A 3-in-1 Legacy
There seems to be no stopping the engineers at Subaru from translating geeky high-tech engineering into wonderfully engaging driver’s cars, like the latest new Legacy. Fuji’s lab-coated geniuses, who continue to passionately develop Subaru’s classic boxer’ flat-four engine, have engineered the latest drive-by-wire technology into the turbocharged 2.5-litre engine that powers the new Legacy and Outback models.
Not content to just “install” drive-by-wire though, they have taken advantage of this technology to actually alter the engine’s responses, in three pre-set modes. Until now, the most carmakers have done to alter a car’s driving mode is to have different changing-up times for a car’s transmission – normal, economy, and sport. Subaru takes this a step further by including changes to the programming of not just the transmission, but also the engine.
In the case of the new Legacy’s SI-Drive, the three modes are “Intelligent”, “Sport” and “Sport Sharp”. “Intelligent” should probably be the default mode since it delivers the smoothest gearchanges and best fuel efficiency. “Sport” is for a quicker throttle response, and “Sports Sharp” for an even more responsive reaction.
I’m not normally one that is taken in by these “gimmicks”, but I was impressed when I sampled the new Legacy GT Station Wagon. The car does actually respond quicker in “Sport” and “Sport Sharp” mode, and it even feels as if the damper rates get firmer as well.
The true test of how effective the car changes is in a “blind” test – not that I’m blind folded as the driver, but I having my passenger change mode without telling me, and actually feeling the car’s responses change. This is possible because the SI-Drive knob is on the centre console, just behind the gear lever.
In “Sport Sharp” mode in particular, the Legacy responds like its on steroids, the engine and gearbox reacting to the slightest input from the driver’s right foot. And this occurs for all 5-gears on the automatic transmission, making it a great car darting in and out of slower moving expressway traffic. The fact that the lovely boxer engine delivers all its 340Nm of torque at just 3600rpm makes it even more satisfying. Its like having a larger and more ‘lazy’ engine, but one that is quick and responsive when called to task.
Driven in “Intelligent” mode, the Legacy is noticeably smoother and the gearchanges seem more smothered and less deliberate. The Legacy is still a driver’s car at heart, but it is less manic and more relaxed. In addition to the tachometer, the new Legacy gets vacuum gauge ‘econo-meter’ has been included within the speedometer to show fuel consumption – it works more effectively than reading the digits from the trip computer.
Other aspects that make the Legacy such a lovely driver’s car are the paddle-controls at the steering wheel. They are not the confusing “+” and “-“ buttons that other carmakers have, but actual paddles like an F-1 or rally car – the right one for changing up, and the left one for changing down. In addition to being quick and responsive, the paddles have the feel, and with the feedback that is deliciously tactile.
The nature of the ‘boxer’ flat four is legendary, and anyone who has driven a Legacy, or any other Subaru for that matter, will find going back to a ‘normal’ in-line engine quite a let down – the feel and responses of the engine itself is addictive.
Other sensual aspects of the Legacy include the wonderful McIntosh hi-fi system – other manufacturers are catching on to having a state-of-the-art in-car hi-fi, but Subaru were the first, and set the standard.
So yes, sometimes the engineers (and not the marketing men) know what they are doing, and this is obvious with the new Legacy. Its new SI-Drive really works, and short of physically transforming a car like in the “Taxi” movies, the Legacy does change its responses according to which mode is selected. Probably the only aspect of the Legacy that doesn’t impress is the ordinary appearance of its dashboard, but then this does make it a wonderful “wolf-in-sheeps-clothing”.
Credits: Justin Lee