Having painted a rather odd and confusing picture with both my title and the pros and cons listed above, a brief preamble to the review is in order.
I am sure you all know how it is; you buy a car and suddenly every second car that you see on the road is like your new pride and joy. For me, during my last twenty eight years on the road it has always been thus, that was until making, what in hindsight now appears to be, the giant leap of motoring faith that is Subaru ownership.
Whilst the Impreza is a common enough sight, the Subaru Legacy, in any model shape, is extremely rare on UK roads. Our car, the Legacy Diesel Saloon, actually appears to be unique. It has now been with us since 26th September 2008 and has covered over 12,000 miles driving through no fewer than seven countries; in all of those miles we have not seen another single one! Can our pearlescent white diesel Legacy Saloon really be the only one of its kind in the whole of Europe?
Well, actually, no, I have recently made contact, via www.uklegacy.com, with at least two other drivers of similar cars, one here in England, the other in Southern Ireland.
Enjoy, as I do, having something rare that nobody else appears to have, it is a little unsettling that so very few others have chosen this same car, can my judgement really be that poor I wonder?
WHAT IS IT?
As in all probability you have never actually seen one of these cars, I will explain what it is. The Subaru Legacy Saloon is a four door, medium size, family saloon car that will comfortably seat five people. It could be compared in size to a previous model Ford Mondeo or Vauxhall Vectra or to any number of Japanese Saloons such as a Mazda 6, Toyota Avensis or Honda Accord......
......oh yes, the Honda Accord, the very car that I traded in against this one.
Unlike any of these cars however, the Legacy, like all genuine Subarus (I do not count the Justy as a proper Subaru) has permanent four wheel drive, the rest, BMW 3-Series and Mercedes C-Class accepted, have drive only to the front wheels - the German duo being rear wheel drive.
WILL IT FIT THE GARAGE?
Dimensionally it is 4.665 metres long (exactly the same as the last model Accord) and 1.73 metres wide. That last (width) dimension may not mean very much to you, but it is a vital bonus to Legacy ownership. Most modern cars, including the Accord, are 2 metres wide - or more. The Legacy although full-width inside, is an old fashionedly narrow car which, in crowded city streets, offers you a tremendous advantage - it also gives me more room to get in and out of it in the garage!
WHICH SPECIFIC MODEL?
When replacing my very fully equipped Honda Accord 2.2 i-CTDi I sought to match the specification as best I could on the Subaru. This meant choosing a mid-range Legacy with the new Boxer Diesel engine. There are three models only available, all are extremely well equipped, the base model carries the "R" designation and, currently, has a list price of £20,075, my model is the RE at £22,030, whilst the range topping REn is £23,400.
The R model coming equipped with xenon headlights, front fog lights, metallic paint, alloy wheels, heated front seats, trip computer and a six disc CD audio system, is something of a bargain. My RE adds electrically adjustable (with two position memory) drivers' seat, full leather upholstery, and an electric sun roof. The REn has a state of the art integrated trip computer / DVD and satellite navigation screen.
All diesel Legacy models share the same 150bhp engine and five speed manual gearbox. No automatic model is available, the three model designations merely denoting trim level rather than any variation in mechanical specification.
If you like the look of this car, but cannot bear the idea of driving a diesel, Subaru also offer 2.0 four cylinder and 3.0 six cylinder versions - both share the unusual flat or Boxer cylinder configuration. In order to explain this unusual engine layout to you, unfortunately I will have to go into a few technical mechanical details, if that side of things bores you, please feel free to skip this section and move onto the next.
Conventional engines have their cylinders cast upright and in line - or in a "V" (or "W") configuration. Whilst this produces a compact engine it is also tall and places the mass high up in the car, putting the overall centre of gravity higher than is ideal.
A Boxer engine has its cylinders mounted on their sides, i.e. parallel to the road, and on opposite sides of the engine block. This not only places the weight very low in the car, but also offers advantages in terms of smoothness; in operation the opposing pistons cancel out each others vibrations.
Usually diesel engines need to be bigger and stronger than petrol ones, often cast in iron rather than aluminium too, thus adding to the weight. In the case of Subaru's aluminium Boxer Diesel, the engine is both more compact and lighter than their own equivalent 2.0 litre petrol unit.
WHY DID I BUY THIS CAR?
Confession time here, in purely emotive terms, for more years than I care to remember, I have fancied running a Subaru Legacy, in all forms I have found it a very desirable car. For many years I have been attending road test days and driving these cars, on every occasion coming away thinking how "right" they feel and what "nice" cars they are to drive.
Why then has it taken so long? Truth be told, had I been single and still buying my own cars privately, I would have, some time ago, probably been driving a six cylinder petrol version of this same car. In the real world though I have other sizeable commitments, am married and have a company car. The 3.0 litre Legacy is a very expensive car to run, not only having a high CO2 level, on which company car tax is based, but also it drinks a lot of fuel - twice as much indeed as the diesel!
Until Subaru came up with a diesel engine, even their smaller engined Legacy models were not a viable option financially. In early 2007 I read that Subaru had spent eight years developing a four cylinder 2.0 litre flat four (A.K.A. Boxer) diesel engine and were going to launch it in the Legacy range early in 2008.
Whilst strictly speaking my Honda was already overdue for replacement, there was nothing on the market that really appealed sufficiently for me not to wait for the Legacy......
......and wait for this car we did!
The order for it was placed on 21st April and we finally took delivery on 26th September! If you chose to order one now the delivery time, from the factory, should not exceed six to eight weeks.
Overall this is not going to be a cheap car to run, but then neither, in this day and age, are any of its rather more obvious competitors.
My assessment in this section is going to be largely comparative to my previous car - the diesel Accord, which is very much in the same market place as the Legacy Saloon. In turn over four and a half years and 96,000 miles, the Honda itself proved to have above averagely high running costs compared to other cars - particularly the two diesel Saab 9-3's which we have on our company fleet.
For company car drivers the 148 CO2 figure will be significant as currently that will leave you paying 20% Benefit in Kind tax on this car, a very good result indeed for a 150bhp, four wheel drive family saloon.
When Subarus land on UK soil, I.M. (the importer) fit a Thatcham Category 1 alarm to them. Not only does this give you some peace of mind that you will find the car where you left it but, financially, it also puts it into a competitive 13E (or 26 on the 50 group system) insurance group. However you will find yourself cursing the operation of that alarm for several months after collecting your new Subaru!
This helps it on the way to an overall cost per mile figure of £0.545 which, whilst not exactly low, is class competitive. As yet, unfortunately, it is too early to calculate my own cost figure to see how that compares, so, for the time being at least, we will just have to take "What Car" magazines' calculations as gospel in this case.
PURCHASE COST 10 / 10
Here in the UK at least, the Legacy, in any trim variant is a motoring bargain. My £22,000 RE model is probably the optimum model in the range, although I would not blame anyone for saving £2000 and forgoing the leather interior and sun roof.
In the Eurozone this is a much more expensive car, around 32,000 euros in either Southern Ireland or Poland for instance.
In fact you really do not need to spend that amount on a new one of these, I actually tracked down a choice of colours through an internet broker for £19,000 on the road - this car is an absolute steal at that price.
A replacement Accord for my last one would have been just under £25,000, an Audi A4 or BMW 320d with this equipment level would have been in the region of £28,000 - add another £2000 or so for four wheel drive on the Audi, not available at any price on the BMW.
Hopefully, without me going into any greater detail, the above will have explained my 10 / 10 rating in this section......
THE OPTIONS GAME: 10 / 10 or "How much do I need to spend to make it habitable?"
......and indeed in this one too! This is an unusual car in that, refreshingly, there is no factory options list at all.
The Legacy comes as standard with just about every piece of equipment included in the price that you can think of, even metallic paint, charged at around £500 by most, is included. The latest models even include the auxiliary socket for an iPod or MP3 player - we paid the dealer £128 to fit it on ours.
Apart from that, the only additions that I required were dealer fit "maps and flaps", and those were actually quite reasonably priced at £132.
DEPRECIATION 6 / 10 - Always the biggest running cost.
There are two opposing ways of looking at this one. With such a rare car it should hold its value well, finding a second hand one will be a near impossibility. On the other hand, maybe nobody will actually desire such a rare car on the second hand market, which will make this a very difficult car to sell on.
I am going to err on the pessimistic side here, the much more popular Tourer (Estate) and Outback models will re-sell fairly easily and at a good price, the saloon is not a popular car, even with the dealers, and is likely to be under-valued as a result.
As I intend to keep this car for four years and 100,000 miles, personally, depreciation is not my main concern.
FUEL ECONOMY 8 / 10
The best that I have achieved in terms of fuel consumption is 45.8mpg, the worst 29.6mpg, that for a 134 mile flat out run on a deserted German autobahn between 9.00 and 10.10am on a Sunday morning.
Do not believe the manufacturers' fuel economy claims for ANY diesel powered car. I learned this from my last one - the Accord, which consumed over 20% more fuel than Honda claimed. The Subaru again reflects this 20% margin, so far I have achieved 39.22mpg over just over 12,000 miles, that against a Subaru claimed 50.7mpg on the combined cycle. The Subaru trip computer is also a good 10% optimistic incidentally.
For a car of this size and performance that is not bad - but far from outstanding, and actually a good 4mpg less than I was expecting to average. Other owners experience with Diesel Legacies indicate that this car will become more economical after 15,000 miles - we will see and I will update this review.
SERVICE & MAINTENANCE COSTS 6 / 10: are you going to make the dealer rich?
Well, right now, I feel as though I just did!
The 12,000 mile service, carried out at my dealer, Bell & Colvill near Guildford, Surrey, came to £244.04. For a simple oil-change service, that is steep by any standards - when I also see on the invoice that a 10% discount has been given (that is for returning to the supplying dealer) insult is added to injury!
In actual fact, at the time when handing over my credit card in payment, I already thought this a mighty expensive service, the following week I learned from a new friend on www.uklegacy.com that in the West Midlands this service costs £150, in the Thames Valley £185.
It looks as though the further you live away from the Home Counties the less a Diesel Legacy is going to cost you to run. £150 is good value - £185 what I would have paid Honda Chiswick for a similar service on the Accord. Before the more comprehensive 24,000 mile service I will be ringing around alternative dealers for quotations.
Let the "fun" begin! You want to know what this car is like to live with and to drive and be driven in.......
STYLING 9 /10: A very subjective category here.
I think that this is a very handsome car indeed, so too do many complete strangers who have actually commented on what a "great looking car" it is. I have had more conversations with passers by about this particular car in the last five months than I have about all of my previous fifteen cars over the last twenty-eight years!
It is not avant-garde in styling in the way, for example, of a Seat or Citroen, much more traditional, how a BMW might now look had Chris Bangle not gone to work with his "flame surface styling" regime actually.
The Diesel is undoubtedly the best looking Legacy, that power bulge and air intake in the bonnet give it a sense of purpose missing even in the much more powerful 3.0 petrol model. Mine also arrived with gunmetal grey alloy wheels, which set off the pearlescent white paintwork superbly, as does the unusual dark chrome radiator grille.
At the rear Subaru have endowed the Legacy with twin exhaust pipes - one each side, do not look too closely though, the chrome trims are "dummy" outlets disguising the much smaller and conventionally turned down diesel pipes.
OVERALL BUILD QUALITY AND FINISH 10 / 10 Does it look as though it was slung together?
Quite the contrary.
The first time that I washed this car I was actually blown away by the sheer attention to detail that had been paid in its design and construction. The designers at Subaru are clearly experienced in creating cars that last. Due to the lack of water traps, the well fitting frameless door glass and the absence of "stuck on" chrome trim this car is a joy to wash.
Inevitably a lack of water traps means a lack of rust prone areas too. Parts of the bodywork that on most cars are steel, on the Legacy are aluminium - the bonnet and boot lid primarily. Other parts such as the sills under the doors and the leading edge of the rear wheel-arches are plastic, again, less prone to stone chipping and totally immune to rust. The wheel arches themselves all have plastic liners, the rear bumper and front wings are both pre-drilled (before painting) for the mounting of mud-flaps should you so choose, one of several of those 'why don't they all do that?' features on this car.
Maybe more impressive even than the quality of the materials used and design is the way that it has all been assembled. Over the years I have owned many cars, not one have I found as fault free as this one externally. This is the first car on which the paint finish is entirely floorless for example.
SAFETY 9 /10 If it comes to the worst, how well are you and your family going to come out of it.
Because the Legacy is such a low volume seller here in Europe it has not been subjected to the standard NCAP safety tests that its competitors have. However, on the American market this is a very popular choice, in US tests it is classified as the safest car on the road.
When you start driving a Legacy, at all speeds and in all weather conditions, that last paragraph will come as no surprise at all. Even after driving an Omega well over 100,000 miles, followed by 96,000 in the Accord, this car has a noticeably greater safety margin built into it - both passively and dynamically.
From the driver's point of view, so safe is its' handling that I dread to think how you would have to abuse it in order to crash in the first place. Assuming that an accident is unavoidable, although the Legacy would give you every chance of avoidance thanks to its incredibly strong brakes, responsive acceleration and fantastic grip, then the bodyshell itself is also massively strong.
You are surrounded by every currently available air bag and along with active head restraints and seat belt pre-tensioners are likely to come out of an accident unscathed which many cars would place you in hospital from.
As far as I, the driver, am concerned, in day to day motoring, this simply feels to me like the safest car in which I have ever driven - and by some considerable margin.
ERGONOMICS 8 / 10 Before I can start the engine and drive away I need to feel at home in the "working environment". The relationship between the controls and how I, the driver, am able to instinctively operate those controls is, all important. This for me is make or break, before I drive a car, if it does not instinctively "feel" right in this department then I will never like it or ultimately buy it.
In a sense that no modern Honda has ever done, this car simply feels "right" from the moment that you sit behind the wheel. With the Accord after over four years I still found myself fiddling with the seat controls attempting to find the perfect driving position.
However, the Honda and Omega before it had superb seats and this was our main fear with the Legacy, that it would not provide eighteen hour comfort on this score. Fortunately we were wrong; the front seats at least have proven excellent in all-day use. Nobody has tried out the rear seat for more than five hours, although there were no complaints!
Finding the perfect driving position is childs-play. Once you have very quickly done so there is even a two position memory so that you and your partner can swap seats and be away in an instant.
It is not just the seat position either. This car has all the primary controls (steering wheel, gear-lever, hand brake and pedals) exactly in the right place. The instruments have a superbly clear no-nonsense clarity to them too in all light conditions. Indicator and wiper stalks are simple and intuitive to use too.
Whilst, being an engineer, I am appreciative of the, slightly, above average effort required to operate the clutch and gear box, some may find this car a little heavy to drive compared to many, particularly, Japanese saloons. Being very sexist about it, twenty five years ago, we might have described this as a "mans car"...
......well at the end of the day I do fit that particular bill!
VISIBILITY: 9 / 10
Nobody however is going to criticise the fabulous view from this car, which once you get used to its narrowness, makes it an absolute cinch to park.
The frameless doors, combined with slender and cleverly raked door and windscreen pillars mean that this car has the best all round visibility of any modern car. It further builds on these attributes by providing large door mirrors and an equally useful rear view mirror.
One feature that I really like on this car is that both door mirrors fold in electrically at the touch of a button, useful when parking on the road or in a narrow multi-storey parking bay.
The door mirrors also carry the repeater flashers for the indicators, the most visible place allowing them to be seen from any angle.
SPACE: 9 / 10:
The interior, against all expectations, is a regular "tardis". This car is the same length as the Accord, but usefully narrower. Inside it really is noticeably more spacious. A good extra couple of inches of rear legroom make it equally as roomy as the much larger Omega. Sitting three abreast, my in-laws also passed comment that they had more space across the rear seat.
All of this is contrary to what one would expect in a four wheel drive car, theoretically all the extra hardware taking drive to the rear wheels should rob the interior of space.
OK it will have a tiny boot then won't it?
Amazingly, no. It is a less deep cargo space than some, but underneath the false floor, sitting on top of the space saver spare wheel, is a fantastically useful oddments tray. When I came to load it with all of our Christmas luggage I was simply amazed by how commodious it was - thanks entirely to its almost completely regular, square shape. The Honda lost a lot of space to wheel-arch intrusion and awkward angles of structural bracing. The Subaru designers have avoided this by welding in a solid bulkhead behind the seats - the central armrest conceals a load through flap for lengths of timber, golf clubs and the like.
STYLE 9 / 10:
I am a fan of interior car design, after all this is where I spend the most of my motoring life, not looking at it from the outside. In choosing the ivory leather interior, we have a two tone black and ivory (more a pale beige really) interior which looks very smart, expensive and spacious.
The dashboard is designed around the driver, which makes this feel even more of a keen drivers' car. It is styled, like the exterior, in a restrained and yet classic way. In my opinion it is simply an attractive place in which to spend many hours at the wheel.
A small detail, but I particularly like the interior door panels with their stylish handles and arm rests, the electric windows and central locking switches are beautifully integrated into the drivers' door too.
MATERIALS, FIT & FINISH 9 / 10: Aspreys or Ratners?
Everything that your hands fall upon shouts "quality" inside the Legacy. Not only is it all obviously very well screwed together, the fit and finish being of an extraordinarily high quality, the materials used are good too.
Steering wheel, gear lever and hand brake are all wrapped in black leather; the plastics on the column stalks and minor switchgear all have a superior tactile feel to them too.
The leather seats which, whilst not being the finest Connelly hide, are more classy than average as they are perforated. The front ones also have very good four stage heaters too.
AUDIO & CLIMATE CONTROL SYSTEMS 7 / 10: Strange grouping?
Whilst both the audio and climate controls look very good and work with a wonderfully well oiled precision, they are badly let down by the three displays in the central console. Very good that there are three displays, the climate and radio are not all mixed up as in the Honda, the trouble here is that the very glossy plastic finish on the screens reflects dreadfully, making them almost impossible to read in daylight from the drivers' seat.
We have no complaints about the quality of the stereo in the Legacy, the radio holds on well to a signal via the rear window aerial, whilst the in-dash six CD changer works well and unobtrusively. Our iPod, fed through the aux input jack socket, sounded absolutely feeble until I fed it through a Belkin car audio kit, which has an in-line amplifier - used thus it matches the volume and (almost!) audio clarity of the CD player.
The climate control system is a complex one with variable temperature setting left and right, these are the best that I have experienced, the driver can toast whilst the passenger freezes, should that be their desire! Compared to the Honda "Auto" setting which should take care of everything automatically, we find that the Subaru system requires far more on-journey adjustments, especially in cold weather when the windscreen has a tendency to mist up.
ON THE ROAD........
......Time to start it up and to offer you a driving assessment.
NOISE, VIBRATION & HARSHNESS 8 / 10 Silk purse or sow's ear?
Starting it from cold there is no hiding the fact that this car consumes diesel fuel. It is not noisy, or rough, just an averagely refined diesel. Drive away and you will, even on a stone cold engine, be amazed at how smooth this engine is.
Five miles up the road and the Legacy has transformed into a different car! Once the engine has fully warmed through, which as with other diesels takes a surprisingly long time; this is one of the smoothest, quietest diesels that I have driven. To say that it is the equal of a six cylinder BMW diesel engine is quite some compliment.
Complimenting this highly refined engine is a lack of wind noise, the frameless doors being extraordinarily well sealed. My only criticism here is that Subaru, for several reasons, appear to have specified the wrong tyres (Bridgestone Potenza RE05) - which on UK road surfaces create an unreasonable amount of road noise. On much smoother European motorways the Legacy is much quieter in this respect.
I have to mention a minor "foible" here in this section. That is that during the initial running in stage, the first 12,000 miles in fact, this engine actually intermittently displays some rather unusual lumpy running characteristics. This is perfectly normal - they really all do behave like this, the 12,000 mile service and a requested ECU (that is the engine's electronic brain) re-set have worked wonders on this car which is now creamy smooth at all engine speeds.
Not strictly noise, vibration or harshness, but I should mention one slightly undesirable aspect of Boxer Diesel ownership here. Upon accelerating after any prolonged period of idling or gentle driving, this and all other diesel powered Legacys will emit a huge cloud of white smoke from the twin exhaust pipes. I joke about the James Bond disguise, my wife though cringes every time that it happens.
Using BP Ultimate Diesel over the last 1000 miles has banished the smoke.
PERFORMANCE 10 / 10 Sh*t off a shovel or a constipated tortoise?
You do not buy a diesel car with speed as your main priority. However, the Boxer Diesel Legacy is an un-dramatically fast car. I have driven very many petrol and diesel engine cars over the years and usually have a good "feel" for the amount of performance produced from a given power output - in this case that being 150bhp. When I say that the Legacy is faster in real terms than a 170bhp V6 Vectra, then I start to doubt that this engine produces a "mere" 150bhp.
Top speed is an academic, but rock steady 129mph, the speedometer on ours actually reads 143mph at this speed, but it is not really the top speed that counts. Where this car and engine major is in effortless get up and go in any gear and at any engine speed above 1800rpm. There are times, on English motorways particularly, when even in top (fifth) gear, this car picks up speed TOO quickly and you find yourself having to brake, as you catch up the car in front more quickly than anticipated, rather than simply easing off the accelerator as in most other cars.
Once you become fully acclimatised to driving the Boxer Diesel Legacy you will find that it has all the effortless performance that you could reasonably require in any car.
RIDE & HANDLING 9 / 10
Initially, after the rather more firmly riding Honda, I was less keen on the Subaru's flowing ride quality. Any passenger, including my wife, who has been in it has been full of praise for how comfortably it rides. After over 12,000 miles I have now become accustomed to it and find other cars harsh by comparison. Unlike many other cars, the ride is totally unaffected by heavy luggage or having three passengers in the rear - an added benefit of the four wheel drive system.
Which naturally leads on to the handling aspect. This is a car in which you need time and miles to build confidence at the wheel. At all speeds it has an unshakable stability to it, quite lacking in most other cars. However, if you do not drive it properly, slow in, fast out of a bend, it can develop surprising roll angles. Initially we had thoughts about changing the shock absorbers in order to reduce this, but again having become used to it this no longer bothers us at all.
Four wheel drive allows you a considerable extra safety margin, it cannot however work miracles. Effectively a wet road feels like a dry one, on snow and ice you can carry on driving when those around you have slithered to a halt, but ultimately you cannot defy the laws of gravity and when the Legacy slides, it does so suddenly and dramatically. My only experience of this has been on snow bound Polish main roads - driving on summer tyres the tread rapidly fills with snow, completely negating the advantage of four wheel drive. I am for several reasons looking forward to swapping the Bridgestone tyres for a set of all-season Michelin ones.
CONCLUSION - Would I buy one myself and would we want to drive it to Poland in a day?
The acid test is: 'would I put my own money into one of these cars, rather than merely choosing it as a company car?' The unequivocal answer to that has to be yes, but I would actually look for an ex-demonstrator - there are some to choose from on the Subaru website, this would save around £4000 on the already attractive new price.
It is hard to put in words here just how happy I am to have discovered a car that, in daily use, so greatly exceeds both my expectations of it, and indeed, my own capabilities as a driver.
We have already driven to Switzerland and to Poland in the Legacy on two separate journeys and found it absolutely superb transport in both cases. Show it some slippery, twisty mountain roads and it comes into its element - just as it does cruising perfectly comfortably flat out on the autobahn.
FINAL SCORE: 146 / 170
In some senses I have a feeling of guilt here, more than in any other car that I have run, the Subaru Legacy Boxer Diesel really is letting me have my cake and eat it!
This is one superb car, and at the end of this review I am still, quite simply, at a loss to understand why so few of them are sold.
Putting that score into perspective are the following cars based on identical scoring criteria:
SUBARU LEGACY 2.0D RE SALOON - 85.8%
ALFA ROMEO 147 1.9JTD Lusso (5 Dr) - 67.8%
FIAT PUNTO GRANDE SPORTING 130 Mjet - 75.9%
FORD KUGA 2.0 TDCi TITANIUM - 64.7%
HONDA ACCORD i-DECT EX GT (2008 Model) Saloon - 69.4%
HONDA ACCORD i-CTDi Saloon - 80.0%
HONDA CIVIC 1.8i VTEC SE - 78.2%
HONDA CIVIC 1.8i VTEC S i-SHIFT - 68.8%
HONDA CIVIC IMA SE - 73.5%
HONDA JAZZ 1.4 SE CVT-7 (Automatic) - 74.7%
SUBARU OUTBACK 2.0D RE - 85.3%
SAAB 9-3 TiD Vector - 68.2%
SAAB 9-3 TiD Linear CONVERTIBLE (2007 Mondel) - 74.1%
VAUXHALL ASTRA TWINTOP 1.9 CDTi DESIGN - 78.8%
VAUXHALL VXR8 - 84.1 %
VAUXHALL MONARO VXR - 71.1%
VW PASSAT TDi 140 S ESTATE - 71.7%
VOLVO S60 D5 SE - 70.6%
Richada © March 2009.