Although it may not attract the spotlight as much as its enthusiast-leaning Impreza WRX sibling, the 2008 Subaru Legacy is deserving of much more than supporting actor status in the carmaker's lineup. As the brand's main midsize sedan, the Legacy is meant to appeal to two main types of buyers: those looking for something sportier than the ubiquitous Honda Accord and Toyota Camry and those who want the advantage of all-wheel-drive traction for foul-weather driving.
For 2008, Subaru has given its Legacy a subtle face-lift, evident from changes to the Legacy's grille and lighting systems fore and aft. The company also added a new trim level this year, the 3.0 R Limited, that features a 245-horsepower flat-6 coupled to a rev-matching, paddle-shifted automatic gearbox. There are also revisions on the inside with new seat fabrics and an updated instrument panel.
Keeping with Subaru tradition, all-wheel drive is standard across the board and nearly all 2008 Legacy models are propelled by a horizontally opposed, four-cylinder engine (called a "boxer" or "flat" engine design). A sure-footed demeanor, thanks to the AWD and the boxer engine's lower center of gravity, is a standout trait of the Legacy. Before you scoff at the scarceness of six-cylinder power (only available on one of the Legacy's six trim levels), consider that we've found the GT's turbocharged four to be a spirited sweetheart that rivals many V6s in terms of outright performance, refinement and power delivery.
In an attempt to pump up the sporting factor even more, Subaru offers a gizmo called SI-Drive on some trims. SI-Drive adjusts the electronic throttle's response as well as the automatic transmission's shift points. There are three modes: Intelligent, Sport and Sport Sharp to choose from. The Intelligent mode optimizes fuel-efficiency, but expectedly blunts performance while the Sport Sharp mode does the inverse. Sport falls somewhere in the middle. Any guess as to which mode we prefer?
On the whole, we're pretty fond of the 2008 Subaru Legacy. Its all-wheel drive, fine ride and handling balance, and lively, sport sedan personality make it an easy recommendation for driving enthusiasts in need of a midsize sedan. Stellar crash test scores also further its appeal. The few drawbacks to the Legacy include a backseat that's on the small side and the limited availability of certain features, such as stability control.
The 2008 Subaru Legacy is a midsize sedan with all-wheel drive. The six trim levels are comprised of base 2.5i, 2.5i Special Edition, 2.5i Limited, 2.5 GT Limited, 2.5 GT spec.B and 3.0 R Limited.
The base 2.5i comes with 17-inch alloy wheels, air-conditioning, an MP3/WMA-capable CD stereo with an auxiliary input jack, keyless entry, tilt and telescopic steering wheel, a trip computer and full power accessories. The 2.5i Special Edition adds a moonroof and a power driver seat. The 2.5i Limited includes leather seating, heated exterior mirrors, a windshield wiper de-icer, heated front seats, dual-zone climate control and an upgraded audio system with an in-dash CD changer.
The sporting 2.5 GT Limited features a turbocharged engine, SI-Drive, a limited-slip rear differential, larger brakes, quicker steering, bolstered sport seats, a three-spoke Momo steering wheel and electroluminescent gauges. The 2.5 GT spec.B sedan adds an upgraded Torsen limited-slip differential, stability control, a sport suspension with Bilstein dampers, 18-inch alloys with performance tires, a navigation system, ground effects and alloy pedal covers. The 3.0R Limited essentially substitutes a six-cylinder engine and paddle-shifted automatic transmission for the 2.5 GT spec.B's turbo four and manual transmission.
The navigation and stability control systems are optional on the midlevel trims, but unfortunately can't be had on entry-level ones.
The Legacy's well-trimmed cabin is one of its strongest virtues. Clean, logical design is tastefully accented with convincing faux aluminum and wood grain trim. The red-and-white gauges and three-spoke Momo steering wheel in the GT Limited, spec.B and 3.0 R models add a sporty flair, while all trims boast excellent build and materials quality. While the backseat is comfortable for two passengers, shoulder room and legroom are still pretty tight for this class. Kids should fit with no problem, though. The Legacy's trunk is also on the smallish side at 11.4 cubic feet. However, it does feature both a ski pass-through and fold-down rear seats to optimize cargo capacity.
Three engines are available for the Subaru Legacy, and all Legacy models feature all-wheel drive. The 2.5i models get a 2.5-liter horizontally opposed (or flat) four-cylinder that makes 175 hp and 169 pound-feet of torque. The GT Limited and GT spec.B models get a turbocharged 2.5-liter flat-4 that makes 243 hp and 241 lb-ft. The 3.0 R Limited has a 3.0-liter flat-6 that produces 245 hp and 215 lb-ft.
Legacy 2.5i models are equipped with either a five-speed manual transmission or a four-speed automatic. GT buyers have the choice of the five-speed manual or a five-speed auto. The spec.B has a six-speed manual transmission. The 3.0 R has a five-speed automatic that (like the five-speed auto on the GT trims) features paddle shifters and rev-matching downshifting. Performance of the GT trims is especially thrilling; we timed a GT spec.B at just 5.7 seconds in the 0-to-60 dash.
Equipped with the base 2.5-liter engine, the 2008 Subaru Legacy provides adequate acceleration and polished road manners that are sure to please whether your commute is all highway or includes a few twists and turns. If you can swing it, though, the upgrade to the turbocharged Legacy GT Limited or spec.B is well worth it. Those cars are quick and entertaining to exercise on a back road, especially when equipped with one of the manual transmissions. Hard-core enthusiasts will note that the Legacy exhibits a bit too much body roll to be considered a bona fide sport sedan, but the trade-off is a forgiving highway ride — even on the Bilstein-equipped spec.B. Steering is light, precise and high in feedback with all Legacy models.
Antilock disc brakes, front-seat side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags and whiplash-reducing front headrests are all standard. Stability control is standard on the GT spec.B and 3.0 R trims and optional on the 2.5i Limited and GT Limited trims.
In IIHS crash tests the 2008 Subaru Legacy received the Gold Award (its highest honor) after the car earned "Good" ratings (the highest) in frontal-offset and side-impact crash tests, and for its head restraints' ability to prevent whiplash in rear-end crashes. The NHTSA rates the Legacy very high as well; the vehicle has a perfect five-star rating for both frontal and side-impact crash protection.
A mild face-lift, a sporty new "3.0 R Limited" trim level, a redesigned instrument panel, the cancellation of the wagon body style and the addition of a few new standard features (including tilt and telescopic steering wheel and an auxiliary audio jack) are the major changes for the 2008 Subaru Legacy line.