comparable cars in its class.
Subaru are notorious in producing cars that guzzle petrol. This car however does on average 30 mpg urban mileage, and as much as 40 ish mpg extra urban. It prefers longer journeys in terms of fuel economy, but for a Subaru, the fuel economy is better than expected
This car is lush, I love it. As a young (ish) female it may be an odd choice, however I think that its as suitable for me as it is for people who have decided to opt out of company car schemes and want a good car for big business miles. I showed it my dad and he was as impressed as me. All in all I think that this car is one that should be tried before you form a judgment, dont take my word for it, try it yourself!