Would suit: Hen-pecked dads
Price on the road: £26,750
Maximum speed: 151mph, 0-60mph 6.4 secs
Combined fuel consumption: 24.1mpg
For more information: 08708 502 503
If you believed all you see in the adverts you could be forgiven for thinking that today's cars are designed exclusively for windsurfing, dog-owning couples who like to hang out with Scandinavian DJs and Tommy Hilfiger models. On the beach.
In fact, I can reveal that most cars are designed for a single, key, but hitherto undisclosed demographic: hen-pecked dads. Dads are people who used to be thrill-seeking young men with adventure in their blood and a penchant for costly gadgets and looking cool, but are now glorified chauffeurs for small, demanding humans; their status goals pretty much limited to the jostle for position in the company car park.
The ranges of BMW, Audi, Mercedes, Land Rover, Alfa Romeo, Saab, Volvo, Honda, Lexus, Mitsubishi, Ford and these days even Skoda are almost entirely father-focussed, intent on providing fast (in some cases, ludicrously fast), subtly masculine cars that their wives can be easily deceived into believing are appropriate for everyday family use.
The current über dad brand is Subaru, which makes chunky, reasonably priced and practical intercontinental ballistic missiles. Though they might look the epitome of sensible family motoring, with their wipe-clean interiors, Isofix points and optional luggage nets, Subaru make some of the fastest cars, point-to-point, in the world right now. Though conventional wisdom states that in most families women take the ultimate decision over car purchases, Subaru knows damn well that it's the men who trawl round the dealerships, gathering the brochures and marshalling the (highly selective) facts that will ensure their choice gets a favourable hearing and the Vauxhall Zafira does not. That is why Subaru has poured millions into its World Rally Championship programme: to reach the dads who watch Grandstand on a Saturday afternoon. It knows dads will be mesmerised by a car that appears totally innocuous to mums, but goes like stink and handles like a Lotus Elise.
The ultimate Subaru is, of course, the Impreza but it can be tricky getting the bucket-sized tailpipes, spotlights and flared body kit past the lil' laydeez back home. Personally, I ache for a Forester, but that does look like a chest freezer on wheels. For the optimum blend of Sainsbury's car park anonymity and blistering performance, the Legacy is the dad's best bet for smuggling a sports saloon past the pinafored sentries who guard the nation's cul-de-sacs.
I tested the standard Legacy estate last year and loved it, but when I heard that they had slipped a high-performance version on to the market (no aggressive advertising campaign to alert the better halves: nice one chaps) I had to try it. I plumped for the good, old-fashioned, four-door saloon – a car so wilfully nondescript no wife could ever suspect that a fire-breathing rally car lurks beneath.
It's called the Spec B. The visual signifiers of its boosted performance are few – seven-spoke alloys and a chrome strip beneath the doors, that's it – which is just how closet dad-racers like it. Drive one, though, and you are left in no doubt that this is an extremely capable sports saloon with immense traction and grip capable of hauling itself to 60 quicker than an Audi TT. I reckon it's got the hen-pecked dad's vote sewn up.