Subaru has to be the most schizophrenic automaker on the planet. Not a bad thing, mind you, because Subaru has managed to forge a strong identity in each of its multiple personalities.
We have the Birkenstock forest dweller, whose Outback station wagons trundle forth in such places as Maine and Oregon. Sturdy practicality, faithful durability.
Then there's the hot-shoe rally rocket, embodied in the compact Impreza WRX models. Fast fun for youthful drivers.
Meanwhile, Subaru is endeavoring to move upmarket as a luxury brand with an emphasis on sporty performance, lush interiors and upscale features.
The most enduring constants for every Subaru are all-wheel drive, horizontally opposed "boxer" engines and a good reputation for reliability.
The Legacy 2.5 GT spec.B all seems like the place where all of Subaru's facets come together as one. With its cumbersome name, this version of the Japanese automaker's midsize sedan is the grownup version of the WRX, the urbane take on Outback tenacity and a credible luxury/performance car along the lines of Audi or Infiniti.
There's also a pretty cool electronic feature, which Subaru started putting on the spec.B in 2007, that actually lets the driver choose between three levels of engine performance. Called Subaru Intelligent Drive, or SI-Drive, the system uses a console-mounted dial with an Intelligent setting, which provides the lowest torque and throttle response but the best fuel economy; Sport, which raises engine power and response; and Sport Sharp, which boosts throttle reactions and engine torque for sporty driving.
So this Subaru has its very own set of multiple personalities. It's just hard to resist leaving in the Sport Sharp setting, allowing Legacy to show its wild side.
Subaru Legacy 2.5 GT spec. B
Vehicle type: Five-passenger, four-door sedan, all-wheel drive.
Engine: 2.5-liter turbocharged H-4, 243 horsepower at 6,000 rpm, 241 pound-feet of torque at 3,600 rpm.
Transmission: Six-speed manual.
Wheelbase: 105.1 inches.
Overall length: 185 inches.
Curb weight: 3,400 pounds.
EPA rating: 17 city, 24 highway.
HIGHS: Sporty drivability, luxury features, engine power.
LOWS: Conservative looks, tight interior, modest fuel mileage.
PERFORMANCE: I started out disappointed in spec.B's performance until I tried the Sport Sharp setting, which brings this car to life. By making adjustments to the ignition timing, fuel delivery and electronic throttle response, Subaru changes the character of the turbocharged 2.5-liter opposed four from mild to muscular.
This performance model comes only with a six-speed manual, which shifts smoothly and precisely.
Fuel mileage is a bit off; I averaged 21 mpg in a mix of driving and SI-Drive settings.
DRIVABILITY: Subaru's signature Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive helps Legacy maintain its nimble poise. Bilstein sport suspension and 18-inch performance tires help it stick to the road.
Strong four-wheel disc brakes come with antilock and electronic brake distribution.
STYLING: Restyled for 2008, Legacy became a fairly conservative-looking sedan. The metallic-gray paint scheme on the test car added to the effect, although the spec.B's lowered stance, lower-sill molding and 18-inch spoke alloys signal the sporty intentions.
INTERIOR: The cabin has a premium feel throughout, with modern treatment of its leather and stainless trim. Controls are well-defined and easy to master. The standard 385-watt Harman Kardon nine-speaker audio system sounds terrific.
Back-seat space is tight, and tall drivers might find legroom skimpy.
BOTTOM LINE: A sensible/sporty/luxurious alternative to mainstream sports sedans, offered at a moderate price.
Base price: $34,595.
Price as tested: $35,780.
Satellite radio, $456.
Trunk cargo net, $64.