Kamis, 05 Juni 2008

Subaru Legacy 2.5i SE Review

By Michael Martineck

According to psychologists, the middle child fights an endless, depressing battle for parental attention. So pity the poor Legacy 2.5i Special Edition, sitting between the WRX and Outback. The WRX is the pistonheads' golden child. Older brother Outback is largely credited with the family's success– despite the fact that the Legacy was Subaru's sales leader in May. The shrinks say lavishing praise on the neglected sib is the best way to cure middle child syndrome. Ah, but is the Legacy 2.5i Special Edition (SE) special enough to deserve it?

The SE looks handsome, in a black turtle and khakis kind of way. Enthusiasts won't slow down to get a better look; but nor will status-conscious suburbanites rush to park the lower-end Legacy behind a garage door. The SE has the kind of solid, understated charm– derived from its crisp lines and aesthetic restraint– that once typified BMW and Mercedes, right down to the blacked-out window chrome.

That said, Subaru's due on a Montel Williams' "Who's the Father of My Baby?" episode any day. Look! It's got Chrysler's nose! The hood scoop is the only remaining link between models, and the Legacy Special Edition isn't special enough (i.e. turbocharged) to have one. Who'd a thunk we'd be arguing for a fake hood-mounted air inlet? But there it isn't.

The restraint continues inside, almost to a fault. The switchgear and buttonology have been arranged with reachable righteousness, but it's all lost in a sea of sameness. Our test car "featured" charcoals and silver, silver and charcoal. The hazard light button sticks out nicely, as it should, and that's it. The gauges are so restrained they look delicate. What's up with that?

Nobody wants their sports sedan associated with "frail." Thankfully, the steering wheel is thick and shapely enough to allay such fears. Luckily, any remaining concerns disappear entirely when you use the SE as the gods of speed intended.

Subaru has been refining this 2.5-liter SOHC aluminum-alloy 16-valve horizontally opposed (boxer) four-cylinder engine for more than a decade, adding an i-Active Valve Lift System, platinum-tipped spark plugs and other similar goodies continuously, year after year, with continuous consistency that would make W. Edwards Deming proud. The envelope please: 175 hp and 169 pound-feet of torque.

The power is smooth and plentiful. As with everything Legacy, forward acceleration lives somewhere between snapping your neck and leaving you embarrassed; say, just under eight seconds from rest to 60mph. To the base model's motive capabilities, the Legacy Special Edition adds a moonroof and power seat.

All of Subaru's cars come equipped with a stick shift, s'il vous plait. Get one, skip to the end of the review and smile. That's because all of Subie's automotive "specials" get a four-speed adaptive electronic direct-control automatic gearbox with SPORTSHIFT® manual control. Translation: you can change gears with the stick shift or not; if not, the system adapts to your driving style.

The first part is highly entertaining… for about a minute-and-a-half. For the second bit, the autobox' electronic brain supposedly adjusts the shift points and speed thereof accordingly to your driving style. Unfortunately, even after its finished studying an enthusiast's habits, it still acts like the kid in the back of the class who didn't read last night's chapter. Stomp on the gas and the tranny goes "Huh? What?" And then plays catch up.

That's fine for people who don't drive like there's a T-Rex in their rearview mirror (metaphors may be closer than they appear). But anyone who really likes to get a move on, or even thinks about running with the big dogs, will find their hand wandering back to the SPORTSHIFT. And longing for a stick.

Still, mileage you know. And it's only because the SE's so damn personable that the autobox' slushiness stands out. And slush is really where this car really shines, er, excels. Nice weather didn't permit an appropriately gooey test drive, but the Subie's symmetrical all-wheel drive system hasn't changed. So we can expect the same grippy properties from the Legacy SE that made the brand a staple in the Northeast.

On dry pavement, the system is as noticeable as an Izod shirt at a Daughters of the American Revolution ("I want your DAR!") golf tournament. Aside from the lack of bracing forward thrust, the Legacy lacks the heavy feeling one expects from a car with four wheel-drive. It's nimble enough for government work.

No question: the Legacy SE won't thrill you like its siblings. It does, however, offer excellent utility and phenomenal bad weather stability at a family-friendly price. It does nothing truly exceptional, nor does it completely fail in any specific area. On just about every scale, the Subaru Legacy 2.5i Special Edition is a happy medium. All the little Subie needs is a better autobox and a bit more love.