Review: 2011 Subaru Legacy GT Limited
By Kevin Miller
Subaru is well known for making capable, competent all-wheel drive family vehicles. At the same time, they made a name for themselves building high-performance turbocharged rally cars like their WRX and STI models, with roots in the famed World Rally Championship series. The Legacy GT Limited is the car that attempts to bridge the divide between Subaru’s sensible and sporty vehicle lines.
Subaru launched their all-new, fifth-generation Legacy a year ago as a 2010 model, and I had the opportunity to review an entry-level Legacy 2.5i Premium sedan last autumn. That vehicle impressed me with the space and features available at its price point, but I was eager to sample the sportiest version of the Subaru Legacy, the Legacy GT. After all, if the regular car is good without the turbo boxer, the GT must be even better.
The basic layout for the Legacy GT sedan is exactly the same as in the base car. What differs is that the naturally-aspirated, 2.5 liter 170 HP boxer-four has been replaced by a a turbocharged version with the same displacement, serving up 265 HP and connected only to a six-speed manual transmission. The GT’s turbocharged powertrain is available only in the Limited trim level, and is the highest-horsepower engine you can get in a Legacy, as the flat six in uplevel ars is rated 9 HP less at 256 HP. Both the 2.5i model tested last year and the turbocharged GT model tested here have six-speed manual transmissions, which employs Continuous AWD with a viscous-coupling locking center differential to distribute power 50:50 front to rear.
The six-speed manual works well, with gears easy to find and a clutch pedal that is neither too light or too heavy. I did find that on cold mornings it was difficult to engage gears, as was the case in the non-turbocharged version I tested last year.
Had I driven the Legacy GT immediately following the Legacy 2.5, and hadn’t been given a power figure for either one, I would have probably guessed 170-200 HP for the base car, and 230-250 HP for the GT. The turbocharged four didn’t deliver the performance premium I had expected as compared to the base car. The turbo’s performance characteristics are such that it is relatively easy to find yourself out of the powerband at lower RPMs, meaning that you’ll have plenty of opportunity to row the gears in the smooth-shifting manual transaxle.
As the high performance model, the Legacy GT should have wheels/tires that aggressively fill the wheel arches. Unfortunately, it doesn’t. The 18” wheels look puny in the oversized, exaggerated fenders. In most cars, this wheel diameter would look good proportionately, but the Legacy GT either needs less-cartoonish fenders or bigger shoes.
The spacious and stylish interior of the Legacy I tested had a somber appearance, with everything – the dash (made of hard but low-gloss grained plastic), seats, door upholstery, and carpet – are all finished in a charcoal color, accented by a brushed aluminum looking control panel and faux-carbon fiber trim on the dashboard. The Legacy has comfortable seats (10-way power adjustable) with great rear-seat legroom, allowing me at 6’4” to “sit behind myself” without any legroom compromise front or rear. The car offers superb visibility out of its large windows and unfashionably-low beltline. At the rear, you’ll find a large trunk, and the trunk lid has an interior handle which allows you to close it without getting your hands dirty. To expand luggage capacity, the Legacy also has folding rear seatbacks.
Of course, the Legacy is not without its flaws. The 1980s-esque digital displays for the for the audio system are washed out if sunlight streams through the moonroof. The audio system is touted as a 440 W harmon/kardon system, yet the sound was nothing special, and there was no iPod input, just a ⅛” AUX jack in the center console box. The soft-touch dash and door plastics of previous generations are gone, replaced by a very hard (though not unattractive), lightly-grained plastic. Interior noise levels seem to be amplified by the hard interior surfaces, as road noise bounces off of large window glass, and hard plastic dash and doors.
I was surprised at how compliant the ride was in Subaru’s sportiest Legacy model; there was a lot of suspension travel (and body motion) over uneven road surfaces, which paid off with a comfortable ride. When pushed, there is body roll, and understeer is the typical behavior when the Legacy GT nears its handling limit. The steering is nicely weighted and gives a decent amount of feedback; both the leather-wrapped steering wheel and leather-wrapped shifter felt good in hand.
Surprisingly, the drivetrain in the Legacy GT was notably free of “agricultural” gear-related noises I observed in my review of the Legacy 2.5 (as well as my more recent review of the Impreza WRX STI). I do not know whether this is due to manufacturing changes or more sound-damping material, but the high level of road noise mentioned above hints at the fact that it probably isn’t due to acoustic insulation.
During my week with the Legacy GT, I covered 210 miles, with an indicated average of 20.7 MPG. That is in line iwth the EPA rating of 18/25 (21 combined) MPG, but is not great for a fairly anonymous-looking midsized sedan. For a turbocharged, four-cylinder sedan with all-wheel drive, I suppose it’s not too bad. Note that Legacy sedans with the optional six-cylinder engine have the same EPA economy rating as the turbo does, but make less power.
The non-turbocharged Legacy Limited costs $25,295, and the Legacy GT Limited rings in at $31,395. The $6100 price difference gets you (compared to the Legacy Limited) the extra 95 turbocharged horespower (with functional hood scoop for the intercooler), an upgrade from 17” to 18” wheels, ventilated rear brakes, front fog lights, carbon fiber-patterned interior trim, power tilt/sliding moonroof- and only a 26 pound weight penalty.
That price undercuts other turbocharged AWD sedans, but is more expensive than comparable non-AWD sedans when price is considered, especially when accounting for standard and available features. Of course, the Legacy is one of the only mainstream AWD sedans available; the Ford Fusion comes to mind as another. Because all-wheel drive has limited appeal in much of the US, non-perofrmance-oriented AWD cars are just not popular choices- which is why Subaru is essentially the only volume player in the segment. In any case, if you are after an AWD family sedan, and want a dose of turbocharged fun-to-drive, the Legacy GT is your car.