Gonzo Schexnayder, Contributor
Every now and then, I like to sit at a stoplight and gauge my reaction time to it when it changes. It's my little pretend-I'm-an-NHRA-drag-racer thing. I don't do it when the roads are busy or wet only under ideal circumstances that include an empty intersection and dry, clear, straight roads. It's not about racing either. It's about timing and control about how fast my mind can communicate to my hands and feet that the civilian Christmas tree turned green.
Sitting at the light on a quiet Sunday morning, knowing the way the 2000 Suburu Legacy GT Limited drove and felt already, I was doing that very thing. I wanted to see how quickly my actions would translate to the Legacy's shifter and engine.
Unfortunately, the idiot in the BMW that pulled up next to me had plans to participate. But, I didn't know that. I never looked at him, only catching the black hood of his car with my peripheral vision. I never revved my engine. I didn't even rock the vehicle. I was motionless until it was time to go, concentrating on the intersection and the light.
When the signal turned green, I moved forward quickly, making sure I had maximum forward progression without jerking the car around or squealing the tires. I went through the first two gears in rapid, succinct procession, moving fast through the intersection.
On the other side of the cross street, I'd reached, perhaps, a blistering speed of 35 or 40 and began to slow down. That's when I realized that this guy was racing me. He zoomed past me. I let him. I wasn't racing. Besides, we were approaching another intersection and a red del Sol was turning left in front of us. I watched as the BMW sped ahead of me, into the intersection, nearly hitting the del Sol (but yet blowing his horn at it), and speeding on down the road. "What a jerk," I thought.
At the next big intersection, about three blocks away, I caught up to him at the light. There we sat. Except now, he was in the left lane and I in the right. I looked over at him briefly and back to the light. There would be no challenge from him this time. Behind my BMW-driving friend, sitting patiently at the light, was a black and white LAPD vehicle.
When the light turned green, we both moved forward at a much lower rate of acceleration than before. The LAPD car flipped on its lights and pulled the BMW over for, I presume, a speeding ticket. I continued on my way, confident in my choice not to play his game.
That's the kind of car the Legacy GT Limited is. It's aggressive in its feel and in its external features. Even the simple gesture of reacting quickly to the light prompted a Racer X-wannabe to respond as if we'd challenged him to a duel.
That aggressiveness comes from two things: a great engine and a striking exterior design.
Under the hood you'll find Subaru's aluminum 2.5-liter, SOHC four-cylinder boxer engine. Producing 165 horsepower at 5600 rpm, the Legacy GT has an engine to back up the looks. In its second phase of design, it's gone from a DOHC to a SOHC configuration, reducing weight, friction and complexity. Saab's H-4 design, first developed over 30 years ago for Japanese cars, makes the engine a lot smoother, as the cylinder vibrations cancel each other out. Because of that smoothness and the reduced vibrations, this engine growls, instead of roars, when you rev it.
Side note: The "boxer" nomenclature comes from the repetitive punching appearance of looking head-on at the horizontal cylinders.
One issue we had was with the shifter. It felt too tall for the short throws between gears, causing an unequal and awkward feel. On the other hand, the five-speed transmission, redesigned this year to produce more low-end and midrange torque, never caused a problem, either with freeway entrances or turning left into traffic on an uphill mountain road with a right leaning grade. Really. The ride was further enhanced by the all-wheel-drive (AWD) system. Well-suited to foul-weather driving, it also assists a great deal in normal conditions.
Subaru's PR department spends a lot of time in their press kit talking about what AWD is NOT. They make the point that a lot of vehicles call themselves AWD, but very few actually are. True AWD, according to Subaru, is a transmission that "drives all four wheels all the time." Vehicles that turn on the non-powered wheels when the others lose traction don't count.
The AWD in the Suburu Legacy GT makes for a more controlled turn, giving the driver more confidence on tight curvy roads by increasing its handling ability. This was aided by the fully independent, sport-tuned suspension. The steering, tight and responsive, provided accurate control of the vehicle. There was no excessive pulling or looseness. Overall, it made for a well-balanced, powerful ride and allowed you to thread through traffic almost as precisely as the best pocket rockets.
The other part of the aggressive equation is the exterior styling. Outfitted with color-matching ground effects, the body has a lot of sharp-looking edges, a forward-leaning shape and the appearance that it's trying to be a muscle car. The 16-inch alloy wheels, and the low sidewall tires, only add to that impression. It's no wonder that guy in the BMW thought he had a race on his hands.
Interior material quality was mixed, with comfortable seats and a well-placed stick shift. The materials and dashboard didn't appear to be made of high-quality stuff, but it wasn't distracting. One problem could be the cupholder. Mounted high on the right side of the stereo/HVAC control panel, if you spill anything, it's going to dump smack on the face of your stereo.
Although there was plenty of legroom, up front and in the back, the interior was tight-fitting. It wouldn't have sat five as easily as a Nissan Maxima. But, you don't really miss it. This car doesn't drive like a sedan and sometimes you have to remind yourself that it has a decent-sized backseat. Trunk space was also plentiful, allowing room enough for luggage on long hauls, and came outfitted with the soon-to-be-ubiquitous cargo net.
The stereo had several attractive features, including well-lit and easily identifiable buttons. A small curiosity is that the in-dash, six-disc CD player had a "random play" button that only allowed random play of one CD at a time. You'd think that if a CD player had multiple discs, they'd have at least let it play randomly through the six CDs.
Noise levels were generally low, with only highway winds proving aurally irritating. Tire noise and general highway feel were good. This car was a pleasurable ride.
The Subaru Legacy GT Limited has strong power and a solid-feeling drive. The materials weren't of the highest quality, but they weren't abhorrent for the amount of money the car costs. Like a boisterous teenager, flexing his muscles in an attempt to display his physical superiority, yet actually boosting a low self-esteem, the Legacy GT Limited has plenty of strengths, yet flaunts them a bit too much.
If you'd prefer your car's actions to speak louder than its words, this car might not be for you. If you're swayed by the ride and don't mind showing off a little, check it out. Just try and stay away from BMWs. The drivers get defensive.
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