Priced higher than others in the segment, out-moded navigation graphics, less fuel-efficient than competitors.
The "GT" acronym is one of the most misused modern automotive monikers. Short for "grand touring," it originally signified a vehicle with more performance than everyday cars, while having more comfort and convenience than a sports car. As grand tourers go, the 2009 Subaru Legacy 2.5 GT Limited lives up to the designation.
Over the years the GT badge has graced everything from supercars to econoboxes, muddying previous expectations, but in a sea of fairly bland four-door family haulers, the Legacy 2.5 GT sets itself apart with added performance while still coddling passengers with a quiet and comfortable cabin. Rest assured, these advantages also come with a high level of safety, as the Legacy garners top marks in government crash tests.
Subaru offers the Legacy in varying degrees of performance, from the mild 2.5i to the more refined six-cylinder 3.0 R models. Our 2.5 GT is one of the spicier of the bunch, while an even sharper 2.5 GT spec B is available with even more performance upgrades that further sharpen handling. Only minor options are offered for the Legacy 2.5 GT Limited, since most modern conveniences are included as standard equipment.
With a wealth of standard features, the 2.5 GT Limited is anything but "limited," and by ably fulfilling the promise of its GT designation, you could consider our appetite for performance in a functional family sedan pleasantly satisfied.
Our all-wheel-drive 2009 Subaru Legacy 2.5 GT Limited test car was powered by a turbocharged and intercooled 2.5-liter horizontally opposed four-cylinder engine that churns out 243 horsepower and 241 pound-feet of torque. A five-speed manual transmission is standard equipment, but our test vehicle was supplied with an optional five-speed automatic. In testing, our Legacy GT sprinted to 60 mph in 6.8 seconds on its way to crossing the quarter-mile mark in 15.0 seconds at 93.4 mph.
Thanks to Subaru's SI-Drive control system (similar to the system in the super-sporty WRX STI hatchback), drivers can choose among three distinct performance modes. A dial adjacent to the gear selector allows the selection of Intelligent mode for increased fuel-efficiency, Sport mode for quicker throttle response and Sport Sharp (denoted as S#) for maximum acceleration. Unlike some other sport selectors (a.k.a. "fun buttons"), this system actually delivers a noticeable difference in throttle response.
The Legacy accelerates smoothly off the line, with the turbo kicking in an extra burst of power about halfway up the rev range. The five-speed automatic transmission supplies smooth shifts to its well-spaced gears that keep the tach needle in the boost. Manual shifts can be executed via column-mounted paddle shifters, but upshifts are a bit slow, requiring a second or two of anticipation. On the plus side, downshifts are delightfully quick, with rev-matched throttle blips.
Among midsize sedans, this Subaru's zippy engine and capable transmission stand out, but these features really shine when paired with the Legacy's sporty suspension and symmetrical all-wheel drive. At the test track, we noticed that the Legacy's stability control is well-tuned, intervening only when absolutely needed. On canyon roads, we found the suspension to be particularly nimble, bounding from turn to turn with little drama. Also noteworthy is the absence of the midcorner transfer of power to the front wheels that is distinct (and awkward) in the sportier WRX STI.
Fuel economy is slightly lower than for some of the Legacy's competitors, but it's negligible for drivers who enjoy livelier performance. The EPA estimates of 18 mpg city/24 mpg highway and 20 mpg in combined driving seem accurate, given that we averaged 19.5 mpg during our time with the car.
Proving worthy of its GT badging, the 2009 Subaru Legacy is composed over rough pavement while also remaining comfortable for long freeway stints behind the wheel. In fact, we were impressed enough to compare the ride quality to the venerable BMW 3 Series, though the Legacy's amount of road noise was a bit too noticeable for our tastes.
Seating surfaces are covered in quality perforated leather with enough grip to keep occupants in place. Front seats are well bolstered for spirited driving, and comfort was better than expected — considering the fairly stiff padding. As good as the front seats are, it's worth noting that the passenger footwell is quite a bit shorter than the one on the driver side, requiring full extension of the seat to accommodate longer legs.
The rear seats provided enough legroom and headroom for average-size adults, but we found the seat cushions on the short side and mounted just a bit too low, resulting in a lack of thigh support. Children or smaller adults would likely find the rear quarters more than adequate, though.
From the driver seat of the 2009 Subaru Legacy, all controls are within easy reach and intuitive in operation. Outward visibility is excellent and the cockpit readouts are clear and legible, especially the ultra-sharp secondary readout mounted in the tachometer. Our gripes were minor, as some staffers noted the overabundance and placement of displays. The center console of our test vehicle had three separate displays — one each for the climate control, audio and navigation.
Drivers may likewise feel over-informed with identical fuel economy measurements that can be displayed in three different locations at the same time. We also took issue with the low mounting of the automatic climate controls and display, forcing our eyes off the road in order to make adjustments. Fortunately, the climate control system functioned well enough to not require much attention once set. The navigation system, while easy to use, seemed out of date, lacking the legibility and information found in more contemporary units.
The standard Harman Kardon audio system performed well, with all nine speakers delivering clean, crisp tones and rich bass. We experienced a modest amount of distortion when connecting an iPod through the auxiliary audio input, though. Noticeably absent from our test vehicle was the availability of Bluetooth hands-free connectivity and iPod integration (the latter is expected later in the model year).
The Legacy's maximum trunk capacity of 11.4 cubic feet is smaller than other cars in this segment, but the shape does permit enough space for golf bags or large luggage. A child seat was easily accommodated in the rear cabin with readily accessible LATCH anchor points for the outboard seats, but a rear-facing seat was only mountable in the center position (using the seatbelt) if the front passenger seat was in use.
Design/Fit and Finish
From any angle, the 2009 Subaru Legacy GT's exterior styling is just about what you'd expect from a family sedan. Styling is neither exciting nor bland — blending in anonymously with the rest of the herd in this segment, though the wide hood scoop subtly hints at its added performance. The interior is slightly more interesting, with sporty front seats wrapped in quality leather that we'd normally expect in a car from Germany. The layout of the cabin is straightforward and free of gimmickry.
The quality of the plastic materials is much better than most of the Legacy's stablemates, but we're not fans of the faux wood trim. Upon closer inspection, these shiny plastic accents resembled a dark red bowling ball rather than an attempt at simulated wood grain. Otherwise, the cabin is well built, with tight tolerances, and was devoid of any odd squeaks or rattles during our time with the car.
Who should consider this vehicle
For midsize family sedan shoppers who don't want to compromise on having fun, the 2009 Subaru Legacy 2.5 GT Limited may just fit the bill. Performance is sharp enough to satisfy more spirited drivers and the all-wheel-drive feature is a plus for those who drive in snowy climates.