With the pleasant memory of our recent stint in the 2006 Subaru Legacy 2.5 GT Limited still fresh in our minds, we looked forward to the arrival of the top-of-the-line 2007 Legacy 2.5 GT spec.B to the CNET garage. We weren't disappointed, as the spec.B offers all the Limited's performance while also including some gadgets that were absent from the 2006 model. That said, we didn't get everything we hoped for, as the important Bluetooth option is still missing, and the satellite radio kit requires a stiff $456 buy-in (subscription not included).
But Subaru's familiar touch-screen system--which incorporates navigation, trip computer and maintenance interval controls--works as well in the Legacy as in the less-inspiring B9 Tribeca where we encountered that system most recently. The sound system in the spec.B is enhanced with the simple additions of an auxiliary-audio input and MP3/WMA playback capability for the CD changer.
Our test car maintained the same low profile we appreciated in the 2.5 GT Limited, with no garish body add-ons drawing attention to its dark-gray metallic paint. The spec.B has more aggressive 18-inch wheels and rubber, but the simple multispoke design is in keeping with the car's overall clean look. For drivers looking to fly under the radar with confidence-inspiring all-wheel-drive performance and enough interior amenities to justify the cost, the spec.B is a very solid mount.
Stick shift models get navigation
The interior of the Legacy spec.B is where the main improvements over the 2006 Legacy are found. As we noted in our review of that car, navigation was an available option but required the SportShift automatic transmission, so we contented ourselves with the five-speed and called it even. Luckily, no such compromise is required in the spec.B, and in fact, an extra cog is thrown into the manual transmission to boot.
The navigation system remains one of our favorites due to its relatively stripped-down touch-screen interface and ability to detour and recalculate routes rapidly. Destination entry is possible via text input from an on-screen keyboard, by using a points-of-interest database or simply scrolling and pointing on the map. Setup of the many split-screen options is intuitive, as is control of the other systems accessed through the nav screen: the trip computer, the maintenance monitors and various mileage, the calendar and the calculator functions.
One aspect of the cabin electronics that disappointed us was the lack of integration between the expensive satellite radio kit and the main display. For both XM satellite radio and CDs that include the information, we found the artist, the album and the song title are limited to a single-line display on the stereo face. Long entries are cut off, and toggling through the categories is too distracting.
The stereo's power is modest at 100 watts and six speakers, but the in-dash six-CD changer played our burned MP3- and WMA discs with no trouble. We also enjoyed using the aux jack to play tunes from our MP3-playing Sony Ericsson k790a. The jack is under the lidded center console, but a notch in the bin's rim allows the cord to pass through and the phone to be available while in use. Curiously, artist, title, and folder navigation were displayed with only the WMA disc, not from the MP3 sources.
From a nontech standpoint, the interior also impresses. Sport seats with power adjustment (8-way driver, 4-way passenger) are standard, and come wrapped in dark leather with contrasting "Dusk Blue" Alcantara inserts on the main surfaces. This is the only interior color combination offered for the spec.B, but fortunately it looks better than it sounds. An elegant three-spoke Momo steering wheel with basic audio controls and aluminum pedals round out the purposeful spec.B interior upgrades. A tilt-sliding moon roof, all-weather package with heated seats and mirrors, and dual-zone climate control are standard.
Boxer handles itself well
As we'd experienced during our initial miles in the 2006 Legacy, we found ourselves wondering why the Legacy spec.B costs so much on a per-cylinder basis. At a tick over $35,000 for our XM-equipped version, the spec.B is creeping into base-model (rear-wheel drive) BMW 3-series territory. The answer comes after a few quick corners and space to rev the engine into its turbocharged power band. The combination of all-wheel drive with the relatively low weight and center of gravity allowed by the horizontally opposed, four-cylinder boxer engine layout make for a four-door sedan that feels tossable but rarely loses its composure.
At a media event earlier this year, CNET editors had the chance to try out a rare 2006 spec.B on the back roads around Hollister, Calif., and during a brief two-lap blast at Laguna Seca. On the track, the four-cylinder's lack of low-end grunt was very apparent--although our perception may have been mildly skewed following our earlier ride with BMW sports-car driver Joey Hand in an M5. But on public roads where corner exit speeds aren't vital, the spec.B acquits itself very well.