In the pecking order of the automotive world, Subaru is looking up at powerhouses such as Toyota, Honda and Nissan.

So imagine my surprise that a recent week in the 2007 Subaru Legacy 2.5 GT Limited sedan was so enjoyable. Actually, it was more than enjoyable.

"Surprisingly sweet" would be more accurate.

No wonder the September edition of Motor Trend magazine called the Legacy "a vastly underrated (Honda) Accord alternative." That praise was accompanied by a four-star rating (out of five) -- a rating it shared with some 2007 passenger car heavyweights, including the Porsche Boxster, the Chrysler 300 and the Toyota Avalon.

High praise for the Subaru ... and well deserved.

On the tested 2.5 GT Limited sedan, I knew the engine was capable. It's a small 2.5-liter, horizontally opposed, four-cylinder power plant -- what some call a "boxer-style" engine arrangement ... with a turbocharger and all-wheel drive thrown in the mix.

The package made for whippet-like performance. The nearly 3,500-pound Subaru snapped off the line with authority and sprinted through freeway traffic with only light duty on the accelerator. Climbing hills was a snap. Doing the slalom through slow city traffic was a breeze.

The powertrain worked like a hopped-up V-6. Very nice.

As dedicated auto enthusiasts know, Subaru has packed a warehouse full of competitive road rally trophies over the years. Engineers have incorporated what they've learned from the rally wars into the Subaru lineup.

The tested Legacy was a prime example. It was rock-solid on high-speed corners; zipping through a tight course of orange cones was a blast. The top-tier handling was capped off by world-class, four-wheel, ventilated disc brakes with instant stopping power.

Given the high-output turbo engine, gas mileage was a somewhat pleasant 19 miles per gallon in the city and 25 mpg on the open road. The big downer, however: Subaru requires premium unleaded for the small-but-robust power plant.

Please note that the tester included Subaru's highly touted SI-Drive system. That stands for "Subaru Intelligent Drive," which enables the driver to dial up three driving modes -- Intelligent, Sport and Sport Sharp -- via a rotary dial on the center console.

Without getting too deep into technical jargon, SI-Drive controls multiple performance devices (including throttle, torque, gearing and fuel management) so drivers can choose their favorite motoring mode -- from practical to get-outta-my-way.

It's all very clever and, yes, the three modes are somewhat distinct ... but in my view, not distinct enough to make me do back flips.

Frankly, I couldn't feel all that much difference between the comparatively staid Intelligent mode and the supposedly rip-roaring Sport Sharp mode. But maybe I'm just getting less sensitive in my old age.

Suffice it to say that the tested Legacy 2.5 GT Limited met my car-performance expectations no matter what the specific SI-Drive setting.

So, the car must have been stripped inside, right?

Not even close. In fact, the feature-loaded tester included a package with a navigation system that boosted the manufacturer's suggested retail price to $31,995.

Besides the navigation system, the standard amenities justified that somewhat hefty price. It included side-impact air bags, side-curtain air bags, anti-theft alarm/immobilizer, tire pressure-monitoring system, 17-inch alloy wheels, performance tires, power moonroof, dual-zone climate control, heated front seats, heated mirrors, six-disc CD changer, XM Satellite Radio package, leather upholstery and power driver/front-passenger seats.

The back seat area was comfortable enough, but three burly adults would be cramped.

And for folks who tend to bemoan yet another import, please note that fully 50 percent of the tested model's parts were of United States/Canadian origin. Oh, and the tester was built in the heart of the Midwest -- Lafayette, Ind.

So, this surprising Subaru fills a niche -- well-equipped, practical-size sedan with plenty of pop, with a signature logo that's uncommon enough on the roadways to make your ride somewhat unique.

Is that going to be enough to derail the monster sales numbers being racked up by Honda Accords and Toyota Camrys? Probably not.

But the Legacy 2.5 GT Limited sedan is worth a test drive. It just might surprise you.

Subaru Lagacy at a glance

Make/model: 2007 Subaru Legacy 2.5 GT
Limited Vehicle type: Five-passenger, four-door, all-wheel-drive sedan
Base price: $31,995 (as tested, $32,924)
Engine: 2.5-liter, turbocharged, horizontally opposed 4 with 243 horsepower at 6,000 revolutions per minute and 241 foot-pounds of torque at 3,600 rpm
EPA fuel economy: 19 miles per gallon city; 25 mpg highway (premium unleaded required)
Transmission: Electronic five-speed automatic with overdrive and clutchless manual-shifting feature Steering: Power-assisted rack and pinion with speed-sensitive feature
Brakes: Four-wheel, ventilated discs with anti-lock
Suspension: Independent, MacPherson strut-type on front; independent multi-link on rear (stabilizer bars front and rear)
Fuel tank: 16.9 gallons
Interior volume: 90.9 cubic feet
Trunk volume: 11.4 cubic feet
Curb weight: 3,485 pounds
Height: 56.1 inches
Length: 186.2 inches
Wheelbase: 105.1 inches
Width: 68.1 inches
Track: 58.9 inches on front; 58.5 inches on rear
Ground clearance: 5.9 inches
Towing capacity: 2,700 pounds
Tires: P215/45ZR17 performance/all-season radials
Port of entry: Lafayette, Ind.