LAFAYETTE, IN – After staging five large focus group sessions in North America a few years ago, Subaru was surprised that few taking part knew the company made a mid-size car ? the Legacy.
Those surveyed recognized the brand and emblem and were aware of the Impreza, WRX/STI and, of course, the Outback and Forester.
But the Legacy result was a shocker because the company has been building the Legacy for 25 years at its North American assembly plant in Lafayette, Indiana.
Bottom line was something had to be done and now it has with the 2015 model that starts rolling down the production line as this is being written and arrives in Canadian Subaru shops later this summer.
The company had previously decided to bring a new Legacy to market for the 2015 model year, but the focus groups underscored the need for some serious changes.
Top of the list was styling. Subaru is an engineering-driven company, which is why its products last so long, which interestingly enough, was near the top of the focus group findings. Subaru says that 96 per cent of Legacys are still on the road.
At last November?s Los Angeles Auto Show, Subaru showed its Legacy Concept designed by its LA styling studio.
Looking like little was needed to go from concept to full production; the most prominent feature was the coupe-like roof profile thanks to a steeply raked windshield along with a ?nose cone? fusing the bumper and grille into one unit.
While the wheelbase is the same, engineers enlarged the cabin. Rear seat legroom was made almost 10 centimetres longer.
The trunk grew from 416 litres in the 2014 model to 425 litres for 2015. This was no easy task because the rear end also houses the AWD aft differential and half shafts as well as the multilink suspension system.
One of the highest recognition factors among the focus groups was Subaru?s famed full-time Symmetrical All-Wheel-Drive, which they didn?t mess with.
Subaru stuck with that 2.5-litre DOHC ?boxer? four-cylinder (175 hp, 174 lb/ft of torque) and the 3.6-litre DOHC ?boxer? six-cylinder (256 hp, 247 lb/ft).
Also unchanged is Subaru?s Lineartronic CVT transmission with simulated six-speed manual shift, if needed, with paddles on the steering wheel.
What attracted my attention is a Canada-only version of the base 2.5-litre with six-speed manual transmission.
Fuel numbers for the 2.5-litre CVT are 7.7/5.4/6.7L/100 km city/highway/combined and 10.5/6.9/8.9L/100 km for the 3.6-litre. Fuel consumption of the manual is still being calculated at this writing.
All models are equipped with an Eco gauge between the speedo and tach that encourages fuel responsibility with coloured bars.
The suspension geometry, spring rates and damper tuning were all reworked with a new electric power steering system giving better feel.
The biggest change in the drivetrain is the introduction of torque vectoring, first seen on the WRX and STI performance cars. What it does is take the stability/traction control system and allows it to apply slight braking on the inside front wheel making the Legacy more planted in a corner.
My co-driver and I both agreed the 3.6-litre model was very taut and a joy to drive fast through the many winding roads outside of Lafayette where we were given pre-production versions to test.
The area is lush with rolling hills and greenery personifying what the ?Heartland? of America should look and feel like. Lafayette, itself, had block after block of homes all different from each other, not the cookie cutter subdivisions that continue to despoil Ontario.
But back to the 3.6-litre which reminded me very much of the feel and handling of the Mercedes-Benz C350 4Matic, with its quick response to steering inputs and crisp braking.
And speaking of braking, Subaru optionally offers EyeSight that includes pre-collision braking, pre-collision brake assist, pre-collision throttle management, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning and lane sway warning.
Using two small front-facing cameras mounted on either side of the rearview mirror, the system, among other things, can bring the Legacy to a full stop before a collision with a car in front.
One of the exercises during the press introduction was to drive the Legacy up to 30 km/h and lift the foot off the gas and not touch the brake and let the system stop the Legacy before it struck a paper sign with an image of a car on it.
The first time I chickened out. Still moving just under 30 km/h and about five meters before the image, I hit the brakes. It was pure instinct. The instructor riding with me said it was normal the first time and told me to do another pass.
The second time took everything I had not to stomp on the pedal but I didn?t and the Legacy stopped inches from the image.
At the end of the day, I drove the 2.5-litre, which, again, displayed the road tracking ability of the Subaru AWD system that Subaru has been honing for close to three decades.
Not as flexible in terms of torque as the 3.6-litre, the CVT responded well without having to resort to activating the paddle shifters, which always says to me the drivetrain is working efficiently.
But I did wonder what the 2.5-litre in the Legacy would be like with the 306 hp twin-scroll turbo engine from the WRX STI in the engine bay.
I don’t have room to describe all Subaru did to significantly upgrade its infotainment systems, but its new Starlink connectivity unit features Aha smartphone integration, rear-view camera, Bluetooth hands-free phone connectivity and audio streaming, iPod control capability, USB port and an auxiliary input jack. The multi-touch display offers swipe and scrolling gestures, similar to smartphones and tablets.
When the new Legacys arrive, pricing for the 2.5-litre runs from $23,495 for the base manual and $24,795 for the base CVT to $32,395 for the Limited with Technology Package. The 3.6 Touring starts at $30,955 and tops out at $35,395 for the Limited with Technology Package.
Subaru Legacy 2015 at a glance
BODY STYLE: Mid-size sedan
DRIVE METHOD: Symmetrical full-time all-wheel-drive.
ENGINES: 2.5-litre DOHC 16-valve four-cylinder boxer (175 hp, 174 lb/ft); 3.6-litre DOHC 16-valve four-cylinder boxer (256 hp, 247 lb/ft)
FUEL ECONOMY: (Regular) 2.5-litre CVT, 7.7/5.4/6.7L/100 km city/highway/combined; 3.6-litre CVT, 10.5/6.9/8.9L/100 km; 2.5-litre manual, NA
CARGO: 425 litres
TOW RATING: Not recommended
PRICES: 2.5-litre: base manual, $23,495, base CVT, $24,795, Touring manual, $26,495, Touring CVT, $27,795, Touring Technology, 28,995, Limited, $31,995, Limited Technology, $32,395; 3.6-litre Touring, $30,795, Limited, $34,195, Limited Technology, $35,395
Metroland for Wheels.ca