Don’t you remember Colin McRae’s exploits in a Rothmans Legacy in the early 1990s? Or the Outback version that Audi ripped off for the A6 Allroad? Or the time Alf Thomson, the farmer in Postman Pat, rescued some newborn lambs stuck up a rutted farm track that demanded a hardy family car with standard four-wheel drive?
Quite possibly not, because you’re right, the Legacy has been around for 20 years and been competent but utterly forgettable for almost every one, at least in the UK where we were mostly denied the quick stuff sold in Japan. Now the fifth generation is here, priced from £23,295 – significantly more than the old car cost.
But that’s because the new Legacy is finally the breakthrough car Subaru has been looking for, right?
Don’t be silly, it’s business as usual. The key difference for the UK market is that it’s estate or nothing this time because the unloved saloon won’t be coming. And the wagon is significantly bigger this time: 55mm longer, 60mm taller and with an 80mm wheelbase stretch to the benefit of interior space. Externally, it’s about as big as an Audi A4 Avant, but closer to an A6 when you step inside or open the boot.
It won’t be winning any design awards though.
Subaru has tried hard to jazz the front-end up to give it an identity but the inescapable truth is that this is a very bland, quite unattractive car whose cause is not helped by lashings of chrome and headlights swept back so tightly they look like the result of a bad Hollywood facelift.
It’s the same story. A very shiny centre console tries to draw your attention from the surrounding acres of hard plastic and dials that look disappointingly cheap after the old car’s. There’s even a pointless BMW-style economy gauge, like one of those old vacuum dials people used to stick in their cars in the 1970s.
But, in its defence, the Legacy’s cabin does feel solidly constructed and is absolutely huge. There’s masses of space in every direction, the rear of the cabin is particularly roomy and the driving position good, apart from pedals that are set miles apart.
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What’s it like on the road?
Like most non-STi Subarus, the Legacy lopes along thanks to cushy long-travel suspension, although it can get caught out on tough urban roads at low speeds. It handles tidily, if without the precision of a Mondeo, and the 2.0 boxer turbodiesel spins smoothly, delivering 148bhp and 258lb ft of torque for a competitive 9.6sec 0-62mph time. That’s providing you can make best use of the horribly clunky gearchange. Rivals offer more engine options and their high power versions will outrun the Legacy, but you’ll pay at lot more for them.
Not that this Legacy has things all its own way when it comes to cost. Subaru might like to brag about having the world’s only boxer engine, but that doesn’t count for much when you’re up to 10mpg and over 30g/km of CO2 off the opposition’s best.
Like the saloon, the old 2.0 petrol has been dumped so the only other engine is a 167bhp 2.5 flat four. It’s as smooth as a six but available only with a CVT ‘box (unlike the diesel that comes only as a manual), is slower to 62mph than the oil burner and only does 33mpg. Both engines are mated to Subaru’s full-time four-wheel drive system that works unobtrusively but will take you anywhere an SUV will, ground clearance permitting.
This new Legacy is a competent car but another that’s destined to fall beneath the radar of most car buyers. Roomy, well equipped, comfortable and keenly priced, it’s hampered by dull styling, a cheap-feeling cabin and a serious lack of that feel-good factor that persuades thousands of sane people to pay over the odds for German metal every year. If you’re a die-hard Legacy fan though, number five will tick every box and more.
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