By on July 30, 2010

When Subaru introduced the 2005 Legacy GT wagon with a turbocharged flat four, all-wheel-drive, and a manual transmission, it went straight to the short list of cars I’d buy…if I was buying a car. But I wasn’t buying a car. Apparently there were too many like me, for Subaru discontinued the manual transmission the following year, then dropped the Legacy wagon altogether with the 2008s. With the 2010 redesign of the Legacy, Subaru appears to be giving the GT incarnation one last shot. While other Legacies and Outbacks are powered by naturally aspirated fours and sixes, the GT retains the turbo four—and is available only with a six-speed manual transmission. Clearly it was developed for enthusiasts. But will enough enthusiasts return the favor? Should they?

Historically, Subarus have been aesthetically challenged. Handsomely proportioned, clean-to-a-fault designs like that of the 2005-2009 Legacy have been the rare exception rather than the rule. With a hunchback profile dictated by packaging considerations and fussy fender flares that fail to disguise the slabsidedness of the bodysides, the 2010 is no such exception. Some of that old Subaru quirkiness might have redeemed this exterior. But, perhaps still fearing Farago’s pen, it’s just homely.

The interior is a little easier on the eyes, though it might set a record for square inches of silver plastic. Faux timber doesn’t exactly scream “GT,” but together with the leather upholstery it does lend the car a more upscale ambiance than you’ll find in lesser Legacies. Like the light-colored interior of the tested car? Well, only off-black is offered in the 2011.

The Subaru’s interior scores higher marks in functional areas. Ergonomics and visibility from the high-mounted driver seat are both first-rate. Perhaps this is what happens when engineers retain the upper hand. Both strengths are increasingly less common among competitors lately. The moderately firm driver’s seat is shaped for long-distance comfort. The rear seat offers far more legroom than the class-trailing previous Legacy. Cargo space is less generous. Though deep in two dimensions, the trunk is relatively narrow.

The 2010 Subaru Legacy GT’s 2.5-liter turbocharged flat four has been tuned to produce 265 horsepower, up 22 from the old car. Despite the much roomier interior, curb weight is only up about 50 pounds (comparing similarly equipped cars), so the power bump should more than compensate. Except it doesn’t. The Legacy GT might be quick, but it doesn’t feel quick. A triumph of refinement over excitement, boost comes on almost imperceptibly, with none of the punch traditionally dished out by powerful turbocharged engines. Peak power is the same as with the related engine in the WRX, but this is not the same engine. Output peaks 400 rpm lower, at 5,600. More telling, there’s more torque—258 vs. 244 pound-feet—and the torque peak, 4,000 rpm in the WRX, extends all the way from 2,000 to 5,200 in the Legacy GT. Admirable numbers, certainly, but the joy is gone. At low speeds the boxer’s distinctive song can still be heard, and at lower rpm the gradual accumulation of boost dulls throttle responses, but otherwise this engine could be mistaken for a stifled naturally aspirated six.

The shifter doesn’t help matters. It moves easily enough, and its throws aren’t overly long, but it has the cheap plastic-on-plastic feel of a bargain basement joystick. One unusual feature: your current gear is displayed between the speedometer and tach. You know, in case you can’t remember where you last moved the lever.

The new Legacy GT’s handling can most favorably be described as secure and competent. The crossover-high seating position doesn’t help here. Body control is very good, and the amount of lean in turns is acceptable, but communicative steering and quick reflexes aren’t part of the mix. Instead, the Legacy GT impresses with an unexpectedly smooth, surprisingly quiet ride. If a larger rear seat was the company’s first priority with the new Legacy, refinement must have been the second. There’s no hint that this car is related to the STI.

In recent years the Legacy GT has been available only in Limited trim, meaning standard leather, sunroof, and 440-watt harmon/kardon audio. For 2011 the price is up a little, and now starts at $32,120. Not cheap, but the next closest alternative, the Acura TL SH-AWD, lists for over $11,000 more (about $3,700 of which can be explained by its additional features, based on a price comparison run at TrueDelta.com). Not that these cars are likely to be cross-shopped. Aside from its premium branding, the Acura is far more fun to drive at the expense of a brutal ride. Other Subarus might be going mainstream, but the Legacy GT is in a class of its own. It currently has no direct competitors in the U.S.

Between this car and BMW’s similar appropriation, it seems that “GT” now connotes roominess and refinement rather than driving excitement. Neither “grand” nor “touring” suggests agile handling, so perhaps this is a more literal interpretation of the appellation. But then what’s the stick doing in the Legacy GT? The number of self-shifters seeking the new car’s bundle of attributes cannot be large. So the prognosis for the Legacy GT is not good. Subaru might rethink the car, like they did with the 2008 WRX after enthusiasts rejected it. But they’re more likely to send it the way of the Legacy wagon. Don’t want the Legacy GT to go away? Then you’d better put your money where your mouth is and buy one soon.

Michael Karesh owns and operates TrueDelta, an online source of automotive pricing and reliability data

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50 Comments on “Review: 2010 Subaru Legacy GT...”


  • avatar
    wsn

    Very nice house and yard!

  • avatar
    wsn

    I am driving the previous gen Legacy. I actually like the new style better, but not the increased size. If I wanted a large Japanese sedan, there is always the Accord.

    In term of direct competitor, is the Suzuki Kizashi comparable? At least looks so on paper.

    • 0 avatar

      The Kizashi is comparable to the non-turbo Legacy. Suzuki isn’t offering anywhere near 265 horsepower. Also no stick with AWD.

      To me, the new car didn’t feel so much large as tall. It feels more like a crossover than a sedan. Clearly the package was designed with the Outback in mind this time around.

    • 0 avatar
      Wagen

      I think it was this same “tall” sense in a not all that large car that I got when I last had the misfortune of renting the current-generation Corolla. Very upright, “chair-like” seating with a (relatively) tall roof led to a feeling that I was driving a mini-SUV with a center of gravity far above where it should be for a compact-grown-to-midsize passenger car. Contrast with the sitting-on-the-floorboard sense one got when driving the fifth generation Civic. I wish I had experience with a current-generation Civic to compare. For cars that are supposedly competitors, they seemed to me to be worlds apart.

  • avatar
    carguy

    Nice review Michael. Subaru seems to be conflicted about the direction of this vehicle (and their brand) as refinement with a manual transmission isn’t a very big market share. Pity – a decent 6 speed auto box could have made this a contender.

    PS: Is it just me or is Subaru front overhang reaching Audi proportions?

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    You know, in case you can’t remember where you last moved the lever.

    My wife was begging for this feature when she was learning to drive standard. Either that, or a Lambo-style gated shifter.

    • 0 avatar

      Her and my father. My dad loathes automatics on general principle, but he spaces out and forgets what gear he’s in. Although in his case, if he’s too spaced out to look at the tach and notice that the engine is screaming as he zips down the highway at 70 mph in third, he’s probably not going to look at the indicator light, either…

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      “You know, in case you can’t remember where you last moved the lever.”

      Guilty. In my defense, I had the stereo cranked and had just kissed the wife and daughter goodbye for the weekend. I doubt if a little lit up number would have caught my attention, if the tach at 5000 didn’t.

  • avatar
    SwingAxle

    I too was also enamored with the manual transmission wagon in 2005, but was buying a new car (in part egged on by the news of its imminent demise), and have never looked back. I fully intend to drive the wheels off that car since I see no replacement alternative (i.e, fun to drive, manual tranny, AWD and room for all my gear). Much to my dismay Subaru has slowly, but surely backed away from the enthusiast market into mainstream Toyhondsan’s. Even the Outback no longer has the turbocharged motor option, and while the Forester does, you can’t get it with the manual. Ugh.

    • 0 avatar

      Just be careful not to literally drive the wheels off the car. Rear wheel bearings are a weak spot.

    • 0 avatar

      “Rear wheel bearings are a weak spot.”

      Geez, still, after all these years? When I was looking at SVX’s they were mentioned as a weak spot by nearly everyone. We’re talking 1992 through 1997 here….

    • 0 avatar
      TEXN3

      They were until 2004-2005 supposedly.

      I was drawn to the Subaru dealer a year ago because they had an 05 Legacy GT MT wagon on the lot, 45k miles in silver. But, someone in Germany had just put a deposit on it. Must have been rare enough for someone in Germany (most likely US military) to purchase a car in Boise.

      We had thought about getting an SUV with a manual as well, maybe an Xterra. But, settled on a used 2007 Outback 2.5i MT. It works pretty well for us, I would have liked an XT but decided to pocket the difference since we were paying cash. The OB has been superb for the 3 (4th on the way) of us, especially in the Rockies.

  • avatar

    TrueDelta has had excellent participation by owners of the new Legacy and Outback in its Car Reliability Survey. One common problem with steering wheel vibrations for which there was no fix initially led to some cars being bought back, but the overall repair frequency has been better than average. Subaru now has a fix for the suspension problem, and it should not affect recently produced cars.

    To participate in the survey:

    http://www.truedelta.com/reliability.php

  • avatar
    Brian E

    Great review as usual. Note that the plood applique is gone in the 2011 model, replaced by carbon fauxber plastic.

  • avatar
    jonnyguitar

    What a shame. I drove a 2005 Legacy GT sedan for a couple years, and now wish I had kept it. Since the car doesn’t have a whole lot of power, the turbo boost is the most fun thing about it. Why dial it out? Especially since this car seems to aim for a niche. Seems they’re off the mark.
    The main reason I would not buy this, although I am squarely in the demographic, is THE HOOD SCOOP. It looks completely idiotic. Can’t the intake be routed through the grill? On some subarus which are “lovably ugly” it could be acceptable, but not on this otherwise attractive and clean design.

  • avatar
    dignotov

    Great review! I test drove the same car and agree with everything written. I used to have a 2005 Outback XT turbo wagon with the 5MT and really liked the car. I was living in Alaska at the time and it was the perfect winter speedster with proper tires. Wish I never sold it. These new ones feel pudgy. Plus they are over priced IMO. You can get the BMW AWD 328i for just a bit more and not have to put up with Subie’s quirkiness.

  • avatar
    the duke

    I too wanted a manual Legacy GT wagon in the fall of 2004, but was still in school. Come 2006 I was done with school and found a used manual wagon which I bought. I loved that car, but sold it when I decided to go to grad school to eliminate car payments – a decision I regret (the selling of the Subie that is, not grad school).

    The new LGT just doesn’t move me – its fat and ugly. If I were to put a finger on it, I’d say Subaru started losing its way about the time they started framing windows.

    One last thing – Subaru never discontinued the manual transmission option in the GT sedan, only the wagon after 2005 (the manual LGT wagons are quite rare, even more so the cloth trimmed non-limited model I had).

  • avatar
    Deaks2

    I’ll keep my 2006 LGT 5MT ;)

  • avatar

    Thank you for clarifying. I was aware of this, but was trying to keep the intro compact.

    The odd thing is, the new car isn’t significantly heavier than the old one. It just looks and feels heavier :)

  • avatar
    jpcavanaugh

    Every time I look at one of these from the front, I see a 55 Studebaker.

  • avatar
    jwwactor

    It’s such a shame what Subaru is doing to their cars. They are basically making all wheel drive Toyotas now. The Impreza has turned into a Corolla, and the Legacy has turned into a Camry, Forester and Outback are starting to look and feel like every other SUV/Crossover/whatever out there. Unfortunately this is what the majority of the public wants. Subaru along with any other unique car manufacturer is slowly morphing their vehicles into the same boring mass of oversize, overweight, mundane machines that are filling the roads. It’s sad to see them go…

  • avatar
    car_guy2010

    Speaking as a guy who owned a 1989 Subaru GL-10 Turbo, I would love to own another turbo Subaru. I’d be more inclined towards the WRX though. My GL-10 Turbo was an auto but I’d love to learn how to drive a stick so I could have a wider variety of cars to choose from.

    • 0 avatar
      the duke

      I wish more cars were offered with a manual so I had more cars to choose from – only being willing to drive a manual severely limits your options!

  • avatar
    slance66

    I don’t get all the complaints. The old Legacy was too small, period. It couldn’t function as a family sedan. It’s still much smaller than a Camry or Accord. Michael, as someone who owns and drives an 07 Tribeca, the Legacy GT has much less shiny silver plastic than the Tribeca. I hope they finally added a telescoping wheel and raised the armrest. The lack of a telescoping wheel, plus absurdly low armrests makes the ergonomics of recent Subarus lousy.

    I love the H-6 in my Subaru and it would be a beast in the Legacy. It’s a sweet motor that loves to rev. The auto trans however is the worst I have ever experienced.

  • avatar
    SLLTTAC

    Having owned or leased about ten Subarus, including a 2006 and a 2007 spec.B sedan, my daily driver, the only model I wish that I had kept is the SVX. Practical, durable, and surefooted, the Subarus have served us well, but the current models leave me cold. Back to Audi, I think.

  • avatar
    wmba

    Thanks for the review, Michael.

    Finally a writeup I can trust, based on your and Megan Benoit’s old reviews of the last Legacy GT, which were partly responsible for my getting a 2008 GT. Every other review I’ve read of the 2010 parrots Subaru’s press releases, better interior quality, more power, blah, blah, blah. None of which seem much connected to reality. Especially when you consider the decontenting, such as no folding mirrors, no LSD, no mirror mounted turn signals and so on.

    I could never buy any Subaru with a manual, they have all sucked big time for me. All my cars prior to Subarus were manuals. The 2008 GT automatic works just fine for me and I use the paddle shifters all the time, but for downshifts only, because it’s quick. I admit to using the slow I setting for the engine most of the time, because putting it in Sport turns me into a raving nutter, impatient at the slow progress of traffic. The engine just begs to go, go, go all the time. It’s quite a temptation which I have to resist or face getting speeding tickets on the commute. But one hell of a pile of fun on empty roads.

    In fact, as another owner agrees with me, the car’s best point is its effortless acceleration, available with just a naughty dab of the gas.

    Add to that the planetary center diff, the rear LSD, the traction control whose light I have seen come on only twice, the telescoping steering wheel and seats that happen to suit me to a tee, I’m very happy indeed. I catch myself looking at it a lot, admiring its lines, and thinking just how damn lucky I am to own it. I’ve owned five Audis from new. They all had a better handling/ride compromise, but no other advantages.

    This 2010 is not my cup of tea at all. I don’t like the way it looks, the interior doesn’t do it for me, you can’t get it with the auto except in Australia and the Far East for some reason or another, etc. etc.

    I know that Subaru sales are up and that I’m in a minority liking the older one better, but there you are. At least Subaru will be in business for years and able to supply spare parts for mine when it is in its dotage.

  • avatar
    TrailerTrash

    Michael

    Nobody loves to drive more than I do.
    I can’t drive like a racer, but I turn off the radio just so I can hear the engine.
    I get chills feeling the car handle well through mountain roads.
    I can drive on forwever…
    …but I need/want/demand automatics.

    Does this make me some kind of non-auto enthusiast?
    Am I officially now not official?
    Does the laziness of an automatic make me unworthy???

    Our demands for the top tech in our cars, especially for the money we pay…why is it to much to demand automatics that rate the rest of the performance?

    OK…the weight problem, but even the new Fiesta has the dual clutch trans…and this is an econo car.
    The Germans have enjoyed this transmission for a long time and it is offered on many performance cars, so why not this one?

    Why can’t I get this engine and it’s great performance with an auto?

    • 0 avatar

      When a car is offered only with a turbo four and manual transmission in the U.S., I think we can safely conclude that it’s intended for driving enthusiasts.

      This does not, however, mean that all enthusiasts want a manual.

      “If A then B” doesn’t logically translate to “if not A then not B.”

      It does translate to “if not B then not A.”

      Meaning that if someone isn’t a driving enthusiast, then they probably aren’t going to seek out a manual shift turbocharged car.

      So if enthusiasts don’t care for the LGT, then it’s dead.

    • 0 avatar
      TrailerTrash

      Wow, that kind of hurt.

      I felt like I was back in logic class. And I don’t think I ever stayed awake for a single lecture.

      I still wish they had the AWD fun car with auto.
      I wish the Mazdaspeed3 was AWD.

      These are the two small cars I wanted, but they both leave out the one missing piece for me.

    • 0 avatar
      Scorched Earth

      Mazdaspeed3 is manual-only and FWD. How does that even come close to what you want?

      If you want an auto, get an H6-powered Legacy. It’s targeted away ferom enthusiasts – surprise, surprise – but by Michael’s review, it seems the GT isn’t even all that fun-oriented.

  • avatar
    ajla

    It sounds like the H6/5A is the way to go on both the Legacy and Outback.

    And, the Regal GS better slaughter this car.

  • avatar
    Strippo

    I was contemplating the Legacy as the next Strippomobile this very week. As a long-time Miata owner, reading consumer reviews on Edmunds to the effect that the new Legacy can have serious “shimmy” problems with no current corporate resolution gave me serious pause.

    Oh, and for the record, I’m not trading in the (’94) Miata. It’s the car I can keep running even in “Mad Max” days. You can’t put a price on that.

    • 0 avatar

      Earlier I posted that Subaru has a fix for the steering wheel vibrations / shimmy. Taking a closer look at Car Reliability Survey responses, I’m now less sure. At least one car was cured, but in other cases the various fixes, including a revised steering rack spring, failed to entirely eliminate the problem.

      http://www.truedelta.com/repair_histories.php?stage=pt&bd=Subaru&mc=255&my=2010

      http://www.truedelta.com/repair_histories.php?stage=pt&bd=Subaru&mc=253&my=2010

    • 0 avatar
      Strippo

      And that’s what concerns me. Miatas shimmy if everything isn’t just so, but they don’t shimmy by design. It’s just part of the maintenance bargain when you purchase a lightweight roadster. I would be worried about what develops with the new Legacy as it ages. Besides, I tend to prefer it when the Subie VIN begins with a consonant anyway. My wife still loves her trouble-free ’05 Forester, and she’s not even the least bit bi-curious.

  • avatar
    M 1

    Enough with the cornball-huge headlights already, Japan.

  • avatar
    Durishin

    Great write-up, Michael. I am glad that Subaru are having success in the market place. I am afraid, however, that my current Spec. B (’06) will be my fifth and last Subaru. Unless impracticality wins out and an STi comes home with me some night. :-)

    The Outback is too big. Heck, you can’t even get a bicycle on or off the roof rack w/o something to step up on. The cowl height on the Legacy is just too high for my tastes as well (but the Camaro is bigger than my Spec. B). Such, I guess, is the price of admittance into the mainstream American auto marketplace as a player.

    No, Audi wagon for me, I guess. Sorry, daughter, you can go to private school NEXT year.

    Oh! And, yes, rear wheel bearings and why the heck did I sell either of the SVXs that I had? Dumb! Dumb! Dumb!

  • avatar
    JeremyR

    I’m a little late to the party, but I think Subaru hit the sweet spot with the previous-generation Legacy/Outback. We have an Outback 2.5XT with the 5AT. If I had more influence in the purchase decision, it would have been the Legacy 2.5GT wagon with the 5MT, but my wife (who is the primary driver of the car) preferred the Outback with the AT.

    There is a bit of turbo lag, which would likely be more manageable with a manual transmission, but it’s a bit annoying with the automatic. Interesting, then, that they massaged out most of the turbo lag in this iteration, but then only offer it with a manual. But then I guess the same engine goes into the Outback, many of which will be automatic-equipped, where there will be some benefit.

    • 0 avatar

      It would be interesting to know what the mean Body Mass Index is of previous generation Subie drivers and drivers of this new generation that we “Subaru Tifosi” tend to disparage.

      Subaru sales are climbing with this new generation and I believe that it is because the new Legacy interiors – and their cup holders – are bigger. I am not meaning to disparage anyone here. I just think that Subaru design has hit closer to the sweet spot in interior size for the American market than they had done with the prior gen Legacy. Subaru wins while we Subaru loyalists have to sell our kids so we can buy Audis.

      BTW, Cherry Hill, where are those Subaru trunk badges I ordered?

  • avatar

    Why can’t Honda make something like this? Put the V6 + 6 speed manual from the Accord Coupe and the AWD from the Crossover into the Accord Sedan and BAM!

  • avatar
    Bunk Moreland

    From the bug-eyed 2002 Impreza, to the shark-grilled 2004, to this new Legacy, I’m left wondering when Subaru is going to start shaping their spoilers like mohawks.

  • avatar
    Purquel

    The Impreza line-up (though larger than before) caters to the younger enthusiast driver, and the STIs are still an unrefined hoot to drive. By necessity then, the Legacy’s have to cater to a different crowd. Buyers of Subarus tend to live in snowy climates and demographics show them concerned not only with safety, but also environmental impact (think anti-SUV). Teachers and healthcare workers are big buyers of these base Legacys.

    I still think there is a niche group these manual GTs are going after: people who want performance, who have a wife, or kid (or threee) to occasionally haul around, and want something not-too-flashy that flies under the radar. People know what Acuras, Audis, and BMWs are, but what is a Subaru?

    I like this this car because the suspension is just a little softer than the others for the crappy cow-town roads I do 80% of my driving on, but I can still zoom up the twisty canyons on either side of my little valley at 80 mph for skiing and mountain biking. If you want an AWD kick-ass manual sedan that doesn’t offend the neighbors, where you gonna turn?


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