The only other significant cabin tech feature is the audio system, which puts 100 watts out through six speakers. We found the audio quality about average, with good separation and surprisingly decent bass, and enhanced with processing called SRS WOW, designed to produce a surround-sound effect. But the sound lost a lot of clarity in the high ranges, while bass-heavy tracks produced very irritating speaker hum.
There is a six-disc changer mounted in the stack that can play MP3 CDs. We found it easy enough to go through folders with buttons on the stack, but the stereo display would only show file and folder names, not the more informative ID3 track information for artist, album, or song title. There is an auxiliary input mounted in the center console, complete with a convenient pass-through for an MP3 player patch cord. You can choose XM or Sirius satellite radio with the Legacy, but we noticed the satellite antenna mounted to the inside of the windshield, similar to if you bought an aftermarket kit and mounted it yourself. We would like to see better integration with satellite radio, with a roof-mounted antenna.
Under the hood
The 2008 Subaru Legacy 3.0 R Limited gets more interesting with its powertrain and platform tech. As a Subaru, it gets the company's Symmetric All-wheel-drive system, which in this implementation biases torque to the rear wheels, although adjusts the distribution depending on driving conditions through the use of a center differential and electronic transfer clutch.
This car is the only version of the Legacy to get a 3-liter six-cylinder engine, in the horizontally opposed design favored by Subaru. The engine produces 245 horsepower and 215 foot-pounds of torque. Other Legacy models use a 2.5-liter horizontally opposed four cylinder, with the base model producing 170 horsepower and 170 foot-pounds of torque. The GT and spec.B models add an intercooled turbocharger to put out 243 horsepower and 241 foot-pounds of torque, offering potentially better performance than the 3-liter version. We found the 3-liter Legacy sprightly, offering good, but not overwhelming, acceleration. During our time with the car, we saw an average of 21.6 mpg, a fairly good number falling in the EPA-rated range of 17 mpg for city and 24 mpg for on highway. The Legacy's emissions rating isn't spectacular, earning the minimum LEVII rating from California's Air Resources Board.
During our review period with the Legacy, we had pretty consistent rain, so we took the car on a run up toward Mount Hamilton, near San Jose, Calif. This road runs up a hillside, gaining elevation as it twists and winds, before dropping back down into a valley. We used this drive to test the car's various transmission settings. A knob on the center console lets you choose between Intelligent, Sport, and Sport Sharp modes. We initially bypassed Sport, going straight for Sport Sharp, but over all we're not terribly impressed. As we attacked turns, we hit the gas, but had to await an appreciable moment for the car to kick down a gear. Also, the transmission wouldn't make aggressive downshifts during braking in any mode.
We got our best performance by putting the shifter into manual gear selection mode and using the column-mounted paddle shifters. These paddle shifters are much better than those found on most cars, as the column-mounting means you always know which one shifts up and which shifts down. With wheel-mounted paddles, like on most cars, up and down gets confused if you have the wheel cranked over. We had a lot of fun using the paddles to downshift before turns, or get some speed on the straightaways. The transmission also gave us a lot of gear range to work with; for example, for the really twisty parts we could keep it in second, which worked for low-speed approaches to hairpin turns while letting us wind it up to 50 mph with the tachometer hitting 6,000 rpm.
The Legacy's handling, aided by the all-wheel-drive system, also stood out on our mountain drive. We had rain-slick roads but the Legacy exhibited good grip and follow-through around the corners. We were able to tackle hard corners at speed while getting minimal slip under these conditions. The car exhibited very little understeer, as well, generally going where we pointed it. In the past, we've noticed on trips to the Lake Tahoe ski area that most of the locals drive Subarus, and the Legacy let us see why.
The 2008 Subaru Legacy 3.0 R Limited comes well-equipped, with navigation, paddle shifters, and the six disc-changer, for $31,295. Our test car added an auto-dimming mirror for $304 and XM satellite radio for $456, making the total, along with the $645 destination charge, $32,700. The Legacy 2.5 GT, with a base price of $28,295, represents another interesting choice due to the added torque from its turbocharged four-cylinder engine.
As a tech car, the Legacy shines for its performance technology, but is merely average in the cabin. We really like the driving experience, whether taking this car on slippery roads or commuting in traffic, and would feel comfortable getting into light off-road conditions. There are few cars that offer this combination of well-mannered road performance with nimble handling. But the cabin leaves us wanting for, at the very least, a better-sounding stereo with more source options.