Subaru Legacy

Looking around the world, it is not easy to find another car maker producing better estate than Subaru. Volvo used to dominate this field, but not anymore. Just take a V70 versus the Legacy Estate, you'll find the "master" loses to the "student" no matter in terms of practicality or dynamic.  

Sure, Subaru intended to make Legacy the best estate in the world. Unlike other cars, it made its debut in the form of estate, half a year earlier than the mechanically identical (except body shell) sedan version, Legacy B4. If you thought this is just the problem of timing, you must look at the new multi-link rear suspensions - a space-saving design which reduce the intrusion into the cargo area - obviously was designed with the Estate in first priority. Given the superior practicality, given the trend of increasing popularity of estate (especially in Japan), no doubt the Legacy Estate could outsell the B4. 

In contrast to V70's luxurious manner, Legacy is rather to be bread and butter. The most popular model, 2.5GX, cost just 80% of the comparable Passat V6 Syncro, or 70% of the light pressure turbocharged V70 AWD. Although without their luxurious, beautifully trimmed cabin, the Legacy has a chassis to terrify both. Its body control is as good as sports car yet rides remarkably well. Steering feels meaty and crisp, an essential element to any great driver's car. Grip from the WRX-derived 4-wheel-drive is superior. Brakes are sharp and powerful. Manual gearbox shifts light and accurate, as is the clutch. 

For the automatic version, a stability control called VDC (Vehicle Dynamic Control) is offered, which apply individual brakes to cure understeer and oversteer. 

Performance from the 2.5GX is less outstanding, simply because the 2.5 litres, flat four cylinder engine lack of capacity as well as cylinders. Maximum power of 154hp is rather modest compare with BMW 323i's 170hp, let alone the benchmark of the class - 190hp Alfa 156 V6. Japanese version has variable valve timing added to the inlet valves, which improves the output to 167hp measuring by JIS standard. It's not likely to improve the performance from the overseas version (123mph, 0-60 takes 8.4sec) very much. In spite of the boxer configuration, the 4-cylinder does not rev as smooth as those 6-pots rivals once it revs above 4000rpm. 

To pursuit real performance, you have to ask for the range topping Legacy GT-B, also bounded in domestic market. Basically, the GT-B has the same 2-litres boxer engine as the previous generation, still installed with twin turbochargers operating sequentially to optimize responsiveness and ensure linear delivery of power. However, the turbochargers are new, incorporating so-called "Tilt flow" design to reduce the resistance to gas flow. According to those who've driven it, the result is even better low end response. Turbo lag nearly inexist. Maximum power remains unchanged at 280hp / 6500rpm, while torque increased by 4 lbft to 254 lbft at 5000rpm. Automatic version manages 260hp and 236 lbft.  

GT-B has the engine that the chassis deserves. In terms of performance, it is still no match for Audi S4 Avant, whose 295 lbft of torque easily overwhelm the Subaru's. However, Legacy's chassis, especially is the steering, has real talent to inspire its driver. Most important, its bargain price suggests it is not the direct competitor to the S4 Avant. 

As already mentioned, Legacy's cabin lack of hi-quality trimming. Not only seems basic, the plastic and switches also look cheap. Never mind, for a bread and butter car my concern is space and comfort. Thanks to the higher roof than the sedan version, there is an abundance of head room. Both front and rear has plenty of leg room, especially is the rear. Considering the modest wheelbase of 2650mm, space efficiency must be very outstanding. Finally, the new rear suspensions enable a flat and wide loading area. Few estate could carry more. 

The above report was last updated on 26 Feb 99. All Rights Reserved.

Legacy B4 RSK

Given the solid basis of the estate version Legacy GT-B / RS, undoubtedly the 4-door version B4 RSK could only be better. Sharing the same 280hp twin-turbo boxer four and the same 4-wheel-drive, the stiffer sedan body plus the tuning by Porsche raise our expectation to the highest level.  

Do you remember Weissach used to work as engineering consultant to many car makers ? The 315hp Audi RS2 is an example, Volvo's modular in-line engine series is another. However, even the famous Porsche cannot do miracle under a limited budget or a restricted basis, say, the S2 Avant which had been notorious about steering feel. What Weissach can do is to improve the body control via finding the best spring and damper set up, then added 4 big discs and maybe increase the turbo boost. However, for a basis as flawless as the Legacy, it seems that what Weissach can do is rather limited. 

The engine is unaltered because even Porsche itself can barely achieve the 140hp / litre already found in many high performance Subaru. Open the hood, Porsche might be surprised to find something familiar - a boxer engine with twin sequential turbochargers just like their mighty 959. So Porsche decided to do nothing. 

Although this engine has been existing since the previous generation Legacy, I have to point out once again the sequential operation of the twin-turbo contributes to a less urgent, smoother power delivery. Outright power doesn't feel as sensational as the single turbo, high boost Impreza WRX. In return, the power rises linearly from 2,000 rpm towards the 7,500 rpm red line, during which the high speed turbo starts a second life at 4,500 rpm. To those who've driven WRX or Lancer Evo, it is quite disappointing to find an additional turbo feels less punchy and less exciting. In return, better refinement, drivability, ease of drive, lower noise and fuel consumption are the benefit which seems to be more suitable to the larger Legacy. Especially is high speed cruising, where the twin-turbo engine becomes stronger and power fades later, a 7mph advantage is obtainable. 

The same character can be found in chassis response. Due to the softer suspension setting then the Impreza, ride comfort is vastly improved. Predictably, body rolls more in corner, steering becomes less sharp. Steering could be too light for Porsche's standard, obviously Porsche didn't touch it. Nevertheless, such unfavourable impression is just due to the reference to WRX, whose rawer, tougher nature is not supposed to be favoured by a market dominating by Volvo S70R, Audi S4 and Mitsubishi Galant / Legnum VR4. Among these cars, it seems that Legacy B4's chassis still tops the excitement chart. Not all cars in this group has a slick gearchange, fine balance, least understeer, good steering feel, progressive and strong brakes as the Subaru. 

So what did Porsche do ? Why not let the in-house STi division tune it ? Perhaps one day we'll see the STi badge appear beside the Legacy B4 logo. 

The above report was last updated on 18 July 99. All Rights Reserved.


Legacy 2.5GX
Legacy B4 RSK
Front-engined, 4wd
Front-engined, 4wd
L / W / H / WB: 
4680 / 1695 / 1515 / 2650 mm
L / W / H / WB:
4605 / 1695 / 1410 / 2650 mm
Flat-4, dohc, 4v/cyl.
Flat-4, dohc, 4v/cyl, twin-turbo.
2457 c.c.
1994 c.c.
154 hp
280 hp
164 lbft
253 lbft
F: strut / R: multi-link
F: strut / R: multi-link
1410 kg
1560 kg
Top speed
123 mph*
157 mph*
0-60 mph
8.3 sec*
5.9 sec*
0-100 mph
25.3 sec*
15.9 sec*
* Tested by Autocar

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