LJK Setright: Ideals and apples get just desserts

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Indy Lifestyle Online

America, declared President Woodrow Wilson in 1919, is the only idealistic nation in the world.

America, declared President Woodrow Wilson in 1919, is the only idealistic nation in the world. It is admittedly possible that he was professionally biased, for he was at the time addressing an American audience. It may also be pleaded in mitigation of his offence that he was not widely travelled; or sensible of his people's gastronomic leanings, being aware of Coleridge's dictum that no man can have a pure mind who refuses apple dumplings. Whatever his excuse, it was a monstrous claim.

We are not dealing here with the exhibitionist trappings of national morality. How America deals with its peculiar domestic issues is no concern of ours, just as the ways in which other nations choose to manage themselves should not concern America. Pure-minded idealism is more surely measured by the attitude of people to everyday activities and to everyday things -- how they use them, judge them, make them. Here, America stands condemned on account of its belief that "good enough is perfect", sometimes expressed as "if it works, don't mess with it".

Britain, France and Germany can make things nicely, but are cursed by a tradition of perfunctory design and costly development. The rectification of an initial error emerges as an expensive palliative: the symptom is cured, but not the disease. How fortunate the Japanese industry is not beset by the conventions of other peoples: many a pure-minded Japanese engineer, who would view an apple dumpling with the gravest suspicions, can set about the design of some everyday thing with every hope of creating a thing that will be ideal for its purpose and correct first time.

How else to explain the purist philosophy expressed in the new Subaru Legacy 3.0 R saloon? Where else might you find a manufacturer so mindful of the supremely important role of tyres that every car in the catalogue is graced with permanent four-wheel drive? Where else might one seek a manufacturer so sensitive to the inherent flaws of all conventional engine formats as to concentrate entirely, and despite the expense and difficulties involved, on engines with horizontally opposed cylinders, a configuration encouraging a low centre of gravity (essential for stability), while ensuring the most perfect balance attainable in piston engines? The number of cylinders thus idealistically laid out in this altogether new Legacy is six. This is the proper number of cylinders for a gentleman's car, and that is the sort of car the 3.0 R is. Accordingly, there is nothing brash in the furnishing of the interior. Externally, its styling is understated, not arrogant; the car packs plenty of power, but its flair for passing unnoticed is what allows that power to be used so freely. That, and the controllability that only a low centre of gravity and good four-wheel drive can ensure, make this a car for converting unseemly haste into suave speed.

At other times you may prefer to contemplate its unexpected economy and remarkably clean emissions. Fast or slow, there is always a sense of exhilaration, in the knowledge that this outwardly conventional saloon conceals decidedly unconventional and logically admirable engineering.

Alas, no matter how idealistic its creators, no car so wholly new can be entirely right. On some typically gruesome English minor roads there was too much wheel patter; at high speeds (the 3.0 R can reach 147mph) there was too much wind noise. Otherwise, there was nothing untoward, not even the price: among respectable saloons, nothing cheaper is as good, and many that are more expensive are not as good either. Some of its rivals occasionally surprise in; appreciating the ideals pursued by Subaru, it comes as no surprise to find this specimen as good as it is.

motoring@independent.co.uk

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