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Nice Subaru, shame about the name

Shame about the jargon, because everything else about the new Subaru Legacy PZEV approaches perfection.
by Dan Proudfoot
Globe and Mail

PZEV? Has there ever been a less appealing, more bewildering model designation?
The current Legacy lineup also includes a GT model – and most of us recognize GT as a term promising neck-snapping acceleration. The 3.6R designation, for its part, intimates a high-displacement engine and luxury cruising.

But whatever one associates with PZEV, this new model deserves a clearer, higher profile because it combines the capability for which Legacys are known with fuel efficiency unprecedented in a Subaru sedan.

You've read elsewhere how the new Legacy is larger than previous generations of the model. Rear seat room is greatly improved. The rear door opening is larger, easing access and egress. The handsome styling is all new as well – or all old, considering all the design elements already seen in other Japanese upscale sedans (copied originally from earlier European upscale sedans).

Interior of the 2010 Subaru Legacy PZEV.

Yet not much has been written about this particular model of Legacy. It qualifies as a subject for this EcoDriver column with a city driving rating of 9.2 litres/100 km by the Natural Resources Canada test procedure where earlier Subarus have missed the cut. The base model with a manual transmission is rated at 10.6/100, the 2.5GT 11.5/100 and the 3.6R, 11.8/100 – and our qualifying number is 10/100 or better.

Of course those familiar with California Air Resources Board (CARB) terminology know and appreciate the significance of the PZEV moniker. Others, far more numerous, remain receptive to jokesters making with the cracks about it sounding like something you'd buy at the candy counter, i.e., the Pez taste treats sold in dispensers, introduced in Austria in 1927 but that's another story.

PZEV: Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle. It's terminology like this that causes so many consumers to roll their eyes and write off personal responsibility for the environment. It doesn't even make sense. Partial zero? Nearly zero, perhaps?

Looking into the matter, one learns that evaporative emissions are eliminated from the fuel system in order for a vehicle to be granted PZEV status from CARB. Otherwise, a base 2.5i Legacy's exhaust is as clean. The PZEV status also requires a warranty on emission-control components for 150,000 miles or 15 years – but note that Subaru Canada's warranty does not conform to this California standard, being three years or 60,000 km with major emissions components extended to eight years or 130,000 km.

A Canadian consumer looking to justify the PZEV's price – $26,395 against $25,195 for a base 2.5i also equipped with a constantly variable automatic transmission – might enumerate clearer air and a clearer conscience but that's it. When equipped with the CVT the base car has the same fuel consumption rating as the PZEV.

The ride is pleasantly on the soft side, just enough to smooth out most bumps, while the car feels as solid as a premium sedan even if the trimmings, at this price, cannot be described as rich.

The doors close with solid thumps. Legacys may be manufactured in Indiana, but their bodies feel German. Subaru's powertrain, though, has no direct competitors. No German entry in this price range is available with all-wheel-drive that's standard in the Legacy. And the only German company with an opposed-cylinder (boxer) engine comparable to Subaru's is Porsche.

The 170 horsepower and 170 lb-ft of torque make for effortless cruising. Acceleration to 60 km/h takes 4.8 seconds, marking the Legacy as friskier than most EcoDriver candidates. For perspective we also drove other Legacy models and the 3.6R reached 60 km/h in 3.8 seconds, the GT in 3.4.

The continuously variable automatic transmission isn't as noisy in hard acceleration as some competitors', but the conventional five-speed automatic installed in the more powerful 3.6R and GT models delivers much quieter progress.

The CVT, however, is responsible for the unprecedented-for-Subaru fuel efficiency rating. Certainly more manufacturers are employing gearless transmissions for their fuel efficiency and cost savings. As with any new type of component only time will reveal this transmission's long-term reliability – and a lot of Subarus are sold because of the make's reputation for durability.

Our average fuel consumption over 347 km of urban driving falls short of expectations. As frequent EcoDriver readers understand, matching Natural Resources Canada ratings isn't in the cards, particularly in cold weather, on snow tires, but our 11.4/100 isn't even close to the “official” 9.2/100. The jumbo 70-litre fuel tank does affords a long time between fill-ups but imagine the range with lower consumption.

Another disappointment hinges on this Subaru being a PLEV as well as PZEV. Partial Luxury Equipped Vehicle, that is. The driver's side window goes down at the touch of the power window button, but none of the other windows does. The driver's seat is 10-way powered, the passenger's not at all.

We also dislike the new electronic parking brake that does not afford the same possibility for vehicle control as does a lever-operated hand brake.

But even the most basic Legacy is well equipped. Heated seats, a steering wheel that telescopes as well as tilts, whiplash-reducing front seats and heated rearview mirrors exemplify the significant standard equipment.

It's the superb all-wheel-drive, though – always engaged, requiring no action from the driver as it contributes to stability and inhibits skids – that distances the Legacy from ordinary sedans.  The sole direct competitor is Ford's Fusion AWD, at $30,799 a large step up in price point. The Audi A4 Quattro, BMW 328 xDrive and Mercedes-Benz 250 4Matic are similar in size and all-wheel-drive technology, but the least expensive of the three, the A4, starts at $38,300.

Too bad about the name. PZEV. Could it be a case of Subaru's American headquarters courting CARB devotees, with Subaru Canada stuck with the consequences? Why not something more fanciful? The Legacy Blueskies? Legacy Green? Legacy Suzuki, recognizing the Canadian champion of the environment? No, that particular combination of names would be as confusing as PZEV.

TYPE: Four-door sedan
BASE PRICE: $26,395
ENGINE: 2.5-litre, DOHC, boxer four
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 170 hp/170 lb-ft
DRIVE: All-wheel-drive
FUEL ECONOMY (litres/100 km): 9.2 city/6.5 highway; our actual urban driving 11.4; regular gas
ALTERNATIVES: Ford Fusion AWD, Audi A4 Quattro, Mercedes-Benz C250 4Matic, BMW 328i xDrive

Globe rating for the 2010 Subaru Legacy

Ride = 8
Pleasant ride traversing most of Toronto's trademark potholes, but speed bumps reveal shock absorber shortcomings. Great engine, noisy in hard acceleration with CVT automatic transmission.

Looks = 7
Unoriginal in that it's a little bit like this car, a little bit like that car, but the overall effect is pleasant enough.

Interior = 8
Comfortable, commodious, easy on the eyes.

Safety = 8
Subaru's all-wheel-drive functions as well as those in expensive sedans, inhibiting skids with all-weather traction. Electronic brake-force distribution, vehicle dynamics control also contribute to exceptional active safety.
Qualifying as a Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle earns green bragging rights. Fuel consumption ranks high among all-wheel-drive competitors, but still needs improvement.
(out of 10 / Not an average)


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