Want a fast,
estate with permanent
four-wheel drive and
all for less that £28K?
topping 3.0R spec.B
Sports Tourer could
be just what youre
SPORTING ESTATES ARE BIG BUSINESS. Look around you next time you pop down to the supermarket. More surprising than how many is what kind. The majority are so-called 'touring' versions of prestige-badged saloons rather than utilitarian wagons. Even more interestingly, many are high-performance models. Subaru, recognised by keen drivers for its potent Impreza and turbocharged Forester models, also fields a high-performance estate the rather enigmatically named Legacy 3.0R 'spec.B'. And it majors on performance.
Sporting a 3.0-litre flat-six powerplant that pumps out 242bhp and full-time four-wheel drive, it has a powerful kick. Sufficient to get it off the line to 60mph in 6.6 seconds and on to a top speed of 145mph.
Unlike Subaru's in-your-face Impreza, the Legacy spec.B offers few clues to its sporting ability. No blatant boot spoilers or gaping bonnet scoops. Okay, so there is a roof spoiler but it blends in so well you'd hardly notice it. A set of smart seven-blade 18-inch alloy wheels and chrome sill flashes make you suspect the spec.B is something more than a bog-standard workhorse estate. So do the large-bore tailpipes one protruding either side of the rear apron. Neat touches include Mercedes-style indicator repeaters embedded in the door mirrors and a very welcome lack of gimmicky styling addenda.
Along with the generous performance for your £27,945 there's also a generous standard specification which includes twin tandem electric sunroofs, touch-screen SatNav/driver's information system, speed-sensitive wipers, windscreen wiper de-icers, leather upholstery, electric windows, heated and electrically-adjustable front seats, 6-stacker CD system with 6 speakers, steering wheel-mounted audio controls, climate control air-conditioning, cruise control, dual-stage front, side (head and chest) airbags, active front head restraints and pedals that snap away in a severe accident to protect the driver's limbs. What's more, similarly specced estates from Jaguar (X-Type), Volvo (V70), Audi (A4 Avant quattro) and BMW (3 Series Touring) could cost you anything up to another £6,000. Makes you think, doesn't it? Especially as the equally-refined spec.B is quicker.
The spec.B's cabin is simply styled and well finished, with chrome highlights and textured high-quality soft-touch plastics as good as those found in the Legacy's premium rivals. The dark metallic grey centre stack is logically arranged with the touch-screen multimedia satellite navigation centre in prime position at the top, where it's ideally placed for maximum ease of use by the driver. There's a row of self-explanatory menu buttons immediately beneath the large colour screen. Information that can be called up includes the usual trip statistics as well as the vehicle's maintenance schedule.
The low-slung 8-way power-operated front seats are comfy. Both have manually-adjustable lumbar support, and most drivers will quickly arrive at a good driving position even though the sportily-small, leather-wrapped Momo steering wheel only adjusts for height. The main instrument cluster features four easily-read overlapping dials: the larger rev-counter and speedometer are flanked by smaller gauges for temperature and fuel.
There's plenty of leg- and headroom and three can sit abreast slightly higher in the back. As with most four/five seaters, two is better because they get to share the centre armrest. All four doors open wide to provide easy entry and exit. There's ample space for oddments around the cabin, plus there's a moveable pop-out ashtray that's the perfect place for your parking change.
As befits an estate, the Legacy's 459-litre boot is well shaped and should easily swallow a family's luggage. For those times when the load you need to accommodate is non-human, the 60:40 split rear seat backs can be folded, providing a 1,628-litre long, flat load bay with in seconds. The luggage bay roller-blind operates smoothly and also pops out smartly when you need to load bulkier items.
In addition, there's underfloor storage and two Isofix child seat mountings. The two-section electric glass sunroof runs from the top of the windscreen to midway above the rear seats, and is conveniently operated by a one-shot switch that opens and closes the roof in three stages. Or, should you prefer, raises the front section at the leading edge to provide extra ventilation without buffeting.
The first impression on moving off is of the pleasantly throaty but low-key growl from the spec.B's injected horizontally-opposed six-pot. It never becomes intrusive, and at tick-over you'd barely know the engine was running. Pour on the power, however, as the all-alloy flat-six will sing for its supper all the way to the 6,600rpm redline, when its on-song vocals remind you of nothing so much as a 911 at play.
The spec.B's free-revving 'boxer' engine has more than enough torque 219lb ft at 4,200rpm to pull cleanly and eagerly all the way through the rev range. The six-speeder manual 'box is a heavily-revised unit from the Impreza STi and provides satisfyingly accurate gear changes, nicely paired with a clean clutch pedal action and a well-stacked set of ratios. Pick-up is swift in most gears, with second and third providing real get-up-and-go.
Fast, predictable progress is a given. The combination of four-wheel drive, rear limited-slip differential and the grippy 18-inch 215/45 Bridgestone Potenza rubber deliver unruffled traction and grip in both the wet and the dry, with assured mid-corner composure.
The Legacy's MacPherson strut front and multi-link rear suspension has been uprated for this range-topping spec.B model, with Bilstein dampers and Impreza WRX STi-style inverted front struts. The strong body control comes with a surprisingly compliant, well settled and fidget-free ride. About the only thing the spec.B doesn't particularly like is speed humps. Join the club!
Enhancing the handling plus-points is the Legacy's lack of physical bulk. It measures just under 15 feet 6 inches from nose to tail and a slim 5 feet 8 inches wide much appreciated when pressing on through tight and twisting roads, where the spec.B manages to feel reassuringly nimble.
There's good front-end bite and the car turns in accurately, the speed-sensitive rack-and-pinion power steering proving to be crisp and sharp if a tad light in feel. In town, a good turning circle of just 10.8 metres makes parking easy and three-point turns a breeze. No complaints with the brakes either. With ventilated discs at each corner backed-up by ABS and EBD, they're easily up to the job of stopping the hard-charging spec.B in its tracks.
The spec.B lives up to its Sports Tourer appellation. Long distances are covered at a relaxed gait: the cruising is a mechanically smooth and dynamically stable affair. The leather seats are wonderfully supportive with bolstering in just the right places, and have perforated centre panels to help keep you cool. On colder days you'll definitely appreciate the heated seats.
Official fuel consumption figures are 15.7mpg and 23mpg respectively for town and combined driving, closely borne out by our overall test figure, which worked out to 21.3mpg. Longer journeys should see 31.7mpg.
All-in-all, the spec.B offers a sporting drive allied to estate car practicality. Throw in some deliberately understated looks and the ability to tow a braked 2,000kgs along with Subaru's excellent reputation for reliability and durability and that all adds up to a lot of good reasons to consider this sports tourer a viable alternative to the usual German players.
Subaru Legacy 3.0R spec.B Sports Tourer | £27,945
Maximum speed: 145mph | 0-60mph: 6.6 seconds
Overall test MPG: 21.3mpg | Power: 242bhp | Torque: 219lb ft
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