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.