2008 Subaru Legacy GT – Al’s Daily Driver (GRADE: B+)

Considering the time frame I had to buy a car back in May 2012, I lucked out rather well.  After narrowing down my choices of chariot to just two cars via figuring out that a Pontiac G8 GT would bankrupt me in fuel costs and a Dodge Charger was too much to insure, I was stuck between two cars after driving plenty, including a Volkswagen R32 (which turned out to be a dud with repairs needed immediately) and this black Subaru.  I almost didn’t even look at it.  It took a win by the New York Mets (yup, those 2012 Mets, not the 1986 squad) and some poking and prodding by my brother Matt, who knew I was still looking into this very car, to even dial up the dealership.  In the end though, the rest was history, and now, more than 18 months later, I’m making payments on this black bundle of joy and driving it constantly.  These are my thoughts.

The Looks:

The fourth generation Legacy is, in my opinion, the last of the good-looking versions of the lineup.  The lines are crisp and even elegant for what’s supposed to be a midsize sedan.  Despite all the scratches, dents, and scrapes of more than 6 years on the roads of New Jersey, this Black Obsidian car still looks good out on the street.  The one that came before it looked plain, and the one that came after looks frumpy and unloved.  The final years of this generation still look very classy today, despite being a reasonably priced midsize car.  The hood scoop, built into the front end, is a good (and functional) addition, and the rear end looks curt and respectable.  The bigger dual exhausts of the 2.5GT Limited add plenty of depth out back, and the big satin chrome wheels add some nice stock bling to an already solid package.

On the inside, the first visual impression that I had was “I still can’t believe this is a Subaru.”  That’s still true by all appearances.  Yes, the fake wood is a clear fake, but it looks like its price point.  The way the interior looks is a shocker for anyone used to a 2008 car that cost a bit over 30K new. In fact, it’s got some sportiness to it and it has some presence.  The interior has a touch of class to it on the looks side that matches the exterior nicely.  It doesn’t set the world on fire, but it’s a nice place to be overall.

Score: 4.0/4.0

By the Numbers:

By all accounts, my Legacy GT is a bit worse for wear.  It was involved in an accident thanks to a careless jerk in a Mercedes three months after I got it, so the window on the left rear corner developed a rattle that has somehow disappeared in the past year.  The wheels get dirty fast and the paint is covered in imperfections, some self inflicted, some not.  A recent wash put some serious scratches in the bodywork again, which may mean that the clear-coat isn’t as strong as originally intended.  Then again, more than five years of wear and tear will take its toll.  Exterior-wise, these cars are well built, with good part lines, no bad fitment of components, and what probably was a good paint finish when new.  Even when dirty from the New Jersey salt and silt, the 17-inch satin chrome rims still attempt to show a shine.

The interior quality unfortunately could use some help.  While the ergonomics are easy to get used to, I have found myself attempting to push the small panel to the right of the steering wheel back into place a few times, and the quality of the leather is definitely not all that high.  Then again, it is a nice touch.  The silver finishing and chrome trim around the gearshift are definitely low-grade and do show some cost-cutting, but it’s certainly better than the newer models.

Score: 3.0/4.0

At the Helm

This first generation of the Legacy 2.5GT packs a solid engine and transmission.  My example is still fully factory stock, fitted with its EJ255 2.5-liter, 250hp turbocharged flat-4, coupled to a five-speed automatic transmission with manual shift capability, and of course Subaru’s venerable AWD system.  This combines for some seriously good fun.  For just 250hp, this thing is genuinely sprightly off the line, and has plenty of punch at speed.  On back roads where I grew up, I found myself constantly dropping from 5th to 2nd around tight corners, if not for the extra power, just for the sound.  Some people don’t like the boxer drone–I think this thing’s low rumble is a great melody, and it’s an addiction I happen to enjoy very much.  The automatic transmission is well-behaved but does shift hard between 2nd and 3rd–this has been a problem since I bought the car, but it doesn’t seem to affect performance for now. The shift paddles are a nice touch and add a performance feel to the driving experience (they are only on the 2008-2009 models).

What I happen to enjoy even more is the steering and handling.  Subaru clearly did their homework on the steering feel.  It’s very impressive, with plenty of weight and a good on-center feel.  The steering communicates very effectively and I have never felt as if the car is hiding something from the road.  Handling is good for a midsize car–body lean is average but the car still feels controlled.  Understeer exists but it is controllable with a steady hand.  The ride quality and general comfort level isn’t perfect, but on the highway this car is very relaxing –I just took it on a 600 mile round trip to Boston and back, and every time I got out of this car, I felt relaxed as opposed to constrained.  In town, the ride isn’t as good.  Over larger bumps and potholes, this car’s low profile tires and firm suspension crash hard and reverberate without warning, something I dislike but live with.  The Subaru SI-Drive three stage system is profound. In its sharpest mode, the steering is more communicative and the throttle response is more eager, but in its softest setting, there is little benefit and the ride is simply too soft. It’s relatively quiet on the move, other than the tire noise that permeates the cabin.  The biggest issue, by a mile, are the tires on the car right now.  They’re Goodyear Eagle GTs, which have been fantastic since I had them fitted back in June, but have been dreadful in the snow, even for all-seasons.

Score: 3.0/4.0

The Bottom Line:

Over the past year and a half, Ive been driving this Legacy GT Limited constantly, and I’ve lived with its issues.  The fuel mileage is dreadful for a midsize sedan.  If I drive in the city all the time with my heavy foot, I’m lucky to see 18 miles to the gallon, and on the highway, I’m usually shooting for about 23.  With a mix, I’m looking at 19 on a good day.  The fuel tank is only 17 gallons, ensuring that I keep my local gas station’s bottom line nice and healthy.  All that said, this car has been very reliable, and the unforeseen costs, including a new head gasket recently and a new set of tires, haven’t been things I’ve lost sleep over.  For the payments I’m making, I can’t complain.

The equipment level of this car is quite nice, for what it cost new.  At a cost of about 30 grand in 2008, this car included leather seats, a CD changer with satellite capability, a moonroof, the requisite turbo engine, heated front seats, and power front seats, as well as fog lights and turn signals in the heated power mirrors.  There’s even a windshield de-icer–something I’ve found incredibly handy around these parts at this time of year.  Trunk space is more than adequate, and the rear seat room, while not comparable to a similar era Toyota Camry, is more than enough.  Visibility to all corners is good.  The only equipment related issues I’ve had with the car include the lack of satellite radio, and the fact that Bluetooth wasn’t even available on this car until 2010, which means my car never even had the option.

Score: 4.0/4.0

Overall, with its reasonable running costs for the era, reliable operation, usable performance for its design, and the fact that it’s not boring, I like to think of the Legacy 2.5GT as a bit of a jack-of-all trades (except economy).  There exists a nice modification market for these cars, especially consdiering how well the EJ engine responds to modifications.  These cars, in my opinion, offer a way to get into the Subaru boxer culture, without having to buy a used WRX that may or may not have been beaten to within an inch of its life.  It’s a slightly classier and more mature way to travel with the boxer rumble, and that swayed me quite a lot in buying it (other than that cops usually ignore it).  Even if this car wasn’t for sale when I was looking, I would have looked out towards the Connecticut and Philly area for one at the time.  I’m just glad I didn’t have to, and that this opportunity presented itself as well as it did.

Final Score: 4.0+3.0+3.0+4.0 = 14.0/16.0

Grade: B+

-Albert S. Davis

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