Subaru is one car maker whose name doesn't naturally spring to mind in the trendy sport sedan segment, although the Japanese company best known for its rallying successes at the top echelon of motorsport has been plying the waters for a while with the GT, a performance version of its mainstream Legacy sedan. Past results have been favourable but not overwhelming - the performance was there but the car lacked the same pedigree, not to mention finesse, as other, more recognised competitors.
That could change with the 2010 Legacy GT. Subaru still continues its cautious course of action, basing this performance variant on its midsized family sedan. Only this time, the Legacy itself is a far more substantial platform on which to hang the WRX-derived mechanicals. The new Legacy is a larger car than its predecessor - longer, wider and higher. So, for its price, one gets a sport sedan only slightly smaller than a BMW 5 Series or Mercedes E-Class for less money than a comparably equipped, one-size-down 3 Series or C-Class.
The GT comes kitted one way only - with a potent, 265hp, turbocharged 2.5L, boxer four-cylinder mated to a six-speed manual. Power is distributed to all four wheels via Subaru's renowned Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive system. No sixes or V8s are offered - and, from a realistic point of view, neither is needed. The GT tips the scales at a trim 1,580 kilograms. And with 258 pound-feet of torque on tap from 2,000 rpm all the way to 5,200 rpm (Subaru says maximum boost is achieved 30 per cent faster than in the 2009 model thanks to the turbo being mounted below the engine), the sedan demonstrates serious scoot when shown the whip - just under six seconds to 100 kilometres an hour from a standstill.
The six-speed is a bit of a mixed bag, though. While slotting the shifter into the gates is not a problem, throws are somewhat long and notchy, lacking the fluidity of a top-notch performance gearbox. Conversely, clutch take-up is excellent. As for fuel economy, 10 litres per 100 km during my time with the tester in a mix of suburban commuting and motorway driving isn't terrible considering the performance nature of the turbo four and the size of the car, but it's not outstanding either.
There's been some grousing from the Sube faithful that the new GT has been dumbed down, as it is no longer offered with the SI-Drive control system, which allowed drivers to select one of three distinct performance modes. For that matter, Subaru has also discontinued the specB version and its Bilstein shock absorbers. While the techy gadgets are cool, I don't think the new model is worse off for being without them. Certainly the car's handling is equal to its power train. The platform to which the suspension is bolted has been stiffened, as well as enhanced with a front cradle mount and rear subframe. The set-up is firm enough to keep body roll well under control while providing enough wheel travel so as not to jostle the occupants on beat-up roads.
In terms of styling, Subaru has often marched to a slightly different beat from other car makers. So, in some regards, it's disappointing the new Legacy isn't bolder. With the exception of a functional hood scoop and the oversized wheel well blisters, the rest of the GT's exterior makeover is fairly subdued. Oh, it's an improvement over its predecessor, but it blends in rather than stands out. However, the same cannot be said for the cabin, which is loaded with all the required accoutrements and has a modern, hi-tech finish to it. Except for the electronic parking brake, which is counter-intuitively placed down low on the dash panel to the left of (and hidden by) the steering wheel, the rest of the car's various controls seem to be logically located, easy to read and simple to use. Kudos to the powerful Harman Kardon sound system and the navigation system for their simplicity, cool look and bright graphic displays. More important, at least for those of us on the plus side of six-feet, is the copious amount of legroom and headroom both up front and in the back.
Subarus seem to appeal to the inherently pragmatic and/or individualistic. As such, it's doubtful the GT is going to catapult itself to the top of the list of mid-priced sport sedans to consider. That said, there is more than enough performance to satisfy those who place spirited motoring at a premium in a package that is a far more effective family four-door than its predecessor, complete with an excellent all-wheel drivetrain. For those who are not slavishly devoted to the "name" brands, the Legacy GT is a legitimate contender. firstname.lastname@example.org