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Subaru Legacy 2.0 aut. comfort

28/07/2013 07:22 |  Comments: 

Editor

As typical of a long-serving automotive journalist he worked at nearly all of the major printed automotive magazines in Hungary before ending up on the internet. More of the new cartester type, he’s also an automotive engineer by profession. Although he’s the editor in chief
of the mother magazine, totalcar.hu, he loves doubling as a photographer – we sometimes
think he made a mistake when choosing titles. Has a wife and a small daughter.

You say Subaru, I say indestructible and expensive to operate. Is that really so? With a car that has run 300,000 km I was hoping to find some decisive faults.

Is it just me or is a six-year-old Subaru really a damn attractive offer at €5000? Either way, it is the perfect subject for a used car review, both because it is a rare vehicle, and because many people want one. Muhaha!, Look at all those suckers stuck in the snow while we are driving home safe and warm, to the merry beat of the Subaru boxer engine! We knew before we got in that this was not going to be a fast ride. 2.0-litre boxer with automatic gearbox, from 2006, just before the facelift – that's what you get for your money.

Subarus are known to be durable but we were shocked when we first saw this car with 308,000 km on its odo. Apart from the heavily scratched plastic lamp covers there were absolutely no other faults with its appearance – or its interior. The leather upholstery obviously no longer looked brand new but there were no cracks, no visible wear. Even the leather steering wheel appeared like new. It certainly takes a caring owner to keep things this fine, and those 300K kilometres were probably not covered in short city bursts either, with constant getting in and out, but still, this is nothing short of amazing. And then there are the plastics – imagine the dashboard of an E46 BMW, fresh out of the factory. Breathtaking quality!

Before you buy a Legacy though, you need to make sure you know its dimensions. While it is a midsize vehicle it has never been considered a segment-leader by far regarding interior space. The Subaru has the same wheelbase as the Opel Astra, a compact vehicle – and that was back in 2006, too. In other words, the Legacy no longer looks or feels large, especially if parked alongside a Mondeo. That's not saying you can't fit well inside, it's just the margins are smaller.

Another thing that may surprise you is how low this car is. The Kia Cee'd, itself no giant, is exactly 10 cm taller. That means you are seated relatively low. At 433 litres the boot is acceptable but certainly not overly spacious. That would not be such an issue in itself but there is absolutely no way to expand this space, the rear seatbacks are fixed in position – something that was criticized even in 2006.

However, versatility is not the reason why we have always loved the Legacy – it is the aspiration for engineering perfection that most other cars simply lack. Also, many fanboys would praise the frameless side windows. Me, I am not so sure, but they certainly look unique. And what really matters is that Subaru managed to make them without the excessive wind noise, the rattle, and all the various faults that plague similar constructions. To cut the long story short, there aren't many drawbacks to this car, unless you damage it in a crash. You probably won't find aftermarket body panels, and even if you do you'll need the original factory fittings for it. That's the price you pay for the quality.

Another thing about the low height of the car: combined with the flat four engine you get a really low CoG which makes driving the Legacy a lot different from what you may be used to today. Because it is also lightweight (1300 kg for an AWD vehicle) it really does turn different than modern cars because body roll is almost non-existent. Weight and centre of gravity define turning characteristics like nothing else. That must be the reason for the agile steering the Legacy entertains.

Driving the Legacy feels as exciting as the car is fast. The 165 PS engine is no prancing horse to begin with and the four-speed A/T deprives it of any remaining agility. Drive it at full throttle and you will be rewarded with bland middle-of-the-road driving dynamics. The car could do 0-100 kph in 11.4 sec when new, and that doesn't seem to have changed over the years. Will that make you king of the fast lane? Kid yourself not.

The A/T is prone to mild jerking before reaching its operating temperature, but once the oil is all cozy and warm inside, the Legacy turns into a means of nerve-soothing transportation. You can shift gears manually but why bother – it won't make the Subaru significantly faster. But look at the bright side: the engine isn't overly loud even at full load, and is especially silent if driven with reservation: at 130 kph noise levels stay at around 67.5-68 dB which is really low. Brakes are nothing special. Perhaps it's because they haven't been used for so long, or because they are worn, but it takes significant pedal effort to get some decent deceleration.

Then there is the all-wheel-drive system. Driving on dry roads the only thing reminding you of its existence is the 'Symmetrical AWD' marking on the centre brake light. Most people think all Subarus use identical AWD systems but that's a misconcepction: models with manual gearbox have a central differential, while A/T versions send driving torque to the rear axle via an electronically controlled clutch. The end result, though, is not significantly different; either system will give you trouble free operation – and trouble free driving in wintertime. The car is equipped with ESP but it rarely activates even in the cold season.

Having driven the Legacy I must say I am impressed, even after 308,000 kilometres. Mind you though, there is good reason a 2.0 A/T Legacy which cost some €30,000 as new would be available for €6000 after just six years. For one, it is anything but thrifty. The on-board computer displays an average of 10.8 l/100km, and since it probably hasn't been reset for ages, it seems like a good indication of actual real world consumption. If you have only so much to spend on a car you may be deterred by that. However this also indicates that the car has mainly been used outside of the city: the official consumption figure for urban use is 11.4 l/100km, plus air conditioning, plus the fact that official figures rarely reflect actual values...

Used cars are priced by market demand. And the market cannot disregard the fact that for some strange reason Subaru decided to go with a timing belt, rather than a chain. To add insult to injury, being horizontally opposed the engine is installed longitudinally and deep down in the engine bay, making the belt rather difficult to access. The replacement interval for the timing belt is 105,000 km. The belt itself isn't cheap to begin with because it's a long one, but you also need to add three guide rollers and two tension rollers. Factor in 4.2 hours of repair work too because the belt can only be accessed after the radiator is removed.

I also asked the Subaru workshop about the infamous spark plugs – legend has it they are darn near impossible to replace. Actually, Subaru engineers knew what they were doing, and used plugs which, while expensive, only need replacing after 105,000 km, same as the timing belt. And once you remove the radiator it's a pretty straightforward routine. The downside is that your official Subaru workshop will charge you €800-900 to replace the belt which isn't exactly inexpensive. Regular oil change is due every 15,000 km, as customary among the Japanese, while ATF has an operating life of 60,000 km.

So does that mean you should steer clear of the Legacy? Or that buying a Subaru should be considered a costly pastime for the affluent? Hell, no. Just take a look around and see what you would have to pay for AWD A/T midsize cars of similar age from other brands. You are likely to find mostly Audis, maybe some Passat 4Motion versions, with V6 TDI engines. They will invariably be older and cost a lot more. At least with a Subaru you can predict your costs and when they are due. Having that kind of reassurance has its price.

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