Price: £27,995
Top speed: 120mph 0-60mph 10.3 seconds
Consumption: 33.6mpg
CO2 emissions: 196g/km
Best for: Hardcore Subaru fans
Also worth considering? Audi A4 Avant Quattro, Skoda Superb 4x4 estate, Volvo XC70

What's so special about a Subaru? Quite a lot, as it happens – it's just that it's usually very well hidden under some pretty plain bodywork. Let's start under the bonnet, where you'll find a boxer engine, a configuration shared only with Porsches. Most other car-makers opt for something simpler but Subaru sticks doggedly with it. One reason is that a car fitted with a boxer engine has a head start over everything else in terms of on-road behaviour; a boxer can be mounted low down and a lower centre of gravity means less roll and better handling. Subaru even went to the trouble and expense of developing its own boxer diesel engine, a decision that was vindicated by the outstanding results. And in a Subaru, the boxer engine is paired with all-wheel drive. Most other manufacturers are happy to go for the cheaper, lighter and simpler option of driving only two, rather than four wheels, but four means more traction.

The excellence of the engineering that goes into these cars isn't in doubt – the interesting question is whether it really gives them an edge over their rivals that makes it worth all the effort. If you're a press-on type, you'll really appreciate the balance that the Subaru's unique set-up confers – although the Legacy counts as one of the company's less sporty efforts of recent times. And if you're a farmer, you'll really value a Subaru's ability to get you through snowy and muddy conditions. But Subaru fan as I am, I'd have to admit that when you're sitting in a traffic jam or droning along a busy motorway, these advantages don't really come into play. That was true of past Subarus and it's true of this one.

That said, the new Legacy does incorporate some worthwhile improvements over its predecessors. It's roomy and well equipped, and the new Lineartronic automatic gearbox, an artificially "stepped" continuously variable transmission, is a big advance over the four-speeder fitted to the last automatic Subaru I tried.

Which brings us to another Subaru curiosity; although this Japanese company makes cars for discerning individualists, its approach to choice is pure Henry Ford. In the UK, at least, you can have any body style you like as long as it's an estate. If you want a diesel, it has to be a manual; if you want a petrol, it's got to be an automatic. But if you really appreciate what makes a Subaru special, none of that will put you off at all.

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