Spec B sings quality tune

Something’s not right. Every short straight we encounter prompts the flat-six engine into another virtuoso aria as it heads towards the 7000rpm red line. But the picture is skewed. The problem isn’t the sound, but where it’s coming from. Although this water-cooled, horizontally opposed six-pot sounds every cubic inch like an ultra-refined 911, it sits ahead instead of slung out over my shoulder.

This is Subaru’s Legacy Spec B, the performance flagship of its most Euro-friendly model. A big Impreza it is not, and nor does Subaru want it to be. The Legacy is looking to tempt those wallets whose contents would normally be Munich-bound. Subaru has the BMW 3-series in its sights.

Impossible? Maybe not. We all know Subaru’s performance credentials and when Autocar road-tested the 2.5-litre Legacy we were impressed. The Legacy eschews its little brother’s bespoilered arrogance, relying on subtle detailing to mark out its quickest version. There’s a boot spoiler, chrome sill flashes, beefy bumpers, and 18in alloy wheels.

Unusually for a range-topper, the Spec B offers no added power. Instead, extra pace comes from a revised Impreza STi six-speed manual transmission in place of the current 3.0 R’s auto. And it works. The 0-60mph dash is cut by 1.8sec to 6.6sec (6.5sec for the saloon). The ’box isn’t as notchy as the Impreza’s, but despite all of Subaru’s efforts a fair amount of driveline vibration still arrives through the gearstick.

Along tight and twisting German roads the Legacy felt compact and nimble. Even when it poured with rain the combination of four-wheel drive and 215/45 Bridgestone Potenza RE050A tyres gave impressive grip. Push too hard and it understeers, but there’s lots more front-end bite than in the old Legacy H6 and it is easy to neutralise with a little less throttle.

The hydraulic power steering has more weight for the Spec B and feels accurate and responsive, but feel is poor. The MacPherson strut front and multi-link rear suspension has been uprated with Bilstein dampers and STi-style inverted front struts. The result? Excellent body control yet a surprisingly compliant ride. The big wheels induce some thumping, but it’s never uncomfortable and there’s none of the fidget of a BMW 330i Sport.

Other Legacy qualities remain: a 459-litre boot with underfloor storage and decent rear-seat space with Isofix mountings. Comfy, low-set seats give a good driving position, though some will curse the lack of reach adjustment for the wheel. High-quality plastics and damped switchgear give a premium feel.

It’s good, but the best is to come. Prices aren’t fixed, but expect little difference to the current top-spec 3.0 R wagon’s £27,000 (that’s £1000 more than the saloon). That includes a huge electric sunroof, integrated sat-nav, electric heated leather seats, CD autochanger, climate and cruise control and front, side and curtain airbags.

A similarly specified Jaguar X-type 3.0 would cost you £30,040, a Volvo V70 T5 £33,328 and an Audi A4 Avant 3.0 Quattro £33,680. But none are as accelerative as the Subaru. BMW’s 330i Sport Touring is quick, but would cost £36,020 in similar spec, although lower emissions put it five company car tax bands lower than the Subaru’s 35 per cent.

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The Spec B has the performance, refinement and entertainment to make Volvo, Jaguar and Audi buyers take note, never mind the price difference. And against the BMW? Open your mind and you might just be surprised.

Alastair Clements

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