Until the WRX arrived in 2002, Subaru was known for its near bulletproof reliability and was building a reputation for safety, but fun wasn’t on the North American menu. However, once this rally-ready road rocket landed in the U.S., a new generation of buyers, weaned on Sony PlayStation racing games featuring Subarus from around the globe, flooded into showrooms. The WRX has been a big hit and tremendous image builder for Subaru, good for plenty of free advertising from the enthusiast community, but now the question is: Where does the WRX buyer go when maturity and the demands of the real world shift preferences?
For 2005, Subaru provides an answer in the Legacy 2.5 GT sedan and station wagon, equipped with a turbocharged engine that provides the same rush of power as the WRX coupled with more interior space, added luxury amenities, and a softer ride quality. We spent a week driving a $30,000 Obsidian Black 2005 Subaru Legacy 2.5 GT Limited, a worthy replacement for WRX owners when they’ve grown up, bought a black suit, and qualified for a mortgage. However, this capable but cramped sport sedan is possessed of a raw yet refined split personality that, while entertaining, frequently works against it in its quest to serve as an entry-luxury alternative to models from Audi, BMW, Infiniti, and others.
With sedan and station wagon body styles equipped with either a manual or automatic transmission and sold in standard or Limited trim levels, there’s a 2005 Subaru Legacy 2.5 GT for just about anyone. Key differentiators for the GT model are a more powerful turbocharged engine, bigger 17-inch wheels and tires, an upgraded braking system, quicker steering, sport bucket seats, and a Momo leather-wrapped three-spoke steering wheel.
Standard equipment includes several items that make the Legacy 2.5 GT a terrific all-weather car, such as flat-woven cloth upholstery, heated front seats, heated side mirrors, a windshield wiper de-icer grid (and on wagons a rear wiper de-icer), floor mats, and a trip computer with an exterior temperature display. Convenience features include dual-zone automatic climate control, a 120-watt stereo with a six-disc in-dash CD changer; cruise control; a tilt steering wheel; a manual driver’s seat height adjuster; power locks, mirrors, and windows with a driver’s side auto-down feature; remote keyless entry; and an engine immobilizer security system.
Paying extra for Limited trim rewards you with perforated leather upholstery, an eight-way power driver’s seat, a four-way power front passenger’s seat with manual lumbar, and a power moonroof. On the station wagon, the moonroof includes dual panes of glass with a tilt-up front section and retractable rear section.
Every 2005 Subaru Legacy 2.5 GT comes with a slew of safety equipment. Dual-stage front airbags, front side-impact airbags, and side curtain airbags are standard equipment. The Legacy 2.5 GT also gets active front head restraints, a safety brake pedal system that reduces lower leg injuries, and three-point seatbelts for all passengers. As with any Subaru, all-wheel-drive is standard, and there’s a four-wheel, vented-disc antilock braking system with electronic brake-force distribution. Safety items that are missing from the Legacy 2.5 GT include stability control and brake assist, items that are becoming increasingly common at the $30,000 threshold.
Nuts and Bolts
Essentially the same engine as found in the racy WRX but tuned differently for use in the Legacy, the 2.5 GT’s 2.5-liter turbocharged and intercooled boxer engine features variable valve timing and as much as 13.5 psi of boost. It makes 250 horsepower at 5,600 rpm and 250 lb.-ft. of torque at 3,600 rpm, running on premium fuel and fed by a functional hood scoop that draws cool air into the intercooler. The EPA says you can expect to get 19 mpg in the city and 25 mpg on the highway regardless of which model or transmission you choose. We got an average of 20 miles per gallon during our testing.
A strengthened five-speed manual transmission with a dual-mass flywheel is standard and a five-speed automatic transmission with Sportshift manual control is optional. Sportshift allows the driver to change gears via the gear selector or buttons on the steering wheel. Choose the automatic and you’ll get a lateral-g sensor and cornering logic software designed to hold a gear for better performance during spirited driving.
Either transmission sends power to all four wheels through one of two Subaru symmetrical AWD systems. Models with a manual transmission are equipped with a viscous-coupling locking center differential that distributes power in an equal 50/50 front and rear split. The system variably distributes power to the front or rear as needed. With the automatic, a Variable Torque Distribution (VTD) system employs a planetary center differential and an electronically controlled continuously variable hydraulic transfer clutch. Under normal conditions, more engine power goes to the rear wheels for handling agility, but power can move forward when the rears slip.
Underpinnings include a MacPherson strut front suspension and a multi-link rear equipped with stabilizer bars. The brake rotors are larger than a standard Legacy, and the rear discs are vented for improved cooling. The 2.5 GT’s engine-speed sensing power rack-and-pinion steering also gets a quicker ratio for improved off-center response. Upsized 17-inch alloy wheels wear P215/45 Bridgestone Potenza RE92 mud-and-snow all-season tires.
Employing a new version of Subaru’s ring-shaped reinforcement safety frame design, engineers increased the use of aluminum and high-strength hydroformed steel to craft a stiffer Legacy architecture for 2005. Furthermore, by employing aluminum in the hood, the front bumper beams, and the wagon’s tailgate, Subaru says more mass is concentrated near the Legacy 2.5 GT’s center of gravity for enhanced handling response.
Outside, the Subaru Legacy 2.5 GT receives a wheelbase stretch of .8-inch over the previous-generation model, and length is bumped almost two inches. Though we think there’s too much front overhang, the Legacy boasts a handsome look not yet marred by the new wings-and-fuselage corporate Subaru schnozz. The 2.5 GT’s dual exhaust outlets are sexy, the kink in the rear roof pillar recalls that of a BMW, and the handsome 17-inch wheels sit flush with the body so that the car doesn’t look under-tired. The hood scoop is functional, feeding fresh air to the intercooler, and the rear glass is recessed in “sail panels” for a distinctive look and better aerodynamics.
Inside, Subaru has crafted a driver-centric cabin with improved materials for an upscale ambience. We see lots of Germanic influence in the Legacy, with vent designs that could have been lifted right out of a previous-generation 3 Series, sturdy angled door grips, and four-stage seat heater dials that recall Audi or Volkswagen. The Subaru Legacy 2.5 GT is equipped with better-bolstered sport seats, electroluminescent gauges, aluminum side sills, and titanium metallic plastic trim – but oddly there’s no turbo boost gauge. Though the dash trim doesn’t even try to convince you that it’s real metal, most interior bits and pieces provide an appropriate upscale look thanks to the mesh cloth headliner and pillar trim, luxurious leather, and matte-finish plastics. Build quality also impressed us, inside and out.
While the Subaru Legacy 2.5 GT looks good, in many ways its beauty is only skin deep. When it comes to using the Legacy as a daily driver, there are several sources of frustration that would lead us to recommend a thorough examination of the competition. For example, designers goofed by choosing to install a circular rocker button to control AM/FM/CD mode rather than a tuning knob to the right of the stereo display. You might think this is a minor issue, but over time it grows into a major irritant, especially when dashboard real estate and design themes dictate that a tuning knob is not only possible, but logical. Here’s another frequent source of aggravation. White control markings on a titanium background are hard to read and the white displays for the stereo and climate control wash out easily on bright days. The basic designs of the stereo and climate controls are sound, but the details are poorly executed making them harder to use than they should be. And shouldn’t a $30,000 sedan offer auto-down operation for more than just the driver’s window? Don’t get us started on the glacial pace at which the power windows lower and raise.
Comfort and Utility
Comfort is another area of contention when it comes to the redesigned 2005 Subaru Legacy 2.5 GT. The seats themselves are excellent, with terrific support. But in front, more seat track travel is needed to accommodate drivers over six-feet tall. Our test driver felt crammed into the Legacy, which was also difficult to get into and out of due to the restricted amount of space. Plus, the leather on the Momo sport steering wheel isn’t soft, and there are lots of seams that make it uncomfortable to hold. The Legacy’s soft padded upper door panels are nice, but in tighter turns the driver’s left leg uncomfortably braces against the pod containing the power window and door buttons.
Matters get worse in the small rear seat. The rear door opening is small and shaped in such a way that larger adults need to contort themselves to keep from scraping their backs on the intrusive rear roof pillars. Once you get inside, only your toes will fit under the front seat, and if you wear longer than a 32-inch inseam your knees will be in full contact with the hard front seatbacks. Our editor summed it up this way: “I’d be pretty ticked off if I got stuck in the back seat of a Legacy for more than about 15 minutes.”
Utility, always a Legacy strong point, is retained in the redesigned 2005 wagon with the exception of a complete lack of rear seat storage areas. The sedan, unlike many competitors, lacks a folding rear seat, much less a folding front passenger’s seat. Up front, there’s a two-tiered glovebox, visor straps, and decently-sized door bins. However, the center console bin is small, sized for little more than CD jewel cases and equipped with a 12-volt outlet.
Wagons feature a slick one-stage 60/40 split folding rear seat that creates a flat load floor without lifting the rear seat cushion. Luggage compartments in both models have grocery bag hooks, and the wagons get a cargo light and quarter storage pockets. Both body styles feature a low liftover height, making it easier to stuff 11.4 cubic feet of cargo into the sedan and up to 66.2 cubes in wagons (61.7 on the Limited due to the power sunroof). Note, however, that the sedan’s trunk lid lacks a handle to use for closing without getting your hands dirty.
Our fully-loaded 2005 Subaru Legacy 2.5 GT Limited came with the Sportshift automatic transmission and VTD AWD system. We wish we’d tried the stick-shift and its viscous-coupling locking center differential, because with our test car’s powertrain combination we discovered significant turbo lag and an engine that doesn’t feel like it’s making 250 horses.
Power is decent, just not impressive, though you’ve gotta watch throttle application because when turbo does get spooled up its delivery can be abrupt. In normal mode the transmission short shifts and is slow to downshift for more power. Sport mode is helpful for holding revs longer and downshifting quicker. Manual shifting the Sportshift transmission is best for performance driving, and the lever works intuitively by pushing up for upshifts and pulling down for downshifts. Shift buttons on the front of the steering wheel spokes are mostly useless and hard to find when shuffle steering on a twisty road.
Slowing is sometimes as hard as going. Though the Legacy 2.5 GT’s brakes are upsized and vented all around for improved cooling, the ones on our test car began to shudder after repeated hard use and exhibited a disconcerting tendency to fade during mid-pedal applications. Pedal feel and modulation were fine, but continuous and steady application resulted in an odd fading feel.
Handling is hampered, too. With Sportshift, throttle application when powering out of turns can result in unpredictable bursts of turbo power that suddenly push the Legacy wide until the driver dials in more steering to counteract the effect. Then, if you lift off the gas, the Legacy abruptly tucks its nose in. The result is a car that can be hard to balance, and while this unpredictable nature at the limits is fun and challenging, it is unlikely to be appreciated by the Legacy 2.5 GT’s intended audience, which will probably want a stability control system given the quirky handling character.
Furthermore, the Legacy 2.5 GT’s 215/45 tires stick decently but their narrow footprints and all-season nature produce lower limits than might be expected. Good thing the Legacy 2.5 GT’s steering offers direct, linear response with good heft and feel, making it easy to place the car upon entry to turns and fine-tune the input during cornering. But the Momo steering wheel is not much fun to hold, thanks to multiple seams on the wheel rim.
Softly tuned for a smooth ride quality, the Legacy 2.5 GT’s suspension allows too much body roll and does a poor job of managing weight transition at the limits– especially during abrupt maneuvers. However, the payoff is a supple ride quality that, in our opinion, provides a better mix of road feel, controlled body motion, and soft ride quality than a BMW 3 Series.
Visibility is also a big bonus. With thin roof pillars, zero rear headrest obstruction, and large heated sideview mirrors, the Legacy 2.5 GT provides a terrific view out.
Test Vehicle: 2005 Subaru Legacy 2.5 GT Limited Sedan
Price of Test Vehicle: $30,370 (including a $575 destination charge)
Engine Size and Type: 2.5-liter turbocharged and intercooled horizontally-opposed
Engine Horsepower: 250 at 6,000 rpm
Engine Torque: 250 lb.-ft. at 3,600 rpm
Transmission: Five-speed automatic with Sportshift control
Curb weight: 3,435 lbs.
EPA Fuel Economy (city/highway): 19/25 mpg
Observed Fuel Economy: 20 mpg
Length: 186.2 inches
Width: 68.1 inches
Wheelbase: 105.1 inches
Height: 56.1 inches
Leg room (front/rear): 44.1/33.9 inches
Head room (front/rear): 37.5/36.5 inches
Max. Seating Capacity: 5
Max. Cargo Volume: 11.4 cubic feet
Competitors: Acura TSX, Audi A4 2.0T, BMW 325i, BMW X3 2.5i, Buick LaCrosse, Chrysler 300, Chrysler Pacifica, Dodge Magnum, Ford Freestyle, Honda Accord, Lexus IS 300, Mazda 6, Mitsubishi Galant, Nissan Altima, Nissan Maxima, Nissan Murano, Pontiac G6, Pontiac Grand Prix, Saab 9-3, Saturn VUE Red Line, Toyota Camry, Toyota Highlander, Volkswagen Passat, Volvo S40, Volvo V50
Blackett – 2nd Opinion
I didn’t drive this car. But after reading Wardlaw’s story, I don’t get it. He seems to take issue with the Sub’s details – if I’m correct, mainly some controls, issues with power windows, and interior space. But, the base price of this GT Limited AWD sedan, with 250 hp, is roughly $1,000 – $2,000 less than a 2005 BMW 325xi with only 184 hp (the regular Legacy GT is almost $5K less than the BMW) or a 2005.5 Audi A4 2.0T quattro with 200 hp.
Looking at the stats, the Subaru has a much better power/weight ratio, apparently rides better than a BMW, has the same cargo capacity as the BMW sedan, has more rear shoulder room than the Audi, matches the BMW for front shoulder room, beats them both by nearly 3 inches for front legroom, and offers a half-inch more front headroom when compared with the BMW (the regular GT, without the Limited’s sunroof, beats them all).
Rear headroom in the Legacy is behind Audi and BMW by an inch, more or less. The Subaru doesn’t come with stability control, but the others don’t come with a limited-slip differential. My long-winded point is this – I understand there are negative details, but given the price and the power advantage at that price, should some of the negatives be taken with a grain of salt? I can buy a lot of salt for $5,000. – Thom Blackett
Photos courtesy of Subaru