The cars we loved.
The Subaru Legacy have always taken a different path. Maybe it’s because Fuji Heavy Industries which owns Subaru builds huge ships and tractors. Take the Legacy’s engine for instance, it’s boxer configuration, called such because the way the cylinders oppose each other, is only used in Porsches and a small hand full of other cars throughout history. This knack for quirky engineering endured Subaru cars to math teachers, rocket scientist and gear heads in the 70’s. That was before the marketing department decided that they needed to expand to other niche markets. It would be a long road to mass acceptance for the Legacy, but with each new generation, there would be new followers. In the process it spun off two distinct personalities.
The Legacy started as a mid-size sedan to compete with the likes of the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry. Unlike those cars the Legacy came with standard with all-wheel drive, a major selling point in the snow covered northern parts of world. That feature alone was the basis for brand building in the minds of Americans since the 70s. The utility of all-wheel drive made the Subaru’s and eventually the Legacy the petro darling of everyone from rural mail carriers to Greenpeace fanatics long before SUVs caught on enmass. Tow versions would emerge; a SUV in sedan clothing and a more butch wagon in SUV digs.
The wagon actually outsold the sedan and spun off it’s own model line as the Outback. The sedan remained on the fringes, mostly because the resulting cars were simply ugly and shared all the traits that made most Subaru’s up until the turn of the century quirky cars for engineer types. Turbo powered 4 cylinder engines propelled the sportier Legacies with just under 200 hp until the 3.0 L flat 6 was introduced in 1999 (for the US model). There were no shortages of sporty variants wearing GT or R badges, sales were small-scale dispite favorable press and almost non existant marketing outside of hiking, biking and other sport oriented publications.
The Legacy was always on the fringes of the crowded competitive midsize sedan market in America. Never really appealing to the mainstream, Subaru gradually played up the benefits of all wheel drive refining it to be less truck like and smoother. Now Subaru offered the benefits of a sporty road car as a sedan and the practical off-road prowess of a SUV. As a result it’s carefully targeted marketing to sport types. Along the way, the gay community has made the Outback/Legacy the unofficial car for Ski trips and White Party outings in Aspen. Gear heads took note as Subaru’s own WRX was heating up the compact car market. Some of that goodness rubbed off onto the Legacy sedan, but once again Subaru never really capitolized on it with any significant marketing trumping up performance. A car makers dream come true, Subaru found itself being the prom float to a well educated demographic with plenty of discretionary income. Open and LGBT friendly corporate policies and local involvement in events sealed the deal in establishing Subaru as the go to car for a loyal customer base. With that kind of support, there was no need to push any other marketing boundaries.
Subaru now fancies the Legacy as a Audi competitor. Its engines haven’t always been up to the task, but once again all wheel drive gave the Legacy good road manners in all kinds of weather. The problem was that Audis have that too and a legacy (sorry for the pun) of performance. Subaru started stepping it up around 2000 and to their credit the design of the Legacy has become more attractive with each new model while maintaining some the quirkiness that makes a Subaru a Subaru. The 2008 model year was the beginning of the most handsome and almost conventional looking car yet. The fifth generation car launched in 2009 shares Japanese and European design cues while continuing the aggressive look of the last with subtle refinements.
Now buyers can choose between a CVT, 6 speed manual or 5 speed automatic transmission. A re-tuned suspension, improved interior and all the luxuries expected in a modern performance sedan round out the upgrades to the 5th generation car. Two boxer engines are offered, a turbocharged 2.5 L 4 cylinder and 3.6 L normally aspirated V6 offer sprightly performance and highway fuel efficiency around 25 mpg. The engines are rated at 265 and 256 hp respectively. The numbers are respectable, but once again the competition is steep.
Subaru has long participated in racing events, mostly off-road and the GT Touring Circuit in Europe, by Americans know little of Subaru’s racing heritage. That may have to change if the Legacy sedan is to ever move into the forefront of the American mid-size sedan market. The Legacy finally has the looks with the performance to match, yet the Outback continues to outsell the sedan versions.