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Subaru Legacy/Outback

Subaru

Review

Like all its cars, the latest Legacy and Outback come with full-time four-wheel drive, with power from a range of horizontally-opposed four and six-cylinder engines derived from those in the out-going Legacy. Power has been increased across the board, delivering 138bhp, 165bhp and 245bhp from the 2.0, 2.5 and 3.0-litre engines respectively.

Even with the extra grunt, Subaru has brought down CO2 emissions from the 2.0 Tourer (estate to you and me) to 183g/km, dropping its benefit-in-kind tax liability from 27% to 20% in the process.

Subaru isn't slow to point out that this is less than the 22% the taxman levies on a 130bhp diesel Volkswagen Passat estate with four-wheel-drive.

Since the company's diesel engine remains a development project and won't be found in a production car for some years yet, Subaru knows it had to do something to make its cars more appealing to tax-conscious company car drivers. Pick a larger engine and the taxman's smile will broaden. 2.5-litre Legacys emit 198g/km of CO2 – rising to 203g/km for the taller riding Outback variant. Go for the top-of-the-range automatic-only 3.0-litre model and emissions will peak at 234g/km for the Tourer, down marginally on the out-going model.

Subaru UK managing director Sam Burton said he is not worried by the lack of a diesel engine and is focusing his attention on other matters.

'The Legacy has historically been perceived as an older man's car because the out-going model did not have the right image,' he said. 'We will be looking for young executives who want something different with the new Legacy. We now have the basis of a good product but I am under no illusions of how difficult the task is. We need attractive residuals that we can maintain and we have to build a second hand market for two to three-year-old models.'

There will be no residual value prediction from CAP until prices have been announced later this month, but Burton says he is confident it will be competitive.

Historically, business sales for the Legacy have accounted for about 40% with smaller businesses making up most of the clientele. Burton gave doctors and vets as examples. While he doesn't expect business sales to grow significantly with the new models, he's looking to those young executives to change the balance between small businesses and larger fleets.

Based on 3,600 sales next year, it should put about 1,400 business users in Legacy driving seats. Nearly a third are expected to opt for the saloon, a variant that has remained almost invisible with the out-going model.

Subaru is keeping the lid on prices until closer to the launch, but expect a modest price increase over the out-going models.

Better quality has encouraged the company to target Audi and BMW drivers, and it is understood that the 3.0-litre auto will take its cue from the Audi A4 price list.

Behind the wheel

IT is improved quality and finish that Subaru UK managing director Sam Burton hopes will stimulate saloon sales. If the H6 models available at the press launch are anything to go by, his hopes could be justified.

The new interior has a more modern feel than its predecessor, calling on lighter-coloured mouldings for the lower dash as well as tasteful use of aluminium finish on the centre console. Fake wood inserts may not be to everyone's taste though.

The quality is up to executive standards and the switchgear looks tidier than before. Although its predecessor didn't lack space, extra width gives more shoulder room for occupants front and back.

Twist the key and the six-cylinder engine purrs into life. It's uncannily smooth and quiet at tickover, needing a glance at the rev counter to check that it's still running. Subaru says 80% of the engine is new, with variable valve timing and lift to help boost power 17% to 245 bhp. That's enough to deliver rapid overtaking or fuss-free motorway cruising.

The engine also gains a five speed automatic. Designed by Subaru, it's a big improvement over the old four-speed unit and there's a five-speed manual to come. The auto 'box introduces a Tiptronic-style sequential shift for manual changes, as well as a sports mode, while the change pattern will adapt to your driving style.

Changes were generally smooth, but I found them surprisingly slow in manual mode. Permanent four-wheel drive has helped to give the Legacy fine road manners and now revisions to the chassis, suspension settings and steering have ensured that it's an even more rewarding car for enthusiastic drivers.

The pick of the bunch is the saloon with its stiffer body shell, but the estate is not far behind. Family drivers will probably find the estate's practicality a reasonable trade-off for a little less chassis precision.

The Outback feels different altogether, where increased ground clearance and softer damping give it notably more body roll, although far less than conventional off-roaders.

Good safety equipment featured on the out-going models and there's more for the new ones. Standard kit includes active front head restraints, two-stage front airbags, side airbags, collapsible foot pedals and ABS brakes. Curtain airbags are on the options list. The brake system has been tweaked too and Subaru claims performance is increased by 50%.

Subaru dealers will be re-positioning the Outback away from the Legacy estate, targeting 'lifestyle' drivers, such as those who tow caravans or boats and there will be individual trim packages designed for both Outback and Legacy models.

Driving verdict

Better build quality, more power and improved cabin space help to give the latest Legacy more appeal, while Subaru's trademark four-wheel drive and horizontally-opposed engines help to ensure it's a rewarding car to drive. Reduced CO2 emissions from the 2.0-litre models make the Legacy more tax-friendly, which is much needed with no diesel engine in sight.

Fact file
Model: Legacy/Legacy Outback 2.0 2.5 3.0 auto
Engine (cc): 1,994 2,457 3,000/td>
Max power (bhp/rpm): 135/5,600 162/5,600 241/6,600
Max torque (lb-ft/rpm): 138//4,400 167/4,400 219/4,200
Top speed (mph): 122/119 (120/113) 133/130 (128/125/123/122) 147 (Outback: 139)
0-62mph (sec): 10.9/12.7 (11.2/12.9) 8.9/10.4 (9.2)/10.6/9.4/10.5) 7.9/8.0 (Outback 8.1)
Fuel consumption (mpg): 37.2/37.7 (36.7) 34.4/34.9 (34.0/33.2) 29.4/28.8 Outback 28.8)
CO2 emissions (g/km):: 182/178 (183) 196/193 (198/203) 229/234 (Outback)
Fuel tank capacity (l/gal): 64/14
Transmission: 5-sp man/4-sp auto (2.0)/5-sp auto
Service intervals (miles): 12,000
On sale: November
Prices (estimated): £17,000 - £28,000

Performance figures saloon manual/auto (tourer manual/auto/Outback/Outback auto where different)

CO2 emissions and fuel consumption data correct at time of writing. The latest figures are available in the Fleet News fuel cost calculator and the company car tax calculator.

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