Subaru losing its Legacy of dynamic excellence

Updated Legacy Outback gains an auto ’box but loses the deft chassis of old

Is the Subaru losing its Legacy of dynamic excellence? Neil Briscoe finds out. Video: Neil Briscoe

Legacy Outback is handsome, if a little fussy-looking on the outside

Make: Subaru

Model: Legacy

Year: 2014

Fuel: Diesel

Date Reviewed: March 26, 2014

Thu, Mar 27, 2014, 12:00

   

Once, I thought I had found true love – just a little. I had taken a then-current Subaru Legacy saloon (this was in 2005) out for a jaunt through the wilds of Donegal and I had found true love. Not between me and the car, but between the car and the tarmac. I had never before driven a car whose chassis seemed so perfectly in tune with the parlous state of Irish rural tarmac. Where others bucked and heaved, the Legacy slid and glided. It was brilliant.

Fast forward to today (well, last week actually) and the flame of true love seems to have been snuffed out. In 2005, Subaru was still chiefly known for producing heart-pounding rally stage tearaways such as the Impreza Turbo. Now, Subaru is barely known at all – overshadowed by the likes of Toyota (which now owns a major stake in the firm), Hyundai and Kia. This is its attempt to get back on buyers’ radar; the new Legacy Outback. It was the original Outback that made Subaru a big noise in the US market. Along with the Subaru Forster it was the first to mix estate-car simplicity with 4x4 ability. The firm must be sorely hoping that an SUV-hungry European audience will also come flocking to the Outback’s rugged shape.

Let’s start with the good stuff. It’s handsome, if a trifle fussy. It’s spacious, comfortable, very well equipped and given Subaru’s legacy (ahem) of reliability and strength of construction, there’s every chance that your great-grandkids could be getting it valued on some future edition of the Antiques Roadshow. The 2.0 TD flat-four Boxer Diesel may have only 150bhp but it’s smooth and characterful to rev (it would want to be with 166g/km of Co2 emissions…) and the CVT transmission with seven pre-set ‘gears’ is one of the better of its type. Oh, and the steering is fantastic – brimming with feel and feedback in a way that we thought had died out entirely.

And the bad? Oh dear… The Outback just feels all at sea on the sort of bumpy, twisting roads that its predecessor so hungrily embraced. The ride is knobbly and stiff and it even fidgets constantly on a smooth motorway. In spite of the symmetrical all-wheel-drive system’s tractive abilities, the Outback is too keen to lurch into tyre-squealing understeer, which is hardly confidence inspiring. The final nail in the coffin is the continuing apparent lack of an interior design department at Subaru – the cabin is grey, dull and dreary, even if it is quite ergonomic.

It’s a shame. There is still a frisson of the “engineer’s choice” about Subaru, the feeling that it’s the kind of car bought with both head and heart, but the expensive Outback needs badly to rekindle its old relationship with the blacktop if European buyers are ever to take it seriously again.

The lowdown: Subaru Legacy Outback 2.0TD SX Lineartronic

Price: €44,995 as tested. (Legacy Outback pricing starts at €41,995)

Power: 150hp.

Torque: 350Nm.

0-100kmh: 9,7sec.

Top speed: 194kmh.

Claimed economy: 6.3l/100km.

Co2 emissions: 166g/km.

Motor tax: €570.

Good: Ruggedness, space, reliability, engine.

Bad: Lumpy ride, scrappy cabin, poor emissions, price

Verdict: A characterful Subaru that misses the mark of its predecessors.