Among solid commuter cars such as the Toyota Camry and the Honda Accord, few offer the performance characteristics of the 2008 Subaru Legacy. We tested the top-of-the-line R Limited version, which comes with a 3.0-liter engine. Along with the car's all-wheel-drive system, paddle shifters, and transmission mode settings, the Legacy proved fun in the hills, while perfectly comfortable in traffic.
The Legacy 3.0 R Limited features interesting roadholding and powertrain technologies. Its cabin tech options are only average at best. Our test car had a good navigation system and a six-disc changer. Subaru offers Sirius and XM satellite radio, but the implementation isn't great. Bluetooth cell phone integration isn't available.
Test the tech: GPS rally
One feature we like about the 2008 Subaru Legacy's navigation system is its ability to store multiple waypoints, letting you set up complex routes with a lot of stops. With this feature, you can plan an entire road trip and enter it into the navigation system before leaving home. For our tech test, we started out at CNET headquarters in San Francisco and entered four waypoints, taking us south of the city, over to the coast, then back to the office. For each waypoint, the navigation system offered an estimate of how long it would take to get there, and we tried to match that time as closely as possible.
Our first waypoint was 19 miles away, in South San Francisco, and we panicked a little when the navigation system only gave us 14 minutes to get there. We lost time waiting at stoplights on city streets, getting minutes behind schedule, but once we hit the freeway we gunned the Legacy, passing slower traffic easily as we made up the minutes. When the navigation system told us to exit the freeway, we were feeling good, with plenty of excess minutes. We got slowed down by some large trucks, but arrived at our first waypoint one minute under time.
The next stop was 22 miles away, and the car said we could do it in 24 minutes. Realizing that surface streets were our biggest threat, we jumped on the gas, trying to pick the right lanes to get the best time, and hoping the stoplights would be good to us. Once back on the highway, we were able to settle into a good cruising speed, making up time when necessary. This particular waypoint was just off the highway, making it easy to pull in at exactly the estimated time. We were feeling good.
But then we had to head over to the coast, along a route that would take us along the perpetually trafficked Highway 92. Our destination in Moss Beach was 22 miles away, for which the navigation system gave us a generous 39 minutes. Again we set out, trying to get an early lead on the highway. As we pulled onto the mountainous and twisting Highway 92, we were amazed to see no big trucks; the only traffic obstruction was a reasonably fast VW bus. As we closed in on Moss Beach, we found we had made up too much time and were scheduled to come in fully 10 minutes early. Not good. In a minor stroke of luck, the navigation system sent us down the wrong road, as its maps weren't up-to-date for our destination. We had to backtrack a bit and choose another road, which unfortunately only ate up one extra minute. We arrived at this waypoint nine minutes under our estimated time.
Then we set off for our final destination and realized that the car wanted us to get all the way back to downtown San Francisco from Moss Beach in only 24 minutes, and the distance was 24 miles. We shot onto Highway 1, going up the coast as quickly as possible, knowing that the Legacy could get through this very winding road at speed, but also anticipating plenty of slow tourists on the road taking in the scenery. With traffic, we could only manage around 40 mph for the first portion of this road and lost significant time. We tried to make up for it as we got onto a multilane highway, but taking the exit into San Francisco we realized we couldn't fully make up the time. We knew of a less-trafficked route to our office, but held to the route guidance, which actually tried to send us down a nonexistent road. As we rolled up to our office, we saw that we were nine minutes over. Although we got nailed on our last two waypoints, our overall rally was fairly good. Taking all times and waypoints into consideration, we were only one minute under.
In the cabin
At least with the Limited version of the 2008 Legacy, Subaru does a very good job with the cabin materials and fit. We can't vouch for other models in the lineup, but the interior of the Legacy Limited was very comfortable. Most of the stack and steering wheel buttons fit smoothly into a metal-look facing. The navigation system uses a touch-screen LCD mounted at the top of the stack, with a row of buttons along its base. In fact, the stack is a bit display-happy, with separate monochrome screens for the climate and audio systems, topped off by the navigation LCD.
During our GPS rally, we found the navigation system's route guidance to be good, getting us accurately through some complex highway interchanges, exits, and on-ramps. It did have some erroneous street information, but as navigation systems rely on just a couple of companies for maps, we would expect the same from other systems. This navigation system presented convenient options for entering addresses, such as by freeway entrance or phone number. It also had a standard database of businesses, including gas stations, ATMs, and restaurants.
The navigation system included a few other useful functions for vehicle information. The LCD can display a set of virtual gauges, showing average and immediate fuel economy. Another gauge shows acceleration, and there are other tools such as maintenance history and a calculator.