I had an unusual experience. I drove a good-looking Subaru--the 2000 Legacy GT Limited sedan.

It was a welcome departure from Subaru's traditionally quirky styling. People noticed the difference. They gathered 'round the Legacy GT Limited in a Taco Bell parking lot in Northern Virginia. They gave thumbs up. But, mostly, they interrupted my consumption of a chicken chalupa with questions about the car's pricing and availability.

Not even the likable Subaru Forester wagon had drawn such attention. I asked why.

In summary, random responses from the Taco Bell crowd came to this: People liked the simplicity of the new Legacy GT Limited's lines. They thought it was sporty, yet mainstream. Some called the car "cute." A few called it "sexy."

A sexy Subaru! I had to think about that. So I headed west on Interstate 66 in the chilled twilight of a clear October day. You can feel a car in such a moment. You can commune with it. I did. The car and I had a good time.

Credit goes to Subaru's "All-Wheel Driving System," a smart technology that eschews the notion that all-wheel-drive, or four-wheel-drive, is designed solely for off-road motoring or traversing snowbound streets.

The Subaru system is engineered to improve vehicle stability on dry and wet roads, as well as on rough, low-adhesive surfaces, such as those covered with gravel.

I also did some off-road driving, all of it in the District of Columbia, where city officials seem content to let cable companies rip up streets and leave them in rutted and rippled disrepair.

On I-66 and on the District's "streets," the Legacy GT Limited behaved exceptionally well. The car tracked nicely on the highway at speeds up to 65 miles per hour. It changed lanes without the slightest body sway.

Subaru's system includes a 165-horsepower, horizontally opposed, four-cylinder engine combined with full-time all-wheel-drive and a long-travel, four-wheel independent suspension. All-wheel-drive automatically transfers power from wheel to wheel, depending on driving and road conditions. You can hardly tell it's happening when it's happening. The car just feels amazingly stable.

But there is more tangible evidence of the benefits of the car's long-travel suspension system on the District's streets. When a normal car rolls over one of the city's roadway ridges, or drops a wheel into a poorly packed hole, the vehicle shifts and loses composure. But the new Legacy GT Limited met the challenge. Its wheels did not drop into holes as much as they reached into them, found something solid, and gently pushed themselves out. It was a beautiful dance, repeated in numerous encounters with the District's ruts and ripples.

That was cool. That was sexy--tripping the light fantastic to the rhythm of the bump and grind.

Nuts & Bolts

2000 Subaru Legacy GT Limited

Complaint: Though stylish, the Legacy GT Limited's lower-body cladding doesn't make sense on an all-wheel-drive car. Granted, this one is designed to run on dry roads as well as those covered by snow and mush. But when it does snow, that cladding could become a big snow scoop, gathering snow where it shouldn't, effectively lowering ground clearance and packing all of that frozen stuff around the wheels.

Praise: An overall excellent and exciting rework of the once insufferably boring Legacy sedan. I like this one.

Head-turning quotient: A sexy Subaru!

Ride, acceleration and handling: Very impressive ride and handling over very rough streets. Acceleration was highway-competent.

Engine: All 2000-model Subaru Legacy sedans and wagons (the L sedan, Brighton wagon, L wagon, 2.5 GT and 2.5 GT Limited sedans) are equipped with 2.5-liter, single-overhead-cam, horizontally opposed four-cylinder engine designed to produce 165 horsepower at 5,600 rpm and 166 pound-feet of torque at 4,000 rpm.

Transmissions: A five-speed manual with overdrive is standard. An electronically controlled, four-speed automatic is optional.

Brakes: Power four-wheel discs, ventilated front. Standard four-wheel antilock. Excellent.

Capacities: Seats five people. Carries 16.9 gallons of gas; 89-octane unleaded is recommended. Cargo capacity is 12.4 cubic feet.

Mileage: About 26 miles per gallon in city/highway driving.

Sound system: Six-speaker AM/FM stereo radio and cassette with six-disc, in-dash CD player. Excellent.

Price: According to the latest figures from IntelliChoice, the base list price of the test car is $24,295. Dealer invoice on base model is $22,019. Add $74 for floor mats, $510 for the six-disc CD changer, $495 in transportation charges and an estimated $1,300 in taxes and fees for a total price of $26,674.

Purse-strings note: If you forgo some options, you could get essentially the same car (the Subaru Legacy L) for $20,745, including destination charge and estimated taxes and fees.