1995 Subaru Legacy

By December 6, 2001
1995 Subaru Legacy

Funny how things end up. Last year Subaru tried to position itself as a mainstream Japanese car, just like Honda or Toyota. Buyers, however, refused to accept this notion, and the marketing plan fizzled.

This year, Subaru is launching a new Legacy, the company’s midsize bread-and-butter sedan. In the process, Subaru decided to focus on its traditional heritage: a specialized car with all-wheel drive (AWD) for folks who march to a slightly different drummer. Particularly, different drummers who live in real four-season climates.

But darned if the new Legacy isn’t more mainstream than anything Subaru has ever produced. The car is more re-fined and appealingly styled, with fewer quirks and rough edges.

Consumers will profit from Subaru’s back-to-basics strategy, too. To showcase its unique selling proposition – the only affordable passenger car with AWD – Subaru has slashed the price in half for the option package that includes AWD.

Walkaround

Subarus have traditionally looked unlike anything else. We have a friend who insists that Subaru’s star pattern logo is actually a secret map devised by the company’s designers to show them the way back to their home planet.

But for 1995, the Legacy settles down to Earth. The all-new exterior has been stretched, rounded and smoothed, and odd little details have disappeared. The result is a sedan that visually holds its own with other Japanese models.

The wheelbase has been stretched 2 in., with most of the increase devoted to interior space. Overall, the car is about 3 in. longer, 1 in. wider and 2 in. taller, easing the cramped feel of its predecessor.

Subaru has created an option package for the Legacy that includes AWD, anti-lock brakes, 4-wheel disc brakes and cruise control – and slashed the price from $3000 to $1500.

Why would you want all this? Part-time systems – the usual setup on sport/ utilities – are great in deep snow or mud, but less than perfect in the sleety, wet, icy, treacherous conditions that usually prompt drivers to wish they had 4-wheel drive. Part-time systems are also designed for occasional use, and they won’t stand up to extended running on the open road.

Carmakers have mostly shunned AWD for passenger cars, believing it is too heavy, too expensive and too hard on fuel economy. Subaru is betting that people will go for its AWD system, which is lightweight and inexpensive and has minimal impact on fuel economy (21 mpg city and 28 mpg highway compared with 24 and 31, respectively, for front-wheel- drive versions).

Interior Features

With its tall driving position, low hoodline, glassy vistas and functional styling, the Subaru Legacy is a poor man’s Volvo.

The Legacy’s new interior has a clean modernity. The instrument panel and center console have been tidied up, with rearranged controls and nice fit-and-finish. One thoughtful touch: The dual cup-holder shelf pops out of the center of the dashboard and slides to the right, keeping your beverage from blocking the clock and the radio’s volume knob.

The air conditioning (standard on all but the base Legacy) is adequate but not overbuilt. This year’s fan is much quieter.

Reducing noise and vibration was a goal in the Legacy’s redesign, and there is improvement. But the interior is still loud – mostly from engine and tire noise. The car is noticeably more refined, but it isn’t up to Honda or Toyota standards.

On the other hand, safety features abound: height-adjustable seat belts, dual airbags, adjustable headrests and automatic locking seat belts (eliminating the need for a locking clip for a child safety seat). The Legacy also meets 1997 federal side-impact standards and has 5-mph bumpers.

One of the Legacy’s nice features is the range of trim levels available, starting with the stripped-down base model, extending through the L and LS, and ending with the LSi , which comes with full leather and a 6-speaker audio system with CD player.

And if a sedan isn’t useful enough for you, you can opt for a wagon – along with about 60 percent of other Legacy buyers. All trim levels have a wagon version, and for 1995 there are two packages of special interest. The Brighton is the no-frills AWD wagon for folks who have to cope with a real mud season ($15,999).

The Outback is Subaru’s alternative to a sport/utility: AWD, rugged interior, roof rack, splash guards and a 12-volt power source in the rear compartment to power things such as rubber boat inflators and electric coolers ($19,820).

The Outback lacks the ground clearance of a true sport/utility, but it provides all the off-road capability. Unless your travel plans include rock-hopping or stump-jumping, this package will get the job done without drama.

You should note that the ’96 Outback model will have a larger 2.5-liter engine and more ground clearance.

Driving Impressions

The 1995 Legacy gets 5 more hp from its 2.2-liter horizon-tally opposed 4-cylinder engine (thanks to an improved exhaust system) for a total of 135 hp. That’s a tangible improvement, but acceleration and passing power are still no better than adequate.

On the other hand, this unusual engine design, which is similar to the old Volkswagen Beetle 4-cylinder, does have its strengths. Because the engine lies flat, it’s easier to package and helps keep the hoodline low. And Subaru 4-cylinders have an enviable service record: They just don’t break, and that means their owners keep coming back.

There was a weighty feel to our Legacy L test car, compared with a typical Japanese midsize, part of Subaru’s choice to balance stable handling with a comfortable ride.

The longer wheelbase, more rigid body and revised suspension improve ride and handling noticeably. For those who would like more control on slippery surfaces but don’t want to go all the way to AWD, traction control is available for the first time. The system uses both engine and brakes to maintain optimum power levels to the front wheels.

The transmission options are a standard 5-speed manual and an optional 4-speed automatic. Our test car was equipped with the automatic, and there was no marked performance penalty. It shifted smoothly and made good use of the engine’s power.

Another typical Subaru touch: The gear selector has a straightforward pattern rather than the confusing overdrive with an on/off button offered by Subaru’s competitors.

Summary

The 1995 Legacy still lacks some refinement, but it has made a tremendous leap forward. The interior noise level is its biggest weakness; the rest of the car is well up to modern standards. And none of its competitors has AWD.

AWD availability has always been a Subaru strength, and now consumers can finally get it without compromising terribly on the rest of the car, thanks to the company’s new value packaging policy.

Subaru thinks the AWD package will appeal to those who absolutely positively have to get to work, even before the snow plows are out. Women in particular express interest in AWD, and many are buying sport/utilities to get it. Here’s a way to get that feature in a passenger car.

Another plus: Historically, Subarus have had very low theft rates, unlike sport/utilities, which have zoomed up the theft charts. Also, the Legacy is assembled in the United States at the Subaru-Isuzu joint-venture plant in Indiana.

Subaru sales have traditionally been localized, particularly in the Northeast and Pacific Northwest. Before you buy, make sure there is a good dealership or independent Subaru specialist in your area.

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