Subaru Legacy Sports Tourer REn - The Verdict

Now the Boxer's lauded 4x4 handling and stability gets the boost of Subaru's own diesel engine, says David Wilkins

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Price: £24,395
Engine: 2.0 litre four-cylinder Boxer diesel
Performance: 126 mph, 48.7 mpg,
Worth considering: Alfa Romeo 159 1.9 JTDm estate, Saab 9-3 estate 1.9TiD 150, Volvo V70 2.4D

It turns up without fail on Subaru's stand at every big motor show. It always looks exactly the same, but I invariably stop in order to admire it for a few minutes. It's a full-scale mock-up of Subaru's characteristic four-wheel drive power train in which the main components, including the boxer engines to which the company is so attached, are arranged in-line.

The visual purity and symmetry of this set-up hint at the theoretical advantages that are claimed for it; four-wheel drive provides excellent traction, of course, while the boxer engine, with its horizontally opposed banks of cylinders, makes for a low centre of gravity, greater stability and better handling.

Another Subaru trait is that the company has only ever offered petrol engines, even though this has been a big disadvantage in trying to tap sales in Continental Europe and among British fleets. Of course, Subaru, one of the smaller Japanese car-makers, could simply have brought in a diesel engine of about the right size from a rival, but nobody else makes a boxer diesel, so that plan would have undermined the company's engineering ethos.

Now, at last, Subaru has come up with its own boxer diesel engine, and it has been well worth the wait. All of the advantages normally associated with diesel, such as high torque, impressive fuel economy and low CO2 levels are present but the usual disadvantages have been minimised to a greater extent than in just about any other four cylinder diesel.

The new engine revs freely and quietly, and if you open a window, you will hear more of the traditional distinctive Subaru boxer beat than you will diesel clatter.

Another characteristic that makes this diesel feel very "petroly", which our reader-tester Richard Woolrych pointed out, is that suddenly lifting off the accelerator pedal doesn't cause the abrupt engine braking that can make other manual diesels jerky.

The rest of the Legacy is largely unchanged. This impressive new engine should cause a lot more customers to seek out its particular brand of quiet, understated competence.

THE VERDICT

Doug Glenday, 33
Accountant, Ashwell
Usual cars: Subaru Forester Sti and Nissan Cube

I really wanted to like this car. As a current Subaru owner, I appreciate their qualities such as the reliability, handling and relative uniqueness, but have found the fuel consumption to be high. Therefore, I was hoping this diesel would address this issue but not compromise too much on the others. It is a good car in terms of comfort and quietness and seems well built. The interior was spacious, comfortable and well specified apart from the odd bit of cheap plastic. However, it was not that exciting or involving to drive. It is fairly quick and the pull of the engine is smooth, but at the end of the day, you can tell it's a diesel. Maybe that is the problem. In the meantime, I'll stick to Subaru petrols.

Richard Woolrych, 60
Social care consultant, Hertford
Usual cars: Rover 75 Diesel & Peugeot 307

The impressive economy and CO2 emissions did not prepare me for the responsiveness of the unique flat four "Boxer" engine. This and all-wheel drive means that safe and rapid overtaking can be easily accomplished. Such designs have a reputation for longevity (Citroë*2CV/GS and VW Beetle) and the chain cam drive on this unit should help keep maintenance costs down. A light foot on the accelerator and a high gear keeps the central economy display above 50mpg. The seats and leather trim were comfortable. At speed, this is a quiet car and the only clue to the fact it's a diesel is when you start up. It revs happily and the gearing is just right but there is less engine braking than on other diesels. The handling and steering are excellent. It will be definitely on my shopping list when I need to replace my seven-year-old Rover 75 diesel.

Mike Spindle, 52
Wheelchair designer, Radlett
Usual cars: Porsche 911, Mini One, BMW 320i, Austin Healey 3000

The Subaru Legacy Diesel is not exactly the car I was hoping for when I offered to partake in the Verdict test. I thought that they must deliberately pair owners with cars they would not really be likely to buy! As a lifelong member of the anti-diesel car club, with widespread distrust over their desirability, it clearly wasn't a car with my name on it, but at least it was Subaru, a brand which brought supercar performance to the man in the street. But it ain't no Impreza. It's conservatively-styled, well-equipped mid-size estate. The flat four diesel is a gem. At moderate pace it's all very nice and peaceful. Performance is adequate for overtaking and the whole experience is drama free.

If you would like to take part in The Verdict, email verdict@independent.co.uk or write to The Verdict, Save & Spend, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS, giving your address, phone number and details of the car, if any, you drive. For most cars, participants must be over 26 and have a clean licence.

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