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2011 Subaru Legacy 3.6R Limited Review By Steve Purdy

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2011 Subaru Legacy 3.6R

SEE ALSO: The Auto Channel's Complete Subaru Specs, Reviews and Comparisons - Subaru Buyers Guide

A Fast, Lovely, Functional Sedan
By Steve Purdy
Detroit Bureau

Lansing MI July 15, 2011; My pretty blonde and I vacation in New England occasionally. I recall a few years ago having breakfast in a lovely little diner in Northern New Hampshire watching rush-hour traffic (such as it is up there) noticing that nearly half the vehicles passing by were Subarus of one kind or another – from a rusty, ragged old Brat to shiny new Legacies, Foresters and Outbacks.

Why such market penetration in the far northeast when Subaru has less than a 3% presence in the U.S. market as a whole? Well, I’m glad you asked. It has to do with a certain independent image, proven durability and particularly Subaru’s Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive that comes with every model in the lineup. After all, much of the year in the Northeast is spent driving in snow, mud and on bad roads of every description.

Yes, every Subaru has the Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive system, from the bottom-of-the-line Impreza compact to the Tribeca CUV and the upscale Legacy sedan. While most other all-wheel drive, or 4-wheel drive, systems start with a front or rear wheel drive platform and add mechanical bits to engage the other axle, Subaru’s system integrates both axles in series with the engine, thereby eliminating many mechanical components. It sends all power evenly to all wheels all the time. If one wheel encounters a slippery spot all the power ends up with the other wheels.

If you’ve been watching this space you may notice that I just reviewed the WRX and Forester. So, this is my third Subaru in three weeks. The WRX was small, simple and fun. The Forester was disappointingly homogenous but a fine CUV, in a white-bread sort of way. This week’s Legacy 3.6R Limited impressed me much more than expected in many ways. In fact, there were times this week I thought I was driving an Infiniti.

It’s been a few years since I’ve been in a Legacy. I’m most familiar with my sister-in-law’s old legacy, probably 8 years old with 130,000 miles. She loves it and has had a great car experience with it. She has no interest in getting a new one or driving anything else. Many Subaru owners seem to have that kind of loyalty. Hers, though, is much smaller and simpler than the one in my driveway. The Legacy has certainly grown over the generations.

Our tester is the nearly top-of-the-line, very well equipped, Legacy Limited with a base price of $28,295. With the moonroof, costing nearly a grand, and the $750 destination charge we’re looking at just about $30,000 on the sticker. Transaction prices on Subarus tend to be higher than most competitors as they have not needed to offer incentives. So don’t be expecting many bargains.

The entry level Legacy with 4-cylinder power and considerably less content can be had for just under $20,000 with manual transmission. The next level up features a continuously variable transmission with the small engine. And then there is the turbo version of the four at $31,395. Two lesser 6-cyliner variants round out the Legacy lineup.

I spent a lot of time covering many miles in the Legacy this week. The first road trip took me almost four hours north to Michigan’s “Gold Coast” to attend the Bay Harbor Concours d’Elegance near Petosky. That long drive gave me plenty of time to acclimate to the lovely, comfortable interior and easy-to-manage controls. The leather seats fit my oversize tush well - firm enough but not overly firm like many German seats.

This car did not have the navigation system, usually a source of much criticism and consternation for me, so we can keep it simple. The Infiniti reference came to mind immediately because of the design and finish of the dash and interior - very nice materials without excess or oddity. Everything was where I expected it to be and everything worked well. It certainly has none of the quirkiness of the original Subarus, but it fits perfectly in with entry-luxury sedans against which it competes.

Performance was surprisingly good. Perhaps surprising because I had just come off a week with the tepid Forester. On full throttle the 3.6-liter 6-cylinder boxer mated to a 5-speed automatic transmission launches smoothly and decisively right up to red line with a sound and feel of sophistication. We have 256 horsepower at our disposal and we feel every one. Everything in the drivetrain is so well balanced, and the cabin so well insulated, that only the best sounds get through.

The EPA estimates the 3,500-pound Legacy 3.6R should get about 18-mpg in the city and 25-mpg on the highway. My mileage was entirely within that range throughout a wide variety of conditions.

Handling is excellent with conventional strut suspension in the front and a double-wishbone design in the rear. Chassis dynamics, like stability control, brake assist and ABS compliment the all-wheel drive to inspire confidence on the road. Lots of airbags and all the expected safety features make equal to competitors in the safety realm. There is really little difference in safety features as most manufacturers offer the same stuff.

Upscale but undistinguished describes the exterior design. Nothing about the visual presentation suggests any particular brand. The profile, stance, greenhouse and overall shape reflect most mid size sedans. That’s not necessarily a bad thing in that so many cars are so well proportioned and designed. The Infiniti comparison applies here as well. The details, like headlight bezels, 17-inch chrome wheels, body sculpting and flow are pleasing if not eye-catching. No one will whip around and say “What was that?” But many may mistake it for other luxury cars.

Subaru’s warranty covers the whole car for 3 years or 36,000 miles and the powertrain for 5 years or 60,000 miles. Assembled in Lafayette, Indiana the Legacy has about 65% US content with the remaining 35% from Japan.

While the Legacy provides great value in its class, a mighty fine mid-size, mid-range sedan, it’s claim to fame is that you get the Symmetrical All-Wheel drive as part of the deal.

ęSteve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved