Not long ago, I wrote that Subaru “has carved a marketing niche for itself by creating cars that exude the practical and eschew the pretty.” I was referring to the 2004 Subaru Baja, a delightful Frankenstein of a car that won me over with its handling and overall aplomb. And less-than-pretty was not a recent phenomenon of Subaru’s automotive design mindset. As far as I can remember, which happens to be back in the days of 75-cents-per-gallon gas, the Subaru aesthetic could most charitably be described as having a great personality.
But now Subaru is rolling out the new generation of its stalwart Legacy sedans and wagons, and it’s readily apparent that Subaru has decided it can make a car exude both practicality and beauty. Gone is the ungainly chunkiness that was so long the Subaru hallmark.
I had the good fortune to spend a week with the 2005 Legacy wagon. The station wagon, of course, is a car we all seem pre-programmed to think of as sedate and ponderous. But the new Legacy’s looks and performance are anything but sedate. The differences in styling are acute, at least to me. The smooth lines of the front grill and headlights assembly carry along the sides of the car, and the back roof tapers into the rear liftgate for a profile that’s both assured and speedy. The stance looks lower to the ground than its predecessors, and that translates into a cooler, more astute appearance.
On the performance side, the Legacy was far more fun to drive than I expected from any wagon this side of a Dodge Magnum. With 250 horsepower being pulled from the turbocharged 4-cylinder boxer engine, you’ll find more than enough power for day-to-day driving, plus a lot extra for the wilder side you may deign to indulge on occasion. That’s not to say the Legacy is a sports car masquerading as a station wagon — the turbo lag is significant, and you’ll need to keep the RPMs way up if you want to access that power on a regular basis.
Translation: If you want to feel neck-snapping acceleration every time you launch at a traffic signal, the Legacy isn’t for you. If you’re looking for a wagon (or sedan) that shoehorns in a bit of extra power for your pleasure, then this may be up your alley.
The standard Subaru all-wheel drive adds the expected level of confidence when dealing with adverse conditions, although everyone would be well served to remember that all-wheel drive does not equal invincibility — a lesson many mammoth SUV drivers still have yet to learn. But for everyday, non-reckless driving in rain and moderate snow the all-wheel drive is a boon.
The Legacy receives an upgraded interior as well, with a carefully and tastefully appointed cabin that is as comfortable as it is functional. Plenty of storage space keeps things out of your way, and most of those cubbyholes can be covered, keeping the interior smooth and clean. The front seats hold you firmly in place even on challenging twisty roads.
The wagon’s rear cargo area is neatly hidden away by a retractable cover, and is large enough to handle big weekend chores and well-packed vacations. And the elongate moonroof — not standard equipment, of course — makes the whole interior feel larger and lighter.
It’s hard not to like Subaru’s new focus on making things pretty. But a part of me hopes that it won’t overtake every model they make. After all, a Baja wouldn’t be a Baja without a little bit of ugly.