The old shape 2.0-litre saloon and estate, which sit alongside the 2.5 in Subaru's price list, are US-sourced and so sidestep import quota restrictions. Both will be replaced before the year end by the latest model in 2.0-litre form in the run-up to the lifting of import restrictions at the start of 2000. At the same time, all Legacys will switch to Japanese sourcing and will for the first time give the company a full model range of current saloon and estate body styles in both 2.0 and 2.5-litre forms. The new saloon will spearhead Subaru's penetration into the compact executive market, albeit on a modest basis, but the addition of the 2.0-litre next year should open up the promise of significant incremental sales.
Two versions of the saloon are available at present, both powered by the 154bhp 2.5-litre 4cam four-cylinder engine already seen in the estate. This is one of the biggest 'fours' on the market, and certainly the largest four-cylinder engine on sale in the UK, all other manufacturers opting for either five or six-cylinder engines at this capacity. Subaru uses a horizontally opposed cylinder layout, where each pair is laid flat relative to the opposing pair, and in so doing achieves a smoother delivery than is the case with normal in-line fours. The engine is also more compact and contributes to the car's low centre of gravity, which helps weight distribution.
As with all Subarus, permanent four-wheel-drive is standard, and two trim levels are offered starting with the 2.5 GX with manual five-speed gearbox at ú17,995 on the road. There's also a four-speed automatic version of this car, priced at ú18,995, while the 2.5 GX with Luxury Pack, as tested here, costs ú21,495 in automatic form only. As with the estate, the extra money buys leather trim and automatic climate control. A manual Luxury Pack version will be introduced for the 2000 model year, available towards the end of this year.
At that price, the saloon GX with Luxury Pack is ú1,805 less than the equivalent estate, though the entry model saloon undercuts the cheapest 2.5-litre estate by a massive ú2,805, indicative of the territory Subaru wants to claim with the new car. That said, Subaru reports by far the biggest seller in the new saloon range so far is the Lux, and it looks good value compared with our chosen rivals.
With four-wheel-drive, automatic transmission, full leather trim and automatic climate control, it comes in ú1,700 cheaper than the Lexus IS200 SE auto, another model that has established a new benchmark in value for money. There is no indication on price of the new 2.0 models when they are introduced at the end of the year, but they will push Legacy entry to a new low.