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Quiet, light and powerful - Subaru creates a benchmark diesel engine first time round

Our Verdict

Subaru Legacy

As a true workhorse, there are few better than the Subaru Legacy. As an everyday estate, there are loads better.

Matt Prior
21 January 2008

What is it?

It’s what would be called sheer bloody-mindedness if it happened in Britain. Subaru only sells 600,000 cars a year; half in Japan, most of the rest in countries where you’d barely measure the interest in a small diesel engine with a micrometer.

Yet Subaru has just developed, on its own and purely because its European retailers asked it to, the first boxer diesel ever fitted to a car. Subaru might only end up making 30,000 units a year, in most countries the engine won’t be sold at all and its design is so restrictive that no other manufacturer will buy it.

Obstinacy? Not a bit of it, says Subaru, whose argument is this: our petrol engines are boxers because they’re light, compact, smooth and mate easily to a 4WD transmission if aligned just-so. So our diesels must be the same. Consider it, then, dedication to engineering rightness.

‘It’s Here’, is Subaru’s strapline. “Who cares?” will be the answer across 85 per cent of the planet. But here it is: the new Legacy 2.0 diesel.

What’s it like?

Worth the development money. Every bit as compact as Subaru’s petrol units, the new engine’s a horizontally opposed 2.0-litre, with equal bore and stroke and a very short crankshaft to limit vibration and noise.

It has alloy blocks/heads and a turbo tucked neatly near the exhaust valves. It looks – is – small; shorter even than the 2.0-litre petrol, with which it shares the same service intervals and, amazingly, weight.

It’s stronger than the petrol unit too. How come? “Honda’s (once-benchmark i-TDCi) diesel? Developed by petrol engineers,” says Toshio Masuda, engineering big-cheese of the Legacy. “Our diesel? Developed by petrol engineers.” And it shows.

It’s no less impressive when energised. This must be the quietest four-cylinder diesel family car around. Unlike most four-cylinder engines it doesn’t have balance shafts, so has less inertia and a better throttle response too. Around town you’re merely aware you’re in a diesel; never surprised by the noise, nor by a reluctance to rev.

At higher speeds it’s better still. At 148bhp the Legacy diesel is among the faster cars in this class and the power band is good. It could use, but doesn’t desperately need, the six-ratio gearbox the Forester and Impreza will have when they get this engine.

There’s respectable pull from a touch below 2000rpm (peak torque’s at 1800) and it revs freely, not noisily past peak power at 3600 before crying off at 4500. Those figures are relatively low – it has been tuned for (class leading) targets of economy and emissions, not power. The wick could be turned up easily and, later, it will be.

The rest of the Legacy wagon’s package is as-you-were. Averagely spacious, above-average-feeling interior. Dynamically, the only change is the fitment of electric, rather than hydraulic power steering - there isn’t much difference in feel and it’s still a very decent car to drive.

All of the engine and drivetrain’s mechanicals are within the wheelbase, so for a large estate the Legacy is an extremely agile one. It grips strongly, has exceptional traction, brakes well and doesn’t even mind being adjusted on the throttle. The ride’s good too and much the same is true of the Outback, only with taller suspension and a greater propensity to lean. A saloon isn’t available for now because of supply limitations and those, in truth, are the only real drawback. Some engine, this.

Should I buy one?

Traditionally, our answer here would be circumspect. A Subaru Legacy, we’d have said, is not for everybody; the limitations of its range sees to that. That’s not the case any more: Subaru deserves to sell as many of these as it can make.

Join the debate

Comments
62

21 January 2008

That little diesel deserves to find more homes! Can't some small sportscar maker take the initiative and borrow it?

And Porsche need to stop making excuses, and pull the finger out, and make a diesel boxer of their own! - say, a 3.6 litre! Subaru have shown the principle works!

ti

21 January 2008

Do you know if an auto will be available, and if so when?

21 January 2008

My question exactly. If Subaru do make this car available with an auto box it will be a case of no more Audi's for me. I had a Legacy before when I lived in Canada and I grew very fond of it. It is a car that is far better than its statistics. Only the high fuel consumption kept me away from one when I returned to Europe.

...the band was playing Dixie: double-four time...

21 January 2008

This is typical Subaru, developing and probably over engineering something because they can.

If they fit a higher output motor to the Legacy and give it the spec B treatment, it would give that car all it needed, a great performing all rounder with decent fuel economy.

Hats off to Subaru for this.

21 January 2008

I would expect to see a fair few more Legacies on the road fairly soon and more so when they release more powerful versions with a similar spec to the Spec B as Jon said above.

After spending a small fortune buying mine I couldn't justify swapping for the diesel on fuel economy and emissions alone though - I love my six way too much!

21 January 2008

In 2 years time I should be a fully qualified accountant and I can't wait because the day I qualify I'll be in the Subaru showroom ordering one of these. I would love a 3 series on the basis that it is rear wheel drive but I just can't bring myself to buy one because everyone would think I'm a photocopier salesman. Similarly I just couldn't drive an Audi A4 because they're driven by people who misuse superlatives as a matter of habit - the word 'fantastic' must be used every other sentence.

I've always been a fan of the Legacy but never thought of actually buying one until I heard they were making a diesel. Now that they have, and it's actually this good I can't wait.

I wish Subaru every success with this new product because just like Porsche they refuse to play along with the rules, and then end up doing it better than anyone else.

21 January 2008

I'll be changing my XC70 for a diesel legacy if an automatic version comes out -the perfect car!

21 January 2008

Always liked the Legacy. Seriously underrated.

22 January 2008

Subarus have agood reputation but with only 30000 units per year it would be some while until any inherent shortcoming become apparent. It is rare for developement testing to identify the whole gamut of problems likley to arise with a new development engine especially one so novel. Honda did a good job, but also had the benefit of far larger production runs.

22 January 2008

This is a very attractive proposition and will be a good replacement for my aging A4.

Do you know whether there will be a particulate filter and how they deal with nitrogen dioxide. My 2001 A4, like so many modern diesels, still pumps out soot over pedestrians and cyclists if you accelerate.

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