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Anyone who has read any of my past reviews will think I'm difficult to please. But that's not quite true. I'm just don't like being disappointed. I don't like it when a potentially great product is let down by the details.
If you go to local chippy, you could forgive the dated décor and the ugly fat-bird from behind the counter, who only communicates in grunts, if the food is good and well priced. But if you go to a really expensive restaurant, with really high hopes and they serve your chicken on the raw side of pink; you have the right to be disappointed.
It's the same with cars. I bought my new Subaru Legacy not only because I needed a decent car, but because I thought it would be a really good one. And it is. But I'm just not sure whether it's good enough.
GETTING BEHIND THE WHEEL
After looking around on the Internet for some inspiration, I became taken with Subaru Legacys. The idea of having a large, fast, Japanese car filled by with joy after the past year's love / hate relationship with my current Peugeot 406 Coupe. While I loved the car, it just became wearing when the car seemed to delight in finding new and ever more expensive ways of going wrong, almost continuously.
Prior to the temperamental pug, I ran a V8 Jaguar XJ8 for 3 happy years, so the idea of getting back into a premium car with a decent sized engine really appealed.
So is the Legacy premium car? Yes, I'd say so. If you look at the Legacy's main rivals you are drawn to the conclusion that an Audi A6 Quattro is probably the closest thing in terms of size, space and image on the road today. Although it's Japanese, it seems to have an appeal that transcends all the boundaries.
And it's this I really love. You hardly ever see them, when you do you don't notice them. Tell someone you drive a Peugeot 406 and they look at you like you've had a lobotomy, but tell someone you drive a Subaru Legacy, you'll get a sort of nodding (if slightly bluffing) admiration. They probably won't be able to picture it, but they'll know it's better than a Ford Fiesta.
I found mine from a main dealer in Oxfordshire. It had done just over 80,000 miles had full history and was a rather nice metallic blue colour.
I popped down and gave it a through going over and although it was a bit scruffy, we settled on a deal the good side of £7,000. I collected it a week later. Subaru dealers are known in the customer satisfaction surveys for being friendly and obliging. And it was no exception here, to the point where the manager insisted on running through the function of every single knob, button and switch. We were there for hours!
They might be nice, but they are pricey. Servicing and parts both cost more than they should - and many everyday things like brake discs, involve an expensive visit to the main dealer. Insurance though is a positive bargain, sitting in just group 15.
WHAT'S THE CAR GOT?
I went (by chance) for the "RN" model. The "N" bit basically means "navigation", but the standard spec of the "R" includes pretty much most things you could need.
I won't list off a ream of features, but suffice to say it had the full works in the leather and air-con department, a decent stereo and touch-screen satellite navigation. In terms of a European designed car of this specification, you'd probably expect automatic lights, wipers and a self dipping rear view mirror (none of which are available), but that's probably the only notable missing parts of the specification.
But you do get some nice features as standard, like indicators in the door mirrors, cruise control, electric heated seats and probably the world's biggest opening sunroof.
Then you get all the standard Subaru features, which are fairly unusual items which are standard across the whole Subaru range. This includes permanent four-wheel drive, a "boxer" engine and pillar-less doors.
The Boxer engine is probably the terms I was least familiar with, but essentially they mount the cylinders horizontally, facing each other. The ideas is that the engine is not as tall (and gives the car a lower centre of gravity) and the opposing cylinder action helps cancel out noise and vibration. I must say it's quite impressive and very refined.
Safety seems impressive too, although the small numbers of the cars on the road mean there is no Euro-Ncap rating. The American equivalent gives it 5 stars, and there's a full compliment of airbags up front, in the side and a full length curtain airbag. In the back there are 2 sets of Iso-Fix child seat anchors too. You also get stability control and ABS, but you'd expect these on most of today's cars.
ON THE ROAD
I can't quite put into words how good all this feels on the move. There's just something reassuringly safe about 4 wheel drive cars which mean they hold the road like nothing else. By this I mean you can pretty much turn into any corner and the car doesn't roll nor wander it just faithfully follows your every command. Sudden changes of direction go by barley noticed, but bumps in the road don't. The ride is a touch firm and the wheels are very easy to damage (and even just a slight knock can have you forking out a couple of £100 for a new alloy).
The engine's power delivery comes in waves, there's a smooth acceleration to begin with, but a slightly firmer press results in all hell breaking loose; with the once silent engine suddenly turning into a roaring power-house. Unfortunately the throttle set up means it's a bit too easy to jet off in supersonic mode, and in reality my old Jaguar handled the compromise between relaxed cruising and fast motoring much better. The gearbox is pretty decent too - the 5 speed automatic can be put in "sport" mode by knocking the lever to the right (although I can't really tell much difference) and you can also flick up and down gears manually using the selector. It all works well, but I find manual overrides on autos generally a bit showy and pointless.
Unfortunately this high-spirited driving isn't great for fuel consumption. 27mpg seems to be about the best your going to get on the motorway; but 21mpg is more realistic around town. That's about 300 - 350 miles on £50; which is almost exactly the same as my Jaguar, even though it does make me wish I owned shares in Shell.
You can get more efficient 2.0 litre engines and an official "LPG" option, but Diesels just aren't the done thing at Subaru and you can't have one at all, which I suspect is probably one of the reasons why they are few and far between.
IN MORE DETAIL
As they say, the devil is in the detail. And it is here, I'm afraid, the Legacy lets itself down.
In terms of interior space, it's generally good. As you'd expect with a big estate car the boot is a decent size and there's good rear legroom. Unfortunately the front passenger (and the driver, to some extent) isn't allocated enough of the available room. As a driver, it's just about passable, but and extra inch of backwards travel on the seat would have made a massive difference.
In the passenger seat, if you're tall like me, it verges on the unconformable.
Then there's the roller-blind load cover in the boot. The premium department must have been taking the day off when that got passed, because it's awful. It's not quite wide enough and the material is too thin. Not good enough in car costing nearly £30k new.
Then there's the dash board itself. It's very handsome and well screwed together, but lacks the thought of some rivals. The climate control, for example, is quiet and efficient but it seems to love putting in cold air. That's great for travel-sick-me, but even I have limits. It means on a cold night you are constantly turning the temperature up and there's no off control for either of the centre air vents. This is not what climate control is all about.
The whole dashboard is also covered in some metal-effect plastic, you know the sort, like that off a £29 Alba Stereo from ASDA. With the wood inserts it all looks good, but is too easily scratched.
The instruments are very handsome, and treat you to a light display whenever you start the car, but again there's no numeral at 30 or 70mph - just a gap.
The sat-nav, I think is a triumph though. I have many reviews saying how awful it is, but I found it not to be the case. The touch screen is easy to operate and the commands are clear and well timed. The 3D maps were easy to understand, until the rather expensive 'upgrade' to the 2006 / 2007 map DVD re-wrote some of the software to run in 2D mode only. Fantastic, and upgrade that's worse than the original. What also isn't much good is that the navigation screen replaces the basics - like the clock.
There is a clock function, but it's probably the most vile digital-analogue-effect clock I've seen. The clock screen is also home to the fuel consumption and trip computer - and, unlike the sat nav, this screen doesn't dim at night. Meaning you're either faced with the worlds ugliest and brightest time piece, or you arrive everywhere late.
But my final gripe is the biggest of all. Not because it's a massive cock up, but that no-one noticed. The interior light is a centrally mounted affair - no extra lights in the foot well or above the doors; just the one. Unfortunately the person that came up with the idea of having a 3 foot long sunroof didn't think of this. So the only courtesy light is mounted somewhere just above the rear centre arm rest. Meaning the driver and passenger have to stumble around in the dark. It's just plain daft.
So in effect I've bought a badly thought out Japanese car, that no-one ever hear of, which has an appetite for fuel and no useable clock. So does that make me disappointed?
Yes it does. But do I regret buying it? Absolutely Not. You see, it might have its flaws, but the overall package, ignoring the minor details, just feels so right. You simply cannot argue with handling that feels so safe all of the time.
I like the fact that I'm not one of the pack and I'm not driving something run of the mill. So in the end I'm grateful they didn't get it 100% right, otherwise everyone would buy one. And that wouldn't be any fun at all.
Thanks for reading.
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I really enjoyed reading that and as a potential Legacy purchaser found it actually far more than helpful! Mine is a company car and I'm not going to find reviews of the all new diesel, but an owners thoughts on the 3.0 Tourer are equally valid here. I will probably actually go for the yet to be launched diesel saloon - although the Tourer is a better looking car - at least the saloon has conventional interior lights! I think that the climate control has probably been upgraded since your carwas made - my two year old brochure shows a single temperaturecontrol - the ones that they're selling now are all "dual zone". The Legacy represents stunning value for money and I think will make a good replacement for my (less than durable) Honda Accord Diesel. Richard.