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Swan Flies Out of Duckling Factory

2005 Subaru Legacy 2.5 GT Limited

By Warren Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 26, 2004; Page G01

It was black with aluminum alloy wheels with a silver finish that made it look sassy, urban and menacing. Its stance was low, its hood scooped, and it had a modest air spoiler on its backside that gave it an air of seriousness and purpose.

It was a total surprise, a Subaru sedan -- the 2005 Subaru Legacy 2.5 GT Limited. It looked good! That was unusual.

2005 Subaru Legacy 2.5 GT Limited

Nuts & Bolts

Downside: Traction and stability control are not available -- at least not at this writing.

Ride, acceleration and handling: Excellent marks in all three categories. No excuses. No apologies. Braking, with ventilated front and rear discs and standard four-wheel anti-locks, is excellent.

Head-turning quotient: Ladies and gentlemen, Subaru has officially left the House of Ugly Design. Even the interior of the Legacy 2.5 GT Limited has excellent styling, good ergonomics and world-class materials, fit and finish.

Engine, transmission: The Legacy 2.5 GT Limited is equipped with a 2.5-liter, turbocharged, 16-valve, horizontally opposed four-cylinder engine that develops 250 horsepower at 6,000 revolutions per minute and 250 foot-pounds of torque at 3,600 RPM. A five-speed automatic transmission that can be operated manually is optional. A straight five-speed manual is standard.

Capacities: The Legacy 2.5 GT Limited has seating for five people. Maximum luggage capacity is 11.4 cubic feet. The fuel tank holds 16.9 gallons of gasoline. Premium unleaded is required.

Mileage: I averaged 23 miles per gallon in mostly highway driving.

Safety: Front and side air bags are standard. Ditto rear head air bags. Child safety-seat tethers are standard. Use them.

Price: Base price on the tested Legacy 2.5 GT Limited is $27,295. Dealer invoice price on the base model is $25,112. Price as tested is $28,992, including $1,052 in options and a $575 transportation charge. Dealer invoice price with options and transportation charge is $27,402. Pricing sources include Subaru marketing, Edmunds.com, Cars.com and Kelley Blue Book online.

Purse-strings note: Compare with Acura TSX, Pontiac G6 GTP and Volkswagen Passat.

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Subaru historically has made ugly cars -- all functional and reliable, but certifiably ugly. It has made several halting attempts to leave that dismal path. Most recently, Subaru worked with an outside clothing and equipment designer, L.L. Bean, to add some panache to its high-end Legacy Outback wagon.

But the stylistic execution of the new Legacy 2.5 GT Limited is Subaru's best yet. That kind of success should not go unnoticed.

It won't.

I have driven many Subaru vehicles over the past 22 years, which is as long as I've been writing about cars and trucks for The Washington Post. This is the second Subaru model -- the first was the bug-eyed, compact performance Impreza WRX -- to draw waves of middle school and high school students to my driveway. But, more important, it was the first Subaru ever in my possession to get an even more passionately favorable look from their mothers and fathers.

Employed adults buy cars. Most dependent children don't.

Of course, styling isn't everything. But few cars are sold only because people love their engines. (Just ask the folks at General Motors Corp. who recently offered up a plain-Jane version of the technically hot Pontiac GTO. GM executives at the Paris auto show this week vowed never to make that mistake again.) It's a matter of sex appeal. What happens, good or bad, after it ensnares you is a matter of fate. But without that initial attractiveness, you likely would have bought another car, or would have wound up in the arms of someone else.

That said, the Legacy 2.5 GT Limited, as well as the slightly less well-endowed Legacy 2.5i companion sedan, is a keeper for all of the right reasons. It's a first-class speedster.

It is powered by a turbocharged, horizontally opposed, 250-horsepower, four-cylinder engine. But I literally had to read the engine specifications to know that. That little engine performs better than most V-6 engines I've driven. For that matter, it kicks the butts of some V-8s.

Power delivery is smooth, consistent. Strong. There is no harrumphing, no heavy breathing, no annoying announcement of the turbocharger coming into play to draw in more air for a better, more quickly and completely combustible mix of air and fuel. That little H4 engine just does what it does, and it does it extremely well.

And handling, well, it is no flirtation with hyperbole to say that the handling of the Legacy 2.5 GT Limited easily matches, and often feels as if it exceeds, the handling abilities of a Porsche Boxster or BMW 3 Series. (Oh, don't wrinkle your eyebrows, Porsche-philes and BMW lovers. If you can't take it as an article of faith that all human beings are created equal, which means that you can be beaten by anybody at any time in this extremely diverse world, just go out and do a car-to-car comparison on your own. Check the prices. I think you will be surprised, if not outright shocked, by what the Legacy 2.5 GT Limited can do -- at its asking price.)

As is the case with all things Subaru, the Legacy 2.5 GT Limited comes with standard all-wheel drive. There actually are five distinct Subaru all-wheel-drive systems, of which the Variable Torque Distribution (VTD) system used in the Legacy 2.5 GT Limited, when equipped with five-speed automatic, is one. VDT provides a 45 percent/55 percent drive-wheel power split, with more power going to the rear wheels. That's appropriate in this case. Proper sports cars, be they coupes or sedans, usually run with a rear-wheel power bias. And the Legacy 2.5 GT Limited most assuredly is a proper sports car -- albeit one that also is capable of carrying a family of five people.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company