- Published: 1/11/2007
- Views: 3990
Some cars are barnstormers, taking the road figuratively by the scruff of its neck and pulverising the kilometres.
Subaru's Legacy B4 RSK is like that. There's punch aplenty, a ride that is tuned more for sports driving than out-and-out comfort, predictable handling and unbreakable grip from the permanent four-wheel drive system.
The turbocharged four cylinder produces prodigious levels of torque. The car is an absolute hoot to drive - not quite as much fun as an Impreza WRX, but lots of fun anyway.
In the wet it can scamper more quickly than most cars will in the dry, the chassis providing phenomenal grip.
The RSK is definitely a barnstormer.
Then there are cars that take a more subtle approach, configured a little more towards comfort, a little more towards high-speed cruising rather than whip-reflex country road devouring.
Subaru's new Legacy RS30 is like that.
It shares the Legacy four-door sedan body with other models in the range which means there's good interior room, both front and rear.
But where the RSK is aimed unashamedly at the performance-oriented driver, the RS30 takes a tilt at the luxury car buyer who wants the benefit of four-wheel drive in a conventionally laid-out four-door sedan.
We spent a happy few summer days with an RS30, running it over a variety of terrain in Auckland and into the Hawke's Bay and back.
The rear cabin provided plenty of room for five adults, and the large boot swallowed a good amount of luggage.
It did the Christmas Day commuting and ferrying with aplomb. Passengers liked the feel of the car and the amount of room.
The RS30 is pleasant to drive at city speeds, the four-speed automatic gearbox shifting smoothly, the steering precise and light enough without being over-assisted.
The car's only handicap was a tendency to clumsiness when asked to make U-turns, even in relatively-wide streets. In most cases it required a three-point turn, more in really narrow inner-city streets.
The Legacy is not alone in this. Many biggish front-wheel drive cars are equally handicapped manoeuvring in tight spaces. It's where the traditional rear-wheel drive cars - even ones as big as Holden Commodores or Ford Falcons - are more nimble than FWDs (or in the Legacy's case, AWDs).
We found the driver's seat reasonably well-shaped and it is power-adjustable.
But we were less impressed by the feel of the black leather upholstery. The leather is quite hard in feel and gave you the impression of sitting on the seat rather than in it (Mazda's new 6 uses a similarly hard-textured leather with similar results).
There was also a little tendency to slide around on the seat during brisk cornering.
It was on the open road that the RS30 really shone.
The flat six motor develops maximum power of 162kW at 6000rpm and peak torque of 289Nm at a highish 4400rpm.
That's enough power to carry the slightly more than 1500kg RS30 to 100km/h in around eight seconds, not a bad time. Top speed is governed to about 200km/h, an academic figure anyway.
At motorway speeds progress is effortless, the engine note muted and the only noise coming from the Bridgestone Potenza tyres on chip-surfaced roads.
Staying around the 100km/h mark we made rapid progress to the Hawke's Bay and back. And staying around 100km/h isn't difficult in a car with the handling chops of the Legacy. It will handle most corners at that speed with absolutely no effort and with no discomfort to passengers.
But the car's biggest handicap was the torque peak being achieved so high up the rev range. On the bigger hills on the Napier/Taupo road the RS30 would run out of puff in top and slot down - smoothly, though - only to change back up if you eased throttle pressure. This hunting between the ratios became a little annoying and we found it better to shift manually down so the car held third gear on the longer hills.
The engine, though generally quiet, gets a little raucous when used at high revs in the lower ratios.
The four-wheel disc brakes provide strong, dependable stopping power.
Handling is good. The general trait is mild understeer, though if you push the car really hard in tight corners there's some oversteer feel.
On some of the more demanding sections of the Napier/Taupo road the car sometimes felt a little "loose-limbed" when being driven in demanding left/right/left/right sections at speed.
There was a slight feeling of imprecision and if we were looking for a car to use on such roads regularly we'd opt for something with a more tied-down and sporting suspension feel - like the fractionally cheaper RSK.
That said, the RS30 has a brilliant ride quality, the long-travel MacPherson struts and Bilstein shock absorbers making light of even quite rough terrain.
The RS30 is billed as a sporting sedan, but we'd characterise it more as a long-legged tourer with the bias tipped slightly more towards ride comfort than to sporty road manners.
There's standard air-conditioning, power windows, power mirrors, a good quality sound system and a general feeling of solidity and quality. That's let down only by the rather tinny clang of the bootlid when you close it.
It's a class act, the Legacy RS30, combining a smooth-shifting automatic gearbox with good performance, high mechanical refinement, predictable handling and smooth, informative steering.
Best of all it has Subaru's superb all-wheel-drive system which makes the car as capable in the wet as it is in the dry.
It's not a barnstormer like the RSK, but it is a fine open-road express with a faultless ride and relaxed kilometre-swallowing ability. Subjectively we'd prefer the RSK's more tied-down feel if we were contemplating a lot of rapid, winding road driving, but the $64,990 RS30 has more than enough ability to be a satisfying car to drive quickly when the mood takes you.
AutoPoint road test team: story and photographs by Mike Stock