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2011 Subaru Legacy 2.5GT

August 4th, 2011

A Rally Car for the Family Man.

      For a couple of decades now, journalists have attempted to claim that each new Subaru is the car that will make Subaru mainstream. The 2011 Legacy is no different, as Subaru’s flagship sedan continues to grow in size and stature. But have no fear Subie loyalists! The flat four-cylinder engine remains, as does the availability of a manual transmission. 
      We were handed the keys to the most sporting (and expensive) version of the Legacy to offer a clutch pedal; an Azurite Blue Pearl 2.5GT Limited. The 2.5GT Limited distinguishes itself from other Legacy models with a turbocharger and exclusively utilizing a manual transmission. Gone is the Legacy wagon, forcing fans of the long-roof body style to look to the Outback instead. Alas, the Outback can’t be purchased with the 2.5GT Limited powertrain, relegating the manual transmission to squeeze every last horse out of the 170 hp 4-cylinder rather than matching revs with the smooth 265 hp engine in the 2.5GT. Though we haven’t driven each of the seven trim levels offered in the Legacy lineup, we feel optimistic that the 2.5GT is the enthusiast’s choice due to its power rating and shift-it-yourself transmission.
      While still not a large car, this Legacy manages to feel substantial without actually being overweight. In fact, the AWD midsizer is gentle on the scales managing to keep its overall weight just a few ticks under 3,500 lbs. Combine the low weight with the low center of gravity resulting from the horizontally opposed four and the Legacy feels quick off the line and gives no troubles merging into highway traffic. Unfortunately the added power from the turbo and tractability gained from the AWD comes at a price. The fuel economy ratings on the sedan are a modest 18 mpg city/25 mpg highway. This is in an era where the FWD competition is meeting and exceeding 30 mpg on the highway. Though not always fluid, the shifter feels crisp and precise, although the clutch is a bit too soft and vague for our tastes.


      The Legacy offers a larger than expected interior, swallowing a rear facing car seat without cramping the front seat passenger, as is too often the case. A three spoke steering wheel hints at the car’s sporting pretensions. On the other hand, the turbo boost gauge we thought we’d like quickly turned annoying. Yes, the gauge shouts to the driver that this is no ordinary family sedan as it protrudes off the top of the dash panel above the gauge cluster, but when the sun goes down the light from the gauge casts a continuous reflection off the windshield in the driver’s line of sight. This is a design flaw that demands a quick redesign, or skipping the overpriced $1,154 Performance Group option that includes the gauge along with the STi shift knob and short throw shifter. The all black interior is really no more thoughtfully laid out than any other car stickering at 25 large. But wait, this 2.5GT Limited starts at $31,395. Please Subaru, at that price give us a choice of something other than economy car black. The materials are nice enough to the touch, but are difficult to tell in such a dreary interior.
      Our test car’s biggest flaw was unquestionably the navigation system. When first activated it appeared that this would be one of the better nav systems, even if it costs $2000 extra. Unfortunately, the system developed a mind of its own during its stay with us. It suddenly chose to stop displaying the radio stations. Sure, we could still select stations, change the volume and select the presets but we couldn’t see what station we had turned to. Functioning under the simple presumption that primary controls should be simple enough to operate without pulling over to inspect the owner’s manual, we never did return the system to normal. Even without that problem the graphics and “virtual button” layout need a major rethink.
      Shifting our gaze to the sheetmetal wrapping this new Subaru we do see some departures from tradition. Immediately noticeable is the move from the six window greenhouse that the sedan has featured since its debut way back in 1989. Now the side glass takes the all-too-common BMW dogleg shape. The headlights now stretch way back down the fenders. This may not be a Legacy tradition, but it is returning Subaru to its roots as a manufacturer of questionable styling. It has been a long time, but the Subarus of the 1970s and early 1980s were designs that not even the stylist’s mother could love. The functional hood scoop successfully reminds us of Subaru’s rally heritage, while the winged grille bar reminds us of, well, a SAAB. The multi-spoke alloy wheels are a nice departure from the expected common 5-spoke.
      So exactly what is the appeal of the Legacy 2.5GT Limited? We give it kudos for offering the enthusiast an AWD family sedan that can be driven spiritedly while offering uncompromised space. Though it has a few obvious flaws, those flaws draw out the off-the-beaten-path character that Subaru has prided itself on for decades. While we’re sure many will opt for the less expensive and less enthusiastic versions of this car, we are pleased that Subaru hasn’t lost its automotive soul.

The Good:
Powerful engine, low-ish curb weight, crisp-shifting manual transmission, room for the family.
The Bad:
Obnoxious boost gauge, mind-of-its-own navigation system, dreary interior, styling best left in Subaru’s 1970s design department.
The Verdict:
The car for the enthusiast who imagines his life as a rally driver but whose reality includes a family.

Photos by Jason Muxlow

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