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Monday, April 23, 2007

Subaru Legacy Driven

During the first year of school wherein spelling tests became routine, I learned that each Thursday morning we were going to be asked to spell the ten words the teacher pronounced. As time went on, such piddling tests gave way to exams and an increasingly common use of the hated pop quiz. Stars rarely aligned properly, but when pupils could anticipate a teacher’s week-long build-up to the pop quiz, there was present the taste of victory.

Subaru equips every car they sell in our market, as well as most other markets, with all-wheel drive. AWD means that the horse does not push the carriage or pull the carriage. The horse does both jobs. And few can lay claim to the all-wheel drive expertise that Subaru possesses.

My pop quiz for a February test drive was a snowstorm, albeit the eastern edge of a storm which produced only the necessary centimetres and essential mercury drop to make for some rather slippery conditions. I felt like my grade nine math teacher as I watched the Subaru Legacy wagon appear before me, realizing that the machine was fully prepared for, and ideally suited to, these very conditions.

It is conditions like these - snow-covered side streets, slick main roads, a touch of blowing snow and a -7C thermometer - in which manufacturers of AWD vehicles shoot commercials. It is the prototypical real life scenario in which we can ascertain how a vehicle will react to the ordeals through which we live.

Legacy wagons like the one I drove cost approximately $28K. Save between $1000 and $1500 on any Legacy by choosing the 4-door sedan over the wagon. The Outback is still very much akin to the Legacy, but less and less so with each passing generation. Outback base prices start a few grand north and there is an extra engine option - a six cylinder, in fact.

Although typically well-equipped for a midsize competitor of Accords, Camrys and their ilk, there were a few things that stood out. I’ve driven quite a few Subarus since I first was licensed, and each one feels a notch above the last in terms of perceived quality. We can’t reach inside the engine and determine if the seals are fashioned correctly, but buyers can and do decide if the doors thunk properly; if the window surrounds ward off wind noise; if the stereo and HVAC controls are textured nicely; and if the car feels worth the money. Car consumers in 2007 want to feel the manufacturers money in the tangibles so that they can safely assume that money also went into researching and developing the appropriate mechanicals. If a door handle falls off during a test drive, ask yourself when the exhaust will fail.

Subaru’s latest Legacy has a quality feel that was never missing, but could always stand for improving.
Admit though, I must, that sitting in a Legacy does not feel like sitting in some of its Japanese competition. The Legacy feels worth the figure on the window sticker, but some vehicles give the feeling of purchasing a car that was worth more than the MSRP. No failing on its own part, just excellent craftsmanship and material selection on the part of others.

Begin the driving part of the pop quiz by exiting directly off our lot and onto a notoriously un-plowed street, and the Subaru begins to shine. AWD is not magic. Plenty of tall vehicles with 4x4 written on the side have ended up in a snowy ditch because the operators believed AWD was magical. However, the loss of traction the Subaru became aware of as I pressed the right-most pedal immediately resulted in different diverting of the 175 horsepower. Job well done.
Proper steering weight is especially pleasing when all senses are on alert in rough conditions. Why would I want to worry about bad reactions from the machine when I have to concern myself with the faulty responses of myself and others around me carrying 3000 or more pounds on their backs?

The Legacy is by no means a purely inanimate object for transporting one’s self, but it does a fine job in relaxed cruiser mode. Solid brakes, decent power ( plenty more available in turbocharged editions) the aforementioned steering, and a completely confident feel.
The Subaru did not travel through snowbanks or open fields or drift-tempting vacant parking lots as this was just the eastern edge of a storm which was only nasty in other parts of eastern North America. It was a typical northeastern winter night with enough weather to make drivers alert and respectable vehicles radiate.

The Legacy did just that, with the obligatory set of good tires; navy colouring to hide some of the salt; enough power to have fun; and the sleek appearance which all discerning shoppers require. Proving that it is best to arrive prepared for a surprise test and walk away unscathed.

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