Poor Monet never had a chance to capture the old Legacy on canvas, but he would have sympathised with its plight. Because while you and I, and a small devout group of hardcore Subaru fans, knew what a cracking car it was, to the rest of the motoring world it remained unfairly ignored. That’s all the more perplexing given that the Legacy shared much of its character and a big chunk of DNA with the iconic Impreza, arguably the cult car of the past decade.
Death may bring just recognition for the Legacy, as it did for Monet, but not wanting to wait for sainthood to be bestowed, Subaru has come up with an all-new car, yet remained faithful to a familiar name and configuration. So a Legacy badge still adorns the boot or hatch, depending on whether you choose saloon or Sports Tourer estate, and every model in the range directs power from its horizontally opposed engine to all four wheels. Power hikes across the board mean the base 2.0- and 2.5-litre fours put out 136 and 163bhp, gains of 13bhp and 9bhp respectively, and the Outback and 3.0 Sports Tourer get 242bhp courtesy of a flat six, with auto ’box only in the UK.
CO2 levels are also reduced – in the case of the 2.5-litre from 220g/km to 198g/km, a drop of four tax bands.
Prices kick off at a competitive £15,750 for the 2.0 saloon – £350 more than a Mondeo Zetec before discounts and £750 less than an entry-level Honda Accord – and stretch to £28,000 for the full-fat Outback 3.0Rn. But our first steer on UK soil was at the wheel of a mid-spec 2.5 Sports Tourer with the standard five-speed manual ’box. At £20,750 it’s running head to head with some desirable tackle, including Audi’s A4 Avant 2.0SE (£20,920) and the intriguingly styled Accord 2.0 Executive (£20,000).
Against established prestige names such as Audi, the old Legacy was eminently forgettable inside and out, but the designers have been hard at work to redress the balance. The result is still unmistakably Japanese, but with an edgier feel that works well in both four- and five-door shapes. But it was the cabin that desperately needed, and has thankfully received, the biggest tweaks. A longer wheelbase has boosted interior space and equipment levels remain competitive: SE spec adds twin tailpipes, cruise control, leather trim and curtain airbags to the base car’s climate control and all-round electric windows. But it’s the stylishly tactile, redesigned dashboard that creates the most lasting impression.
Thankfully the core strengths haven’t been forgotten in the rush: on the road the Legacy has the poise, alacrity and charisma to leave an A4 for dead. Think bigger, quieter, more mature Impreza and you’ll be on the right lines. The 2.5 flat four is a mild performer, even with 55kg less to carry around in this latest incarnation – 0-62mph in 9.2sec, 128mph flat out – but the gearchange is slick and the engine smooth and responsive, while allowing just enough of that famous boxer burble through to the cabin; albeit in a new, more cultured form thanks to equal-length exhaust pipes.
Blatting away from the London traffic and onto some decent roads reveals strong grip, a healthy dose of throttle adjustability and a keenness to change direction that would do a hot hatch proud. The steering refuses to load up nastily mid-corner either, just like an Impreza’s, although during back-to-back driving we were surprised to discover our Accord camera car’s body movements were better controlled. And while the Legacy rides well, it doesn’t quite manage to skate over ruts and potholes unruffled, the standard-fit 215/45 17 boots jarring only slightly, but enough for us to wonder if the Outback’s taller 215/60 16s wouldn’t be preferable.
Minor gripes aside, and with the old cars’ Achilles heel now sorted, only snob appeal stands between the Legacy and the recognition it deserves.