''How do you find it? I'm thinking of buying an Outback myself.''
That question, asked by an acquaintance upon spying the Legacy 2.5i Sport test car in my care, aptly sums up the dilemma facing Subaru these days: in a nutshell, the country's best-known purveyor of all-wheel-drive passenger cars is not immune to an ongoing market shift away from conventional cars, in favour of SUVs and other recreational four-wheel-drives.
Within the confines of Subaru itself, that has meant a move away from the Legacy, in favour of the Outback, which is largely the same vehicle, but with increased ride height and a body kit.
Subaru's most recent response to this shift has involved a revamp of the Legacy range, including the addition of a new high-riding 2.5-litre Legacy, the 2.5X (with 50mm more clearance) and a $5000 price reduction for the 2.5i Sport to $44,990.
I am looking forward to sampling the new 2.5X in due course, but in the meantime a few days behind the wheel of the 2.5i Sport wagon reacquainted me with the Legacy.
Whatever changing tastes in the market might dictate, there is still plenty to like here.
It has a neat look, updated regularly over the years, with a stronger family resemblance across the generations than most mass-market vehicles on sale today. The interior is similarly tidy, and provides plenty of room front and rear.
The driver's seat adjusts for squab height, and the steering wheel for both rake and reach, so settling comfortably behind the wheel is no chore. Sport specification these days brings with it 17-inch alloys, front fog lamps, seven airbags, dual-zone climate control, reversing camera, Bluetooth audio and phone connectivity, cruise control and tinted rear windows. There is also paddleshift controls to allow the driver to take control of the six-stage Lineartronic CVT transmission as it delivers the 2.5-litre engine's 127kW of power and 235Nm of torque to the wheels.
Through the presence of a full-sized wheel in the boot, it can even claim more off-the-beaten-track credibility than many stauncher-looking lifestyle SUVs. The Sport's relatively modest ground clearance (150mm) is likely to be the main barrier to travelling adventurous byways, but on all other occasions it gives the standard Legacy more incisive handling than either the X or Outback alternatives.
Turn-in is crisp and assured, albeit with a typical four-wheel-drive's tendency to understeer if pushed hard into a bend. The car maintains its line neatly through corners, and takes mid-corner bumps in its stride.
With rocket-ship-status in the Legacy line-up reserved for the turbocharged GT, acceleration is solid rather than stunning. Still, the current boxer-configuration engine goes about its business with a characterful willingness.
All of this leads me to conclude that fads and fashion are no less weird in the automotive word than elsewhere.
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