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Legacy sedan adds six-cylinder engine
Sports car-like paddle shifters, a six-cylinder engine and seats trimmed with perforated leather aren't typically expected in Subaru sedans.
But they're standard equipment for the newest version of the Subaru Legacy for 2008.
The Legacy 3.0 R Limited, with starting retail price of $31,940 including destination charge, showcases how luxury and sportiness can combine comfortably in a Subaru car with an unassuming exterior.
The 2008 3.0 R Limited is the only Legacy four door with a 245-horsepower, six-cylinder engine. Last year's most powerful Legacy had a turbocharged four cylinder.
The new, 3.0 R Limited also comes with standard factory-installed navigation system, power moonroof, Bilstein sport suspension and six-CD player in the dashboard.
Best of all, the 3.0 R Limited retains the top five-out-of-five-stars rating that Legacy earned in federal government frontal and side crash testing.
And, like all Subarus, the 3.0 R Limited comes standard with all-wheel-drive.
It's true the price for this new model, with standard shift-it-yourself automatic transmission, is a substantial $10,800 more than a base Legacy with 175-horsepower, four-cylinder engine and manual transmission.
It's also priced a lot higher than the starting prices for other Japan-branded sedans with six-cylinder engines. For example, the 2008 Toyota Camry V-6 has a starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, of $24,300 with cloth seats, no paddle shifters, no navigation system or moonroof. But once standard items found on the Legacy 3.0 R Limited are added on, the Camry V-6 price can zoom to more than $31,000.
I suspect that shoppers who are likely to appreciate the new Legacy 3.0 R Limited will tend to be those who enjoy a European-style ride.
So, while it sounds odd, they'd be wise to cross-shop this new Legacy with some European small sedans, including the Audi A4 sedan, which starts at $31,775 for a 200-horsepower, turbocharged, four-cylinder model with all-wheel-drive and $37,075 for a 255-horsepower, V-6-powered model with front-wheel-drive.
Like European models, the Legacy 3.0 R Limited tester -- which was built in a factory in Lafayette, Ind., by the way -- stuck to the roads tenaciously.
Even on rainy surfaces, the car didn't lose traction.
I didn't experience torque steer -- that unnerving tugging of the steering wheel to one side or the other -- that can occur when a driver slams down the accelerator to start up aggressively after a stop. The Legacy's all-wheel drive just smoothed the transition of the 215 foot-pounds of torque peaking at 4,200 rpm to the wheels capably.
The ride wasn't punishing, either. Sure, I felt road bumps like manhole covers and irregular, patched pavement. But the Legacy seemed to roll over them with some minor vibrations in the seats.
There are two Legacy models with the Bilstein sport suspension this year. But of the two, the suspension under the 3.0 R Limited has been tuned for a less harsh ride, and I wasn't fatigued or weary after lengthy travel.
I did hear road noise now and then from the sizable, 18-inch, Bridgestone Potenza all-season tires. The noise could be quite loud if the Legacy was riding over pavement with a coarse surface. But wind noise was minimal in the test car, and the well-padded front bucket seats provided good support and comfort.
In fact, the ride was pleasant either way I drove the Legacy -- with sporty gusto as I shifted through the gears via the paddles at the steering wheel or more sedately, when I allowed the automatic transmission to shift gears on its own.
I just had to watch the speedometer, because this Legacy can get going quickly, and the 3-liter, double overhead cam, horizontally opposed six cylinder didn't sound strained at all.
Government fuel economy ratings are on par with a Legacy with turbocharged four cylinder: 17 miles per gallon in city driving and 24 mpg on the highway.
Obviously, though, this is not as good as a four-cylinder Legacy, which has a 20/27 mpg rating for 2008.
All safety equipment -- from curtain air bags and anti-whiplash front-seat head restraints to antilock brakes and stability control -- is standard.
While Subaru officials mildly restyled all Legacy cars for 2008, I liked the fact that this new Legacy is so understated. With no hood scoop or exaggerated body kit, it doesn't scream out that this is a sporty car. It just can behave that way when called upon.
But some shoppers may prefer a showier look.
The other drawback of the Legacy is its smaller than many other Japan-branded sedans.
The federal government ranks the Legacy as a compact, while the Camry is a mid-size car. This means less rear legroom -- just 33.9 inches in the Legacy vs. 38.3 inches in the Camry, for example. The Legacy's rear headroom and shoulder room also are less than the Camry's, and the Camry has three more cubic feet of trunk space.