Nobody asked me, but . . .

Please . . . no emails, phone calls, snail mail letters, tweets or text messages.  I certainly know the difference between a sedan and a crossover.  And I can also subtract 2003 from 2013 to figure out the age difference between these two Subaru models.

So forget all the cutesy comments about how I need to have my head examined or maybe shrink wrapped.  A direct comparison of the two models is not the point of this exercise.  Let’s, instead, look at these two Subarus from a philosophical perspective:  What hath Subaru wrought during the past decade?

Why the 2003 Forester?  Simple, I own it.  It’s an everyday beater . . . It goes everywhere and does everything.  It hauls people and cargo. The odometer is just shy of 100,000 miles.  It gets regular maintenance as required or remembered.  And it does all this without a wimper of protest.  The Forester does what is expected of a Subaru:  It’s rugged, durable and reliable.  And like every Subaru (except the BRZ it shares with Toyota) it’s got all-wheel drive.  We really don’t use it for offroading, but it certainly comes in handy during the rainy season when the extra grip trumps the extra slip of Southern California’s oil slicked freeways.

What the 2013 Legacy midsize 4-door sedan illustrates is how far Subaru has raised the bar on its product line during the past decade.  No longer are Subarus simply non-descript, average quality, durable AWD vehicles.

Today’s Subaru’s have style, sophistication, exceptional quality, excellent fit and finish, a solid structure, creature comforts and safety features that lift Subarus high up into the top ranks of every segment they compete in.

Okay, the Legacy is not the Cardin of the sheet metal set.  A Hyundai Sonata is much more of a head turner.  But if you open one of the Legacy’s four Diors and slip inside, you will be surrounded by an interior that has wow appeal compared to the utilitarian look and feel of my 2003 Forster.   The Legacy Limited has a 10-way adjustable (4-way for the passenger) power driver’s seat, dual-zone automatic climate control, rear seat air-conditioning, leather upholstery, a Harmon Kardon 9-speaker audio system and XM satellite radio.  But, hey, my Forester’s got  AM and FM.

There’s no comparison when it comes to passenger roominess and comfort, convenience and quality.   The Legacy is a quantum leap forward.  But the downside is complication.  So many functions to play with and adjust compared to my Forester.  You really need to study the manuals, yes plural. And thick.  The owner’s manual is numbered by sections so you can’t turn to the last page for a total page count.  If you’re a current Legacy owner and curious, I did all the hard work for you.  The owner’s manual has 506 pages, not including four blank pages for your notes.  The navigation guide has 338 pages of info plus six blank pages.  The quick reference guide is 13 pages plus three note pages.

There will be a quiz on these manuals next week.  Sorry, it will not be an open-book exam!

Let’s talk performance.  My Forester has a traditional Subaru flat-4.  It’s neither especially quiet nor vibration free. If I’m willing to use the revs, this engine motorvates the Forester quite adequately.  The tranny is a roughish 4-speed automatic.

Subaru’s boxer-6 is one of my favorites engines, dating back to its introduction in the 1992 SVX.  Back then I referred to it as a water-cooled Porsche.  The current version is 3.6 liters of smooth, quiet performance, and it endows the Legacy with fun, aggressive torque off the line and up to the engine’s 6400 rev limit.  It’s mated to a smooth-operating 5-speed automatic with paddle shifters on the steering wheel.  These days I’d expect at least six speeds, and frankly, the Legacy could use a taller highway gear.

Compared to most of its midsize sedan competitors with 4-cylinder engines (and less inspiring performance), the 3.6’s 18-mpg city and 25-mph highway fuel economy is nothing to write home to the EPA about.  But let’s put that fuel economy into perspective with my 4-banger Forester.  My combined average for several hundred miles of hard charging with the Legacy returned 19.5 mpg. That’s higher than my freeway average for the Forester.

Subaru has also learned numerous lessons about the positive effects a rigid body structure has on steering, ride and handling during the past 10 years.  Here’s how I describe it: Forester = Clydesdale; Legacy = quarter horse.

The Legacy’s steering is direct, quick and firm.   Braking is strong with a firm pedal that is easy to modulate.   The ride is firm and nicely damped.  The combination of AWD and sticky 225/50VR17 all-season radials on 17 x 7.5-inch alloy rims endow the Legacy with tenacious grip, excellent balance and minimal understeer.  This is the kinder, gentler WRX for the family sedan driver.

The Legacy I borrowed had a base MSRP of $28,895 plus $770 for destination and delivery. It also had an option package that included a navigation system with voice actuation, power moonroof and a rear vision camera, adding $2,645 to the bottom line.

It wasn’t equipped with the Subaru EyeSight collision avoidance system, which has made headlines recently.  In tests conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety the Subaru Legacy and Outback topped the list of vehicles with collision avoidance systems rated the best in the industry.

The IIHS, measured how quickly 74 midsize cars and SUVs alert drivers about possible rear-end collisions and whether vehicles avoid a crash or reduce their speed by at least 5 mph. Eighteen of those vehicles were equipped with automatic braking systems. Of those 18 models, 7 received a superior rating.

The Subaru Legacy headed the list of those magnificent seven for front crash prevention, followed by the Subaru Outback, the Cadillac ATS, Cadillac SRX, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Volvo S60 and the Volvo XC60.

The Legacy also received the best possible five-star crash test ratings in frontal, side and rollover tests from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The Subaru EyeSight collision avoidance system is the only system with automatic brakes that prevented the vehicles from hitting the target when travelling at 25 mph and 12 mph.  EyeSight can also detect pedestrians and is capable of braking the Legacy if the driver takes no evasive action.

And here my Legacy-Forester comparison suffers a “brake” down.  My Forester doesn’t benefit from the significant safety advances that have been made these past 10 years.  All it has are dual front and side-mounted airbags. But the 2003 NHTSA crash test results gave the Forester five stars for driver, passenger and front and rear side impact and three stars for rollover.  So Subaru’s emphasis on safety hasn’t changed.

It would be easy and superficial to credit Subaru’s current success to hard work. Lots of companies have worked hard these past 10 years.  Hard work is only one brick in the foundation.  It also takes an understanding of the market and market trends, a keen sense of product strategy and planning, and a laser-like focus on your brand, your customers and quality.  And it doesn’t hurt if your reputation already includes the words: Durable, reliable, and value-for-the-dollar.

Sound like Subaru?  You bet!

Fully framed doors result in a substantial reduction in wind      noise.

Aggressive pavement resonates tire noise into the passenger compartment.

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