Sunday, February 24, 2008

2008 Subaru Legacy 3.0 R Limited

The Subaru Legacy has always been one of my favorite mid-sizers, but it's been slipping a bit. In 2005, I gave it five stars. In 2007, I awarded it four. And now it's down to three.

Part of the problem is that Toyota, Nissan, Chevrolet and Honda have all introduced excellent new mid-size sedans. But the bigger issue is that Subaru keeps giving me nicer and nicer Legacys to test. In 2005 I drove the base-model Legacy 2.5i, which is still a great deal ($21,500k nicely equipped with all-wheel-drive). In 2007, I tested the turbocharged Legacy GT. Lots of fun but a bit thirsty. This time I tried the new top-of-the-line 3.0 R Limited, which adds a 245 hp six-cylinder engine to a car that really didn't need more power.

2008 sees the addition of a much-needed tilt-and-telescope steering column and a much-appreciated optional navigation system. But they've tweaked things that didn't need tweaking, like exterior styling and wood trim. And the things that did need tweaking -- the lack of auto-down windows, front seats that need more thigh support, and a dual-zone climate control system that won't let you set the temperature on both sides of the car at once -- have been left to annoy a new generation of Legacy drivers. And there's a new annoyance: The steering-wheel paddles, which allow manual shifting of the 3.0R's 5-speed automatic transmission, are actually fixed to the column, so you can't reach them when the wheel is turned. Oops.

One thing I can't complain about is the handling. With standard all-wheel-drive and electronic stability control, the Legacy's grip on the road is truly awe-inspiring. But the six-cylinder engine simply isn't as thrilling as the turbocharged GT and Spec.B models, and it uses even more fuel. All in all, I don't think the 3.0R justifies its $32k asking price. I still love the Legacy -- just not this Legacy. -- Aaron Gold

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