1997 Subaru Legacy 2.5 GT
Has any car platform spawned more variations than the Subaru
Legacy? In that sense, it's the Chrysler K-car of the '90s, and
I mean that as a compliment.
The Legacy was born as a mid-size family sedan and wagon. It
begat the SVX sport-luxury coupe; the compact Impreza, in
two- and four-door sedan and four-door wagon body styles; Outback
versions of both Legacy and Impreza; and, later this year, the
Forester sport-utility vehicle. Most have been available with
front or four-wheel drive.
The latest change rung off this metaphorically flexible
chassis is the Legacy 2.5 GT, which stretches the family in the
sporting, touring car direction, with increased power, handling,
style, equipment and — you guessed it — price.
Visually, the GT differs from lesser Legacys by virtue of a
unique front bumper and spoiler, incorporating additional
cooling vents and multi-reflector fog lights, a geewhiz hood
scoop, and multispoke alloy wheels with aggressive 205/55HR16
A rear deck spoiler is standard on sedan versions; you may
infer therefrom that the GT is also offered in wagon form, and
you would infer correctly. I'm glad to see at least one carmaker
feels an interest in sporty driving and the need to haul stuff
are not mutually exclusive.
Inside, it's standard uplevel Legacy, with logical controls
and instrumentation. Power locks, mirrors, windows and sunroof
are standard, as are air/con, a decent sound system, and a
manual height-adjustable driver's seat. The only obvious
luxo-touches are woodgrain trim bits surrounding the window
switches. I'm not a huge fan of wood in cars, but these pieces
look a bit lonesome. The decor is otherwise drab, all black and
The GT's 2.5 litre 16-valve four-cam four-cylinder engine
cleaves to Subaru's traditional horizontally opposed ("flat", or
"boxer") configuration. Officially redesigned for GT, it's
essentially the same engine offered in other Legacy variants
since last year; it will also power Forester.
The relevant numbers: 165 horsepower at 5600 r.p.m., and 162
pound-feet of torque at 4000 r.p.m., both up by single-digit
percentages from Subaru's previous 2.5 boxer.
This engine was previously available only with an automatic;
in light of GT's sporting mandate, a five-speed manual is
standard, the auto optional.
Subaru pours millions into the World Rally Championship, which
it wins with regularity against Toyota, Ford and Mitsubishi, to
which North Americans react with stone-faced indifference.
Still, Subaru attempts a technical tie-in between the four-wheel
drive and long-travel suspension systems used in the rally and
A full-time four-wheel drive system is standard on GT, but as
usual with Subaru, the systems differ technically between the
automatic and manual transmissions. The differences are
transparent to the driver. In either case, there are no switches
to push, no levers to tug. Whichever set of wheels needs grip,
gets grip, end of story. Good plan.
The supple suspension aims to provide good ride quality even
on rough roads. Chunky anti-roll bars, specific shock absorbers
and quick power rack-and-pinion steering are designed to offer
Four-wheel disc brakes with a proper four-channel anti-lock
system (as opposed to the more common, cheaper and less
effective three-channel design) are standard.
Approaching the Legacy GT, you can't help thinking you've seen
it all before. The visual changes work well with the handsome
Legacy shape, but you'll hardly be scratching your head
wondering what it is. The wagon looks particularly nice in
The seat is a bit flat and unsupportive, given the promised
(and delivered) handling of this car. The interior trim
materials and assembly quality are okay; not spectacular, but
serviceable. Frameless side windows, a feature of Legacy from
the start, must be adjusted tightly so they seal properly at
high speed, yet not so tightly that the doors are hard to close.
It's a near-impossible assignment.
Firing up the engine, you're reminded that 2.5 litres is
pretty much the upper limit for four-cylinder engines. And
that's from me, Mr. There's No Substitute For Cubic Inches.
Subaru's flat-fours have always had a characteristic sound that
some love and others find gravelly; this one is as rough as an
old boot, especially when cold. It doesn't enjoy revving much
beyond 5000 r.p.m., sounding strained as those necessarily large
pistons begrudgingly reverse direction inside their cylinders.
Then again, with plenty of torque on tap, there isn't a great
deal of need to explore the upper reaches of the rev range. The
engine pulls beautifully from very low revs. So does a John
I drove two GTs: the first one seemed to have led a hard life,
despite less than 9000 km on the clock. The gearbox was
scratchy, the clutch take-up gritty, the brake pedal a bit
spongy, and the car didn't seem to have the pop the numbers
The second car, picked up from Stan Maleta's Mississauga
Subaru dealership, was much better, despite 12,000 km on the
odo. The gearbox was effortless and direct, the engine much
spritelier, although scarcely sparkling.
Lateral grip borders on amazing. The 205/55HR16 tires are
hardly Formula One size, but the distribution of cornering and
tractive power to all four wheels really lets you hustle this
car around bends at unseemly speeds. Full throttle in tight
corners generates understeer, but it's not ponderous.
Despite this handling prowess, the ride is truly fine, firm
Even on the second car the brake pedal wasn't as firm as I
like — this must be a trait of the car. Still, the binders scrub
off speed adroitly.
The GT iteration of Legacy proves that this automotive family
is equally happy as a cooking family car, a proto-SUV (the
Outback) and a sporty touring car.
Subaru's challenge will be to convince sporty sedan intenders,
who are more likely to consider such as Acura Integra or BMW, to
think of Legacy, although you do get four-wheel drive. Newcomers
to the marque will find $29,995 ($1,000 more for the wagon) a
bit stiff for a car that doesn't look much different from
Legacys costing thousands less. It's the old "most expensive
house in a cheap neighborhood" story.
Legacy GT is also challenged — as is every other sporty sedan
anywhere near this price level — by Audi's brilliant A4. True,
it's perhaps four grand more expensive, but that's not
insurmountable if you're already in this range. And the Audi's
additional refinement will be enough to convince many shoppers
it's worth the premium.
Still, longtime Subaru fans will move up into the Legacy GT
with complete assurance that the well appreciated Subaru
attributes — durability, character — are retained, augmented by
additional dollops of performance and visual appeal.
Freelance journalist Jim Kenzie prepared this report based on
driving experiences with a vehicle provided by the automaker.