Ride & Handling
Until Subaru introduced the WRX version of its Impreza, the brand wasn't known for sportiness. Even so, artful engineering aided by standard all-wheel drive for years has endowed even the more pedestrian models with impressive ride and handling. The "sport utility wagon" concept drew buyers to the Outback, but the quiet, comfortable ride and road manners made them devotees.
I found the Legacy GT's handling to be very natural and confidence inspiring. One modification over the regular Legacy is a faster steering ratio, so the steering wheel requires less of a turn to achieve the same steering angle. It also makes the steering feedback firmer. In place of the regular Legacy's 16-inch wheels are 17-inch alloy wheels with lower-series, Bridgestone Potenza RE 92 tires rated P215/45ZR17 (tire codes).
Out on the street, the GT feels effortless to drive. The ride is firmer than average but unlikely to put off any sport-sedan shopper. Coincidence put me behind the wheel of this car at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis. This is one of the premier racetracks in the country, designed for racecars and speeds higher than most people will ever experience in a car. But how could I not give it a try?
I still can't quite believe how well this car handled. I took nearly every corner in a graceful four-wheel drift and completed the track's long sweeper curve, called the carousel, at the limits of the car's traction. Where some Subarus are wanting for stickier tires, these seem perfectly matched. The Legacy GT's poise and controllability are truly surprising.
Porsche and Audi aficionados were among the first to recognize that all-wheel drive isn't just for inclement weather or off-roading. Its ability to transfer torque between the front and rear prevents wheelspin, a condition that promotes lateral sliding. In so doing, all-wheel drive minimizes the influence of weight imbalances between the front and rear of the car. Front-heaviness is what causes many front-wheel-drive cars to push, or understeer, in turns. Being a manual, this GT had the simpler of two standard all-wheel-drive systems, which uses a viscous coupling combined with the Legacy GT's standard rear limited-slip differential. The automatic comes with more sophisticated electronically controlled Symmetrical AWD that's claimed to apportion more torque to the rear wheels. This could theoretically improve the car's balance in aggressive driving, but I didn't have any problem with the simpler all-wheel drive. If it's good enough for the WRX rally cars, it's good enough for me.
Going & Stopping
This is a tale of two very different cars: one manual, one automatic only one of which I can recommend. They share a turbocharged, intercooled 2.5-liter horizontally opposed four-cylinder that generates 250 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 250 pounds-feet of torque at 3,600 rpm.
The manual gearbox is well matched to this car. Even though the engine doesn't start kicking until close to 3,000 rpm and the transmission has five speeds rather than six, there's enough torque to get you off the line, and the gear ratios are well spaced. There's something exciting about waiting for the tachometer to hit that hot zone and then taking off like a shot. By working the shifter, you can keep the heat on as long as you want. The clutch pedal is forgiving without being soft.
Then there's the automatic, which seems great on paper: five speeds, both automatic and Sport automatic modes and a clutchless-manual mode controlled by either the gear selector or up/down buttons on the steering wheel. The problem is it's geared for high-speed acceleration and passing. Step on the gas from a full stop, and the car commences a-moseying for full seconds before it really begins to accelerate. Nothing can make up for a 1st gear that's way too tall. This isn't just annoying. In some circumstances such as pulling into fast-moving traffic it could be dangerous. I don't recommend this drivetrain. In fact, I recommend against it. End of story.
The Legacy GT isn't the roomiest in its class, particularly when you compare the backseat to that of, say, the Nissan Altima. With the emphasis on sport, the Legacy GT isn't as quiet as some midsize cars. Road noise at highway speeds is particularly noticeable, so keep your ears open during a test drive.
Standard safety features include side-impact and side curtain-type airbags. The front seats have active head restraints. Though there are three head restraints in the back, none extends high enough to protect an adult.
The Legacy rates Good in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's frontal crash test but only Marginal in the side-impact test. See cars.com's Guide to Interpreting Crash Tests.
Legacy GT in the Market
One can't overestimate the importance of styling, especially in midsize sedans. Countless times people ask me, "What's the best midsize car?" I cite one of our Best Bets, and they respond, "That's ugly; what else?" You didn't ask me what looks good! You asked what's best! So if people are willing to disqualify instantly a car that exceeds the norm in all ways, I'm thinking image is critical. For a while cars like the Altima, Volkswagen Passat and Pontiac Grand Prix were the Camry alternatives, but many of them are starting to look the same. To me the Legacy achieves something rare: It's distinctive without being offensive. I usually leave the subjective evaluation to you, the reader, but I'm extolling the Legacy here because it's so often overlooked.
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