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Subaru Legacy GT Wagon (2001)

SEE ALSO: Subaru Buyer's Guide

by Carey Russ

The Subaru Legacy gave birth to the Outback in 1995, and has been seemingly eclipsed in attention by "the world's first sport- utility wagon" ever since. That's too bad, because the Legacy is a fine car in its own right.

Not everyone wants an SUV, or even a sport-utility wagon (or sedan, as the Outback sedan continues to be made.) And, the Forester is even more SUV-like. At the other end of Subaru's lineup, the high-performance, rally-inspired WRX is not a car for everyone, either. But all-wheel drive is advantageous for almost anyone, even people living in warm, dry climates, because of its superior traction and control. Like all Subarus, every Legacy has all-wheel drive. The Legacy continues to hold down the middle ground in the Subaru line, between the smaller, sportier WRX and new-for-2002 WRX-influenced Impreza models and the ever- expanding Outback clan and Forester.

Legacys are offered in sedan an wagon body styles, with two basic trim levels - L and GT - in each and a fully-appointed GT Limited sedan. Power is from Subaru's 2.5-liter, 165-hp flat four, matched to a standard five-speed manual or optional four-speed automatic transmission. Upcoming changes for 2002 are minimal, so anything said about 2001 models should also apply to the 2002s. I've been driving a 2001 Legacy GT Wagon for the past week. It's been a most useful, versatile, and comfortable vehicle, and offers the interior space of a small-to-medium SUV and sporty handling and a fun-to-drive experience as well.

APPEARANCE: With its rounded two-box shape, the Legacy GT Wagon is undeniably a wagon, and there is little doubt as to the manufacturer, either. The upside-down trapezoidal Subaru grille gives it a pugnacious look, and the twin intake nostrils and foglamps in the lower front bumper fascia and the flared rocker panels speak for performance. There is not a hint of SUV in the Legacy GT Wagon's styling, even if the roofline, with its built-in rack and twin power sunroofs, is shared with the Outback wagons.

COMFORT: The Legacy Wagon's interior best illustrates its middle-of-the-road, middle-class nature. It's not fancy, but it is functional and comfortable. In space it is in the middle of the midsize category. Synthetic cloth upholstery helps secure occupants in the supportive, fully-reclining front buckets and rear split bench. The rear cushion is higher than the front seats for rear-passenger visibility. It flips up fully, while the rear seatback is split 60/40. A rear cargo shade and small storage tray are standard, as are dual moonroofs. The front one tilts only, while the rear opens fully. Back up front, a good instrument panel design and tilt-adjustable leather-trimmed steering wheel help the driver to enjoy life, as do many small, useful storage spaces and a licking glove box.

SAFETY: Little-known fact: Subaru Legacy wagons are at the top of safety ratings, with the highest rating for the IIHS offset-frontal crash test, a four-star rating in the NHTSA full-frontal and front side impact tests, and a five-star rating in the NHTSA rear side- impact test. Credit the sturdy, progressively-deformable "Ring- Shaped Reinforcement" unibody structure for that.

ROADABILITY: All Subarus have all-wheel drive, but Subaru has several different AWD systems, because of the different driving styles expected of different customers. Legacys with automatic transmissions have "Active All-Wheel Drive," an electronically- controlled system that adjusts the front/rear torque split according to driving conditions. In normal operation, torque is split more toward the front wheels, for a familiar front-wheel drive feeling. But the front/rear torque split changes dynamically and imperceptibly according to driving style and road conditions. A limited-slip rear differential ensures maximum traction when cornering. The GT has a slightly firmer suspension tuning than the L model, and a lower center of gravity than an Outback. The result is a good blend of ride comfort and sporty handling.

PERFORMANCE: Inline four-cylinder engines over two liters in displacement can have vibration problems. Subaru has solved this with its horizontally-opposed ("boxer") design, and the Legacy's 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine is very smooth in operation. With 165 horsepower at 5600 rpm and 166 lb-ft of torque at 4000 rpm, it gets the Legacy wagon moving much more quickly than the average SUV. The Legacy GT's performance further benefits from a numerically-lower final drive ratio. The standard five speed manual transmission enhances the sporty side of the car, but the four-speed automatic is also a good choice, especially for anyone who has to deal with traffic jams more often than mountain roads.

CONCLUSIONS: The Subaru Legacy GT Wagon combines sport wagon handling with SUV utility.

2001 Subaru Legacy GT Wagon

Base Price              $ 23,795
Price As Tested         $ 25,336
Engine Type             horizontally-opposed 16-valve single 
                          overhead cam 4-cylinder
Engine Size             2.5 liters / 150 cu. in.
Horsepower              165 @ 5600 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)          166 @ 4000 rpm
Transmission            4-speed electronically-controlled 
                          automatic (5-speed manual standard)
Wheelbase / Length      104.3 in. / 187.4 in.
Curb Weight             3515 lbs. (auto)
Pounds Per Horsepower   21.3
Fuel Capacity           16.9 gal.
Fuel Requirement        unleaded regular gasoline, 87 octane
Tires                   205/55 HR16 Bridgestone Potenza RE92
Brakes, front/rear      vented disc / solid disc, antilock 
Suspension, front/rear  independent MacPherson strut / 
                          independent multilink
Drivetrain              front engine, all-wheel drive

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed      22 / 27 / 23
0 to 60 mph              est. 10 sec
Coefficient of Drag (cd)      0.32

4-speed automatic transmission         $ 800
Popular Equipment Group 3 - includes:
  floor mats and cross bar kit         $ 246
Destination and delivery               $ 495