The Auto Channel
The Largest Independent Automotive Research Resource
The Largest Independent Automotive Research Resource
Official Website of the New Car Buyer

2011 Subaru Legacy 3.6R Limited Review

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
2011 Subaru Legacy 3.6R Limited

SEE ALSO: Subaru Buyers Guide
SEE ALSO: E-Carmony: Is the 2011 Subaru Legacy Your Perfect Match?


2011 Subaru Legacy 3.6R Limited

There is more to Subaru than WRXes and Outbacks. Although potent rally replicas and versatile wagon/ crossovers get the most attention, Subaru also makes midsize sedans under the Legacy nameplate. If you think that "midsize sedan" equals "boring family transportation appliance", not here. While the base Legacy 2.5i, with a 170-horsepower single overhead cam four-cylinder engine is more than competitive with the big names in the class, with the Subaru all-wheel drive advantage, its two siblings are considerably different.

The 2.5GT is a WRX's big brother, with the same 265-hp turbomotor, a six-speed manual gearbox, and quite a bit more civility than is wanted in the rally-replica marketplace. Want more refinement, to the point of a near-luxury experience akin to that of a more-expensive German marque? That would be the Legacy 3.6R.

Instead of the iconic boxer four, the 3.6R uses a naturally-aspirated six-cylinder engine, horizontally opposed of course, like all Subaru engines. With 3.6 liters of displacement, it makes similar power to the 2.5 GT's 256 hp, but it is much smoother and quieter. It's matched to a five-speed automatic transmission that features paddle-shift manual mode, and "Variable Torque Distribution" (VTD) electronically-controlled all-wheel drive.

The current, fifth-generation, Legacy debuted last year, built on an all-new and slightly larger platform. That improved interior space, especially in the rear seat, without a significant increase in exterior size. Changes for 2011 are minimal, mostly related to consolidation of the model lineup and option packages. 3.6R trim levels are as before, base, Premium, and Limited.

I've just finished a week with a 2011 3.6R Limited. With its upscale interior featuring leather-trimmed power seats, heated in front, dual-zone automatic climate control, and available moonroof and navigation system, the Legacy 3.6R Limited matches premium-priced compact European all-wheel drive sports-luxury sedans very well, for about the price of one of their base models or less. While it, appropriately, emphasizes comfort over performance in its ride and handling characteristics, it is still quite capable, and thoroughly enjoyable. It's quiet, roomy for its size, and charmingly different in all the good ways. Real, full-time, all-wheel drive has handling and safety advantages even on dry pavement, and Subaru's AWD systems are among the best, so Subarus are not just for people in snow country.

APPEARANCE: Subaru has had some quirkily-styled vehicles in its time. The current Legacy is not among them. It's pleasantly conservative in a way that should still look good after it's paid off. The new Subaru family grille is a larger chrome-trimmed trapezoid than previously, and is flanked by complexly-shaped headlamps. The front fascia is sporty without saying "boy racer", and the undertrays are more for aerodynamics than skid plate duty. At the sides, lower sill extensions are sporty but not overdone, and don't expect an STi picnic-table wing at the back, either. Prominent wheel arches, strong shoulders and well-defined character lines in the hood define the Legacy 3.6R's looks. Large taillights and twin exhausts are found at the rear. "Simple" is the appropriate one-word description, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

COMFORT: Inside, the Legacy 3.6R Limited is pleasantly near-luxury, meaning conservative, functional, gimmick-free styling with high-quality materials, soft-touch surfaces on the dash and doors, leather seating (power-adjustable and heated in front), and real aluminum trim on the stack, console, and steering wheel spokes. The "woodgrain" on the doors is more convincing than in any previous Subaru. The leather-rimmed steering wheel has audio, phone, and cruise controls on its spokes and is manually-adjustable for tilt and reach. Seat comfort is very good. Time, fuel consumption, and outside temperature are shown in a hooded, glare-free display at the top-center of the instrument panel. The AM/FM/6CD harmon-kardon® audio system has minijack and USB connections for external audio players in the lower compartment of the console box, next to a 12-volt power point. The dual-zone automatic climate control system works well, with quick heat or cooling as needed. Convenient storage spaces are found throughout the cabin, with storage and bottle holders in all four doors and a locking glove box. The rear seat offers increased space, especially legroom, and folds 60/40 for those times when large items need to be carried. The trunk opening is on the small side, typical for a sedan, but capacity is good and there is some under-floor space near the spare tire.

SAFETY: If the structure is new, the 2011 Legacy still uses "Ring-Shaped Frame Reinforcement" architecture to protect occupants. A full complement of airbags, with impact force sensors, front passenger weight sensor, and even sensors to measure the driver's distance to the steering wheel to control inflation strength offer further protection. As do new anti-whiplash front seats, standard four-wheel antilock disc brakes, Vehicle Dynamics Control (VDC) with traction control, and of course all-wheel drive traction and handling.

RIDE AND HANDLING: The fifth-generation Legacy's longer wheelbase and stiffer unibody structure add space and comfort for passengers -- and improved ride and handling characteristics. The 3.6R's MacPherson strut / double wishbone suspension is tuned moderately for comfort, but with springs and shocks that work with each other. Add the low center of gravity due to the horizontally-opposed engine, and body roll is not an issue. The VTD AWD system uses a planetary gear center differential and electronically-controlled continuously-variable hydraulic transfer clutch to send varying amounts of power as needed to the front and rear axles. A 45:55 static torque distribution gives it a sporty feel and eliminates torque steer. It's fun to drive and has a stealth factor that a WRX will never have.

PERFORMANCE: The namesake 3.6-liter dual overhead cam aluminum alloy boxer six replaces old 3.0-liter flat-six engine, and offers a smoother, quieter alternative to the 2.5-liter turbocharged four found in the 2.5GT. If the power ratings of the two engines are similar -- 256 hp at 6000 rpm and 247 lb-ft of torque at 4400 rpm for the 3.6 and 265hp at 5600 rpm and 258 lb-ft at 2000-5200 for the 2.5 turbo -- their personalities are very different. The four, also found in the WRX, wants to play, hard. The six is relaxed, smooth, and very quiet except under wide-open throttle. Strong low-end torque works well with the five-speed automatic, and D is fine most of the time. Power with this engine reminds me of a luxury car or high-powered audiophile sound system, where the "overhead" power reserve is there when necessary but not something indulged in continuously. A touch on the paddles behind the steering wheel spokes will down- or up-shift on demand, reverting to automatic in a few moments in D. Full manual mode is there for manual shifting. The transmission logic ensures that that will be for driver entertainment and involvement, not a necessity. It's plenty quick, with a 0-60 time around 6.5 seconds, and fuel economy is decent for its size and power at around 21mpg overall, with as little highway driving as possible.

CONCLUSIONS: Subaru shows its more luxury-oriented side in the Legacy 3.6R.

SPECIFICATIONS: 2011 Subaru Legacy 3.6R Limited

Base Price			$ 28,295
Price As Tested			$ 30,015
Engine Type			double overhead cam horizontally-opposed
				 aluminum alloy 24-valve 6-cylinder
				 with variable cam phasing
Engine Size			3.6 liters / 221 cu. in.
Horsepower			256 @ 6000 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)			247 @ 4400 rpm
Transmission			5-speed automatic with manual-shift mode
Wheelbase / Length		108.3 in. / 186.4 in.
Curb Weight			3557 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		13.9
Fuel Capacity			18.5 gal.
Fuel Requirement		87 octane unleaded regular gasoline
Tires				P225/50R17 Bridgestone Turanza EL400
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc, dual-piston calipers / 
				  solid disc, ABS, EBD, BA, VDC, TCS
Suspension, front/rear		independent MacPherson strut /
				  independent double wishbone
Drivetrain			longitudinal front engine,
				  full-time all-wheel drive

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		18 / 25 / 21
0 to 60 mph				6.5  sec

Power moonroof				$ 995
Destination charge			$ 725