Legacy is built in Layette (Indiana) and Gunma (Japan)

Legacy is built in Layette (Indiana) and Gunma (Japan)

Think Subaru and you don't immediately think 'six-cylinder family sedan'. If the Legacy 3.6 is like no other car in the D/mid-size segment, then its unique attributes only seem to add to the appeal. 

The Legacy, or Liberty, which is what it's called in Australia, where I recently drove one, has long been Subaru's biggest sedan. It's sized to appeal mainly to Americans but down here it works well too, and per capita Australia is the brand's number one market. While the market rose by just half a percent in March, Subaru was up by 21%, and held its ninth position behind Volkswagen and a long way ahead of Mercedes-Benz. 

The Forester is the local best seller, followed by the Outback, XV, Impreza, WRX and then the Liberty, with just under 1,000 delivered in the first quarter. Thanks to a decision taken during the development of the existing model's development, the Liberty is now the only Subaru sedan which can be ordered with the smooth and sporty H6 engine. You can also have it in the Outback but there is no Liberty estate with the current generation model. Blame the unpopularity of mid-size wagons in the US, which is easily the largest global market for Subaru: Q1 sales reached a record 132,397 (versus 11,768 in Australia). For the year to the end of April, Legacy deliveries in the car's largest global market reached 20,069 units.

The brand's reputation for dependability and durability is one of the major reasons for Subaru's success in its main markets and while that also applies in Europe, the lack of a small capacity diesel engine continues to be a hindrance. Something like the Renault-Nissan Alliance's 1.5-litre unit would be the right size but Subaru is in a Catch 22: without much in the way of an existing sales volume across all EU markets it's hard for the European division to push Japan to develop a second diesel.

The current Legacy, which is the sixth generation, is now two years old, having had its world premiere at the Chicago auto show in February 2014. It uses an evolution of the previous model's platform and features the same basic 2.5- and 3.6-litre engines and Lineartronic CVT.  A special model for China powered by a 2.0-litre turbo engine premiered at November 2014's Guangzhou motor show. This derivative and one powered by a 2.5-litre engine went on sale in China the following month. These are imports, Fuji Heavy having tried and failed to link with Chery Auto as a JV manufacturing partner.

While there is no denying this sedan's size, it doesn't feel nearly as big to drive as some rivals such as the Honda Accord, Mazda6 and Toyota Camry. The looks are not as distinctive as in some previous generation models and the car supplied for testing had an interior which was heavy on grey - dashboard, seat facings, centre console, door trims. To be fair, this was broken up by gloss black inserts which did lend it a Mazda-ish near-premium feel. As for the Starlink infotainment system, this is beautifully laid out and surprisingly there was a CD player which you don't see too often now.

There's a lot of legroom for passengers riding in the back seats and while the transmission tunnel is quite high which isn't ideal for a fifth passenger, the windows are deep (and wind all the way down). The 3.6-litre engine sounds great and is like none other, being just so smooth and revving easily and willingly to a 6,500rpm redline.

The latest 2016 year car has gained some updates, including the addition of Lane Keep Assist to the EyeSight Driver Assist Technology (two forward facing cameras are positioned either side of the rear-view mirror). The steering has also been reworked for a firmer feel and in lower trim levels, the dampers have been retuned, again for sportier handling.

The fact that this car gives you such excellent feedback through its steering wheel and by having such beautiful body control really makes it stand out in a class full of good vehicles. Aside from the BMW 3 Series and Ford Mondeo/Fusion, there are too few greats in the segment. In six-cylinder form, the Subaru runs them close.

What's ahead?

A mid-cycle facelift will likely appear towards the end of 2016 as FHI seems to operate on 4-5 model lifecycles. Then in 2017, a plug-in hybrid Legacy will probably be launched but possibly only in the US, Japan and Canada. A mild hybrid sedan had originally been due next year, but its development is said to have been abandoned in favour of a PHEV.

Some readers may recall the Hybrid Tourer from October 2009's Tokyo motor show. This is believed to have previewed the powertrain of the Legacy PHEV. This was a turbocharged direct injection 2.0-litre gasoline engine in combination with two electric motors and a Lineartronic CVT transmission. The electric motors in the concept were at either end of the vehicle - the 20kW rear-mounted motor was employed for extra power with the front one kicking in when even more boost was called for.

Further ahead, the seventh generation Legacy is due in showrooms in 2018 or possibly 2019. This will use the same Subaru Global Platform (SGP) as the next Impreza which will soon be entering production.

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