Subaru has been capitalizing on the World Rally Championship-winning reputation of its WRX sedans for more than a decade. And while the WRX's ongoing popularity is undoubtedly justified, its guy-racer body modifications, harsh ride, and high-strung nature make it a poor choice as an all-purpose car.
Enter the Legacy 2.5 GT, bigger and heavier but offering sparkling performance as well as good all-around comfort and an appearance as unremarkable as the rally-inspired WRX's is over the top. With the standard five-speed manual transmission and Subaru's advanced Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive, the Legacy 2.5 GT Limited strikes a great balance between driver car and comfortable sedan.
Inside, tech features are notable for their absence, and our test car wasn't fitted with the only real tech option: the $2,000 navigation system. We really liked the nav setup in the last Subaru we saw, the B9 Tribeca, but didn't mind its absence here as it strangely requires the optional $1,200 Sportshift automatic transmission, and we enjoyed rowing our own with the manual.
The only option on our 2.5 GT Limited was an equipment group consisting of an autodimming rear-view mirror with compass and an upgraded security system, for $304. With the $625 destination charge, the total MSRP for our test car came to $29,724. For 2007, many of the tech options we've come to expect will be available on the Legacy, including XM Satellite radio prep and an auxiliary input jack for the upgraded audio system. The 2006 Subaru Legacy 2.5 GT Limited's interior is best described as functional--not particularly well equipped or lavish, but comfortable and pleasing to the eye. The Charcoal leather in our car blended nicely with flat metallic accents and dark carpeting to create a welcoming atmosphere.
Standard power front seats (8-way adjustable for the driver, 4-way for the passenger) with manual lumbar support are typical of the sporty yet unassuming character of the car. While not aggressively bolstered, they nonetheless hold the driver in place against cornering forces while remaining comfortable for longer stretches behind the wheel. The front seats are both heated, and the manual tilt wheel provides some flexibility in preferred driving positions.
Luxury cabin tech in the 2006 Subaru Legacy GT starts and ends with the heated front seats.
With none of the usual gadgets to test on our 2.5 GT, our attention turned to the sound system. No satellite option is offered, and the power is nothing to write home about: 120 watts playing through six speakers. Sound is merely adequate from radio or CD, with bass noticeably lacking. The in-dash six-CD changer is convenient and handled burned MP3 discs with no hiccups, although no ID3 tags were displayed for any of our homemade CDs.
The Legacy's standard stereo supports MP3 playback but gives no ID3-tag information to show what's playing.
In place of the navigation system's screen, our car had a large storage spot, perhaps for use with a terrestrial analog navigation system (that is, a map). Everyone who sat in the Legacy with us tried opening this bin's lid by pressing on the chrome bar as if it were a touch-latch, but it actually pulls up like a one-piece garage door. The same chrome accent on the ashtray lid actually is a touch-latch--a minor ergonomic consistency issue. The center armrest also provides generous storage, with an extra 12-volt power outlet to match the one on the dash. A rear armrest pass-through from the trunk is a nice standard touch.
Also standard on the Legacy 2.5 GT Limited is a power-tilt and sliding moonroof and dual-zone climate control. Large no-nonsense knobs operate the A/C and the stereo, a theme echoed by the main gauge cluster's large speedometer and tachometer and two smaller white-on-black analog dials. A digital display in the speedo shows the odometer and rudimentary trip computing functions. A second one-line LCD right under the center cubby houses a clock and instant or average miles-per-gallon figures. The 2006 Legacy 2.5 GT Limited squeaks in under $30K, but it comes without any trace of the infotainment features we've seen in comparably priced midsize sedans. Where did the money go? The short answer: it went into the R&D budget of a rugged all-wheel-drive chassis and engine combination that won multiple world titles in one of the most demanding forms of motor sport. What the 2.5 GT Limited lacks in cabin amenities, it makes up for under the hood.
Subaru's familiar four-cylinder boxer engine gets the turbocharger and intercooler treatment for this 2.5-liter application, and the result is usable horsepower and surprisingly robust torque even at relatively low engine speeds. The engine produces its maximum 250 horsepower at a somewhat high 6,000rpm, but the full 250 pound-feet of torque is there at only 3,600rpm. The latter especially makes the 2.5 GT feel very lively in real-world driving situations.
The 2006 Subaru Legacy GT justifies its near-$30K price tag with a award-winning rally-spec engine, which delivers wide torque bands.
Subaru's vaunted Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive, standard on all models, works well with the standard transmission, as noted previously. After a couple weeks of the raw power and unconventional shift behavior of the 2006 BMW M5 and the 2006 BMW M6, we were extremely happy with the direct feel of the stick-shift and relieved to be freed from the worry that 500 horsepower might suddenly remind us of the limitation of our actual driving prowess. Trying the Legacy's five-speed Sportshift automatic might have made us feel more like the rally drivers who use it in competition, but as usual, the manual suited our tastes better.
The automatic-equipped 2.5 GT uses Variable Torque Distribution to electronically control a clutch and center differential to apportion torque to the wheels with the most traction, from the normal 45/55 front-rear split. With the manual transmission, a viscous center differential is used instead, with a normal 50/50 torque split front to rear. A limited-slip rear differential is standard with the manual.
The Legacy's Sportshift automatic might make you feel more like a rally driver, but we preferred to row our own with the stick shift.
The result of all this is excellent traffic-threading manners, solid cornering capability, a compliant but sporty ride, and confidence-inspiring stability in all normal conditions. At the price, the Honda Accord EX performs similarly and includes navigation, a smooth V6, and an extra gear on the manual transmission. But the magic of the Subaru's AWD chassis still makes it the driver's choice, and for those looking to fly under the radar, it bests its siblings, the WRX STI and Legacy 2.5 GT spec.B, for bargain performance.
Fuel economy isn't stellar but is reasonable for the performance trade-off. EPA ratings are 20mpg in the city and 26mpg on the highway. According to the dash-mounted MPG monitor, we generally averaged just under 20mpg in mostly city driving. In "instant" mode, this readout can be distracting, as it pegs to "99mpg" during each shift and while coasting. On the occupant-protection front, the Legacy's no-frills ethos is again in effect. Technology is mostly passive--electronic driving aids aren't present (other than the torque-split system on the automatic), although the 2007 Legacy spec.B will offer Vehicle Dynamics Control and other safety enhancements.
The 2006 model offers standard dual-stage front driver and passenger airbags, with occupant and position detection. Four-channel ABS is standard, with electronic brake-force distribution.
The Legacy, like all Subarus, uses a ring-frame reinforced structure that surrounds the passenger compartment with concentric rings to absorb impacts from various directions. Crashworthiness is further enhanced by crush zones and the way the engine and transmission are designed to slide under the passenger compartment in a severe collision. The Legacy 2.5 GT Limited gets a five-star NHTSA frontal crash rating (side impact wasn't tested) and the car received the highest rating ("good") across the board in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's front-, side-, and rear-impact tests and garnered an IIHS Top Safety Pick Gold award in its class.
Subaru's new vehicle warranty is good for 3 years or 36,000 miles, with powertrain coverage extending to 5 years/60,000 miles and rust-through to 5 years of unlimited mileage. Included for the initial warranty period are 24-hour roadside assistance and towing.