Winnipeg Free Press - Section E - - FRONT PAGE -

MIS­SIS­SAUGA, Ont. — It wasn’t so very long ago Subaru had dreams of tak­ing on the might of Honda and Toy­ota. Like young rams that even­tu­ally must butt heads with the reign­ing grand­daddy, the lit­tle Ja­panese mar­que had grandiose il­lu­sions of con­quer­ing fields afar.

Un­for­tu­nately, its am­bi­tions al­most proved cat­a­strophic, as the orig­i­nal Legacy’s reach ex­ceeded its grasp and alien­ated the com­pany’s tra­di­tional, slightly ec­cen­tric clien­tele.

Since then, Subaru has qui­etly gone about grad­u­ally ex­pand­ing its client base by lever­ag­ing its tra­di­tional quirky ap­peal. Al­ways trust­wor­thy, im­mi­nently re­li­able, styled just a lit­tle bit, shall we say, dif­fer­ently (check out the 2003 to 2006 Baja for proof of how se­ri­ously Subaru takes its in­di­vid­u­al­ity), the brand has grown from a small niche brand to a large niche brand.

A ma­jor key to its new-found pop­u­lar­ity has been the fam­ily-ori­ented Legacy and the Out­back “faux-by-faux” with which it shares a plat­form. Be­tween the two, they ac­count for 10,000 sales for Subaru Canada. That’s not a num­ber that will strike fear into Toy­ota Canada mar­keters, but it rep­re­sents a sig­nif­i­cant profit cen­tre for Subaru Canada, which sold 26,984 ve­hi­cles last year.

This ex­plains why the com­pany is al­ready lav­ish­ing at­ten­tion on the new 2013 Legacy (and Out­back), de­spite their com­plete re­design in 2010. Like all such “mid-model up­dates,” there’s the req­ui­site grille, fas­cia and head­light re­vi­sions. But un­less you’re a par­tic­u­larly keen auto jour­nal­ist or the prod­uct-plan­ning spe­cial­ist at Subaru Canada, don’t ex­pect to be over­whelmed by these changes. The front bumper is more ag­gres­sive, but I’d be hard­pressed to notice the new head­lights.

What is new is a thor­oughly re­vised base engine in the guise of a 2.5-litre “FB” four. Its power in­creases — 173 horse­power ver­sus 170 hp and 174 pound-feet of torque ver­sus 170 lb-ft — are hardly the stuff of leg­end. But the boxer four’s heads have gained a du­alover­head-camshaft lay­out as op­posed to the pre­vi­ous SOHC valve ac­tu­a­tion, so there’s a mea­sure of ci­vil­ity in the up­grade.

Mated to ei­ther a six-speed man­ual or Subaru’s CVT, the new 2.5L is smoother, with less of the thrum­ming com­mon to the com­pany’s pre­vi­ous fours. Subaru Canada has yet to re­lease of­fi­cial fuel-econ­omy fig­ures for the new engine, but it prom­ises the CVT-equipped Legacy will boast a range of more than 1,000 kilo­me­tres. The new base Legacy is also 0.2 sec­onds quicker to 100 kilo­me­tres an hour than the 2012 model.

The flag­ship pow­er­plant, how­ever, re­mains Subaru’s 3.6L, its six pis­tons ar­ranged in a sim­i­larly op­posed boxer for­mat as the four. Long a smooth run­ner — just like the op­posed sixes in Porsche’s 911 and Honda’s Gold Wing mo­tor­cy­cle — the 3.6L pumps out a cred­i­ble­for-a-fam­ily-sedan 256 ponies. Smooth, pow­er­ful and happy to rev, this is Subaru engine tech­nol­ogy at its best (and, yes, I’m in­clud­ing the WRX’s tur­bocharged fours).

The 3.6L is, how­ever, still mated to a fivespeed au­to­matic trans­mis­sion. In these days of six-, seven- and even eight-speed au­to­mat­ics, that’s a few cogs short of a state-of-the-art slush­box.

Shift­ing would be slightly smoother (the cur­rent au­to­box, to its credit, does shift quite seam­lessly), but, more im­por­tantly, fuel con­sump­tion would al­most cer­tainly be im­proved by some ex­tra over­drive gears that would re­duce engine speed dur­ing high­way driv­ing.

One of the ways that the Legacy dif­fer­en­ti­ates it­self from the Honda Ac­cord and Toy­ota Camry — be­sides its trade­mark sym­met­ri­cal all-wheeldrive sys­tem on all mod­els — is sportier han­dling. My Lim­ited model’s steer­ing, for in­stance, was no­tice­ably firmer than any­thing from Toy­ota and Honda, with more feed­back through the Legacy’s steer­ing wheel than is com­mon for a fam­ily sedan.

Ditto the sus­pen­sion, which, while hardly su­per­car firm, re­sists roll a lit­tle more than most of its com­peti­tors. If one is look­ing for a rea­son that peo­ple buy the Legacy over its more main­stream com­peti­tors, look no fur­ther than its ride and han­dling cou­pled with all-wheel drive. The top-of-the­line 3.6L ac­tu­ally han­dles a bit bet­ter than the lesser 2.5L, since its ver­sion of Subaru’s all-wheel drive de­faults to a sportier 45/55 torque split front to rear.

For 2013, there’s a fur­ther rea­son — at least for those shelling out for the top-of-the-line Lim­ited — to buy the car. It’s called Eye­sight and, for lack of a bet­ter de­scrip­tor, it’s a com­pen­dium of vir­tu­ally ev­ery ac­tive safety nanny in the au­to­mo­tive in­dus­try.

Us­ing stereo­scopic cam­eras, Eye­sight is al­ways on high alert for calami­ties, both im­me­di­ate and im­pend- ing. The cruise con­trol, for in­stance, main­tains a spe­cific dis­tance to the car ahead (it’s ad­justable — though the range be­tween the clos­est and fur­thest away Eye­sight will al­low isn’t large enough).

An Eye­sight-equipped Legacy will also alert you if you exit your lane with­out first sig­nalling a turn. The same mech­a­nism also warns you you’re sway­ing in your lane if you’re drowsy.

The sys­tem can also de­tect the pres­ence of pedes­tri­ans and, in a flat­ter­ing em­u­la­tion of safety-ob­sessed Volvo, the 2013 Legacy Pre-Col­li­sion Brak­ing sys­tem will even au­to­mat­i­cally brake if it de­tects an im­mov­able ob­ject ahead, such as a car stopped at a stop­light. If you were try­ing to take off from said stop­light with­out first as­sur­ing the car ahead is also de­part­ing (you nasty tex­ter, you), the same sys­tem cuts power by 90 per cent so the worst out­come is a bumper-scrap­ing fender-bender rather than an all-out col­li­sion.

None of these sys­tems is unique. Many, if not most, are avail­able on high-priced über-lux­ury mod­els. But their in­clu­sion on the Legacy in­di­cates Subaru is tak­ing safety se­ri­ously.

That said, it’s cur­rently avail­able only on the Legacy Lim­ited, whose $36,195 price — with Eye­sight — is not ex­actly main­stream fam­ily-sedan pric­ing (base Le­ga­cys, how­ever, start at $23,495).

Nonethe­less, all of the 2013 Le­ga­cys do pro­vide an in­ter­est­ing al­ter­na­tive to the main­stream brands. All-wheel drive and boxer en­gines have dis­tinct ben­e­fits, its ex­te­rior styling is no longer hum-drum and, even if the Subaru’s in­te­rior is a baby step be­hind a Toy­ota Camry’s, it’s nonethe­less at­trac­tive.

The re­vi­sions to the 2013 Legacy are sig­nif­i­cant, but they will al­most cer­tainly not pro­pel it to the fore­front of the fam­ily-sedan seg­ment.

I sus­pect Subaru isn’t overly both­ered about that.

The new Legacy’s flag­ship

pow­er­plant re­mains the smooth, pow­er­ful 256-hp 3.6L — Subaru engine tech­nol­ogy

at its best.

An Eye­sighte­quipped Legacy will also alert you if you exit your lane with­out first sig­nalling a turn. The same mech­a­nism also warns you you’re sway­ing in your lane if you’re drowsy.

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