Subaru Legacy GT spec.B – 2008 Review: “Now this is a little more like it,” he thought as he steered the 2008 Subaru Legacy GT spec.B through one of his favorite mountain roads. The car gripped, then started to understeer slightly. He applied power, the all-wheel drive sent it to the rear wheels and the GT corrected itself, hauling through the tight second-gear corner with ease. If you understood that, keep reading, as this Subaru might just be for you. On the other hand, if you just want a roomy sedan with plenty of creature comforts for a reasonable price, well, that new Chevy Malibu is pretty darn good…
What We Drove
The options sheet on our test Legacy was short, in fact, the only actual addition to the car’s $33,995 sticker was the $645 destination charge, for a total of $34,540. That price includes the turbocharged engine with the SI Drive manually selectable boost controller, all-wheel drive and the sport-tuned suspension. Also included was the leather interior with heated front seats, navigation system, automatic climate control and a six-disc CD changer audio system that was pre-wired for both XM and Sirius satellite radio services.
The Legacy comes in several different trims, including outdoorsy wagons if you want to ignore Subaru’s separation between the sedan and Outback versions. The GT is powered by the same turbocharged flat-four engine found under the hoods of Impreza WRXs, here putting out 243 horsepower and 241 lb.-ft. of torque. It’s routed to all four wheels through a six-speed manual transmission and Subaru’s Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive. Despite having 3,530 pounds of Subaru to haul around, it’s still quick, and has more than enough power to be fun when you want it.
Performance: SI Drive
To further enhance the spec.B’s fun factor, Subaru has added a three-mode throttle controller to the Legacy GT. Press the button for Intelligent and you get weak kneed throttle responses but better fuel economy. Turn it Sport and things improve, with quicker throttle response and less turbo lag. Click it to Sport Sharp (marked Sport #), and you get immediate throttle response and virtually zero lag. However, in either Sport mode we noticed hesitation under full-throttle acceleration, as if the computer were retarding the timing to prevent detonation. Maybe our car had a bad tank of gas, but it’s annoying at best, and indicative of poor engine tuning at worst.
That all-wheel drive combines with the Legacy GT spec.B’s more aggressive damping for fun handling, as we mentioned above. But there are problems. First, we’d gladly sacrifice some ride comfort for less body roll; with stiffer springs, the spec.B would be downright tossable instead of merely fun. Next are the relatively skinny 215/18R40 tires, which lose grip early. The worst was the fade-prone brakes. You know it’s bad when they start to weaken when you’re going uphill; we pulled the funtime plug altogether when they disappeared during the downhill portion of our test loop. Bummer.
Subaru has managed to create a car with excellent crash test ratings while maintaining thin pillars. Visibility all around is very good, with virtually nothing blocking your view significantly. The compact size of the interior works in its favor here, creating a sense of intimacy with the rest of the glass. The mirrors are decently sized inside and out, however for $34,000, we expect the inside mirror to be auto-dimming.
Fun to Drive
The Legacy GT spec.B is fun to drive, but not as fun as it should be. There’s good power and handling, but not great. Yet at least one of us was impressed with the basic goodness of the platform that, were it his car, he’d tap the substantial Subaru aftermarket. A little more power, slightly stiffer springs, wider tires and way better brakes would make the this car a blast. That can be said for a lot of cars. The difference here is that there’s something about this Legacy that makes at least some of us want to do it.
The front seats are very comfortable in the Legacy GT spec.B. Just like its cousin the Outback, the seats are well thought out with a basic design that’s supportive and comfortable. Also like the Outback, the Legacy GT’s primary comfort detraction is the car’s overall size. It’s narrow in here, and it can feel downright cramped around the shoulders. The tilt/telescope steering wheel helps drivers get comfortable, and there’s good head room for all but the freakishly tall. Subaru has also provided plenty of soft-touch surfaces to delight the fingertips, such as the door and dash tops.
This is where the Legacy gives up the most to other mid-size sedans. With its narrow seats, cramped leg placement and tight shoulder room, it’s best suited to two smaller passengers for a short period of time. Three can fit, but the yoga required for such a feat takes years of training that few people have. At least it’s nicely trimmed.
Subaru has been selective in the kinds of noises it allows into the Legacy GT’s cabin. Gone are most wind and road noises. In their place is the discordant harmony of Subaru’s high-performance flat-four. The distinctive chuffling sound is present and accounted for – albeit muted so that it’s not intrusive – and if you listen closely to your upshifts, you’ll even hear the turbo system’s blowoff valve squeaking as it lets off excess boost. They’re fun noises that emphasize what this car is designed for: driving enjoyment.
The Legacy has a good-sized trunk, with a low liftover height and plenty of room for cargo. The seats fold down in a 60/40 split for longer items. Subaru has also included hooks for grocery bags in the cargo area, a nice touch that not all manufacturers do.
Subaru is trying to position itself as an upmarket alternative. Part of the plan is interior execution, and the build quality in this car is as good as it gets. Panels fit evenly, seams are straight, and there is almost no untrue line in the car. The same is true for the exterior, which features even gaps between the doors, trunk, hood and the rest of the body work, and flush panels everywhere else.
Subaru uses plastic on its pillar covers, rather than the fine mesh material on the headliner. That is about the only cheap touch in here. Soft touch surfaces on the door tops, dash and elsewhere combine with the silky hard surfaces for a luxurious feeling cabin. The leather seats have Alcantara inserts for both extra grip in corners and appearance.
Previous sedan versions of the Legacy haven’t looked as good as the wagons, but that’s not the case here. The sedan is sharp, with clean and aggressive lines that are uncluttered by any styling gimmickry. The only exception may be the hood scoop, but we’ll give it a pass since it’s functional. The chrome accents on the bottoms of the doors are a nice touch, as are the taillights, although some of us were a little put off by the big reflectors in the rear bumper. Overall though, this is a well-proportioned and sporty looking car.
Much like the Outback wagon, the Legacy sedan has a dearth of usable storage space. There are several nooks and crannies, but most of them are on the small side, and serve mostly to reinforce how small the Legacy is compared to its larger competition. Door pockets, cupholders and the center console are all small. The only exception is the glove box, which is both large and two level so the owner’s manual doesn’t intrude on storage space. Rear storage isn’t any better, limited only to a net behind the passenger front seatback and two cupholders.
The infotainment controls on the Legacy GT are divided between the nav system and the audio controls, an arrangement many prefer since it doesn’t require digging into the nav system to adjust things like bass and treble. The audio system itself sounds fine, if not outstanding, and we like the redundant controls on the steering wheel. The navigation system is simple to use, although it stubbornly refused to go into the low-intensity “night” mode when the headlights were on, forcing us to dig into the menu to switch it to the correct mode.
Like the rest of the Legacy’s interior, the climate controls will be familiar to anybody who has driven a recent-generation Outback. The automatic setup in our car was convenient only in theory. The reality is that it often failed to keep the car as cool as we wanted, so we wound up switching to manual mode. This brings up another flaw in the system: There’s no way to sync the driver and passenger side temperature controls, so you wind up having to set the temperature twice if you want the car’s interior to be an even temperature.
As Subaru climbs up the food chain, its interior controls have become richer feeling. That’s the case here, and there’s even a few obvious touches from the company’s new partner, Toyota, to be found here and there (the control for the outside mirrors is straight from any recent Toyota, for example). There are no ergonomic flaws, and the only thing that kept us scratching our heads was the parking light switch mounted atop the steering wheel column. It’s redundant twice over: the headlight switch on the turn signal stalk has a parking light setting, plus the Legacy has daytime running lights. Go figure.
The Legacy throws itself into a peculiar mix of competitors. On one hand it goes against cars like the Mazda6, Saturn AURA and other mid-size sedans with a sporting intent. On the other, it also competes against more expensive all-wheel drive sport sedans like the Audi A4. It offers advantages and disadvantages no matter how you slice it. The all-wheel drive and turbo engine are definite pluses in a world of front-drive V-6 powered family cars, and it offers a significant price advantage against any German competition. But its small size, and weak brakes throw the balance off, making the spec.B appeal to only a narrow group of Subie enthusiasts.
2nd Opinion – Blackett
What’s not to like about the Legacy? It’s safe, sporty, stylish, and, considering what you get…not at all that bad of a deal. Toss in the sportiness of the spec.B and it’s a fun to drive sedan that’s almost family-sized. Ah. So there you go…a weakness. Like the Outback, the inside is pretty narrow and small; the backseats could use more space, as do the front seats. The mild facelift does give the Legacy a more upscale feel inside, but it will nonetheless be marked down slightly by shoppers comparing the Legacy with other four-doors on the market.
by Thom Blackett
By Keith Buglewicz
Photo Credit: Oliver Bentley