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Motornet: Earth to planet Subaru


Earth to planet Subaru - GTB and Legacy wagon put through their paces

It's almost a case of 'beam me up, Scotty' with the Subaru 'rocket ship' Legacy GTB wagon. Though the standard two-litre Legacy wagon does a good job of keeping your feet on the ground....

It seems there are three schools of thought when it comes to on-road encounters with Subaru's 'rocket ship' GTB wagon. The vast majority of drivers, seeing the bulging bonnet scoop and solid side skirts in their rear vision mirrors will pull into a slower lane or give you every opportunity to overtake - regardless of how fast you're going! Others will obstinately stick to the speed limit and refuse to allow any passing opportunities. But it's the third group that are that most annoying. The ones who will do everything they can to incite you to drag them off, from a souped up Starlet to a lowered Galant, it seems that when you’re in a Subaru, boy racers are never very far away...

There is a slightly maniacal element to driving the GTB. That might have something to do with the fact that everything about this car says 'I'm the business.' From its 17" five spoke alloy wheels and aggressively styled body kit, through to its tinted rear windows and lowered ride, this car looks the part. The silver metallic of the test car has the effect of adding malice to the car's menace.

And unlike some cars, the GTB not only looks the business, it does the business, thanks mostly to the fact that beneath the bonnet resides a horizontally opposed 'boxer' four-cylinder engine with not one, but two turbo chargers strapped to it. The engine produces a truly feral 206 kW at 6500 rpm and a staggering 343 Nm at 5000 rpm, or in other words, more genuine power than you can shake a stick at.

How does it go? Putting it simply (and somewhat crudely), like stink. As you bury your right foot, one eye is on the road while the other watches the tachometer steadily rising. It climbs past 2000 rpm before you feel the full thrust of the first turbo kick in, while what can only be fractions of a second later, or about 4000 rpm, the second turbo pushes you back in your seat with acceleration that feels like it will go on forever. In short, the pace is blistering. How does 0-100 in 6.5 seconds sound (recorded by NZ Autocar August, 2001)? Overtaking is child's play - the car simply refuses to run out of puff. In saying that, best not to use fifth gear when hanging out on the wrong side of the road. Getting the most from the turbochargers is definitely best done in lower gears.

Of course, straight-line performance is one thing, but what about corners you ask? No problem - the GTB goes through the bends like it's on rails. The constant four-wheel drive combined with the low profile 17 inch wheels ensures the car sticks to the road like it had limpet mines for tyres, and there is none of the slightly unnerving roll at high speeds of lesser Subaru wagons. Handling is generally predictable, with slight understeer giving the driver plenty of indication of when to lift off in the corner, which immediately brings the nose back into line. In other words, even though it performs like a super car, you can drive it like it was an ordinary station wagon and still keep your no claims bonus.

The steering, although very responsive could have had a little more weight and feel - though it's only slightly off the mark. Similarly for the five speed transmission. The light clutch action is great, but managing truly smooth gear changes took a little practice and proved to be a bit trying when just tooling around town.

Inside, it's functional rather than pretty. While the black on black approach to the upholstery and dash plastics probably suit the car, it does make for a pretty sombre interior. No doubt it also has the effect of helping drivers to focus on what they are there for - driving. The overall impression is also lifted somewhat by the inclusion of large clear dials with big white numbers in the instrument cluster, as well as good quality textures and generally excellent fit and finish. And it's important not to overlook the fact that this is a wagon, with all the versatility that that brings, such as five seats and plenty of load space.

Of course, we can't all live in fantasyland and there is no better way to bring you back to earth than to eschew the GTB in favour of a drive in the Subaru Legacy two-litre wagon. It's not that the basic Legacy is a bad car, just that it's in a different solar system compared to the GTB. With only 92 kW developing 184 Nm at 3600 rpm to pull 1410kg (or only 90kg less than the GTB), it clearly isn't going to win any performance awards. But, in its favour, it not only sheds a few kilos, but a few grand as well. Where the GTB will set punters back $63,990 for the manual (add two grand for an auto), the basic manual wagon is a comparatively easy-to-swallow $39,990.

It also has all the attributes of the Subaru range, such as recognisable brand attributes, good resale value, better than average ride and road holding, not to mention permanent four-wheel drive - and the equipment list is not bad to boot. Dual front airbags, four channel ABS brakes, manual air conditioning, electrics, remote central locking and a single CD player all come as standard, as does cruise control - though I think this feature is generally dubious due to New Zealand conditions, and doubly so for cars with manual transmissions! The GTB adds some desirable goodies, such as alloy wheels, climate air, sports seats and special trim, fog lamps, rear spoiler and body kit and a leather momo steering wheel and alarm.

Which reminds me, the engine immobiliser on the GTB proved to be a real nightmare. Turning the ignition switch to off and not exiting the car would enable the immobiliser and generally result in the alarm going off when I tried to take it off! The only solution seemed to be to turn the key completely off and then two clicks back on... or just get out and lock the door.

Ironically too, the Legacy wagon proved in some respects harder to drive than its performance oriented cousin. For some reason, I kept stalling it. Stalling a car once can be annoying, but repeatedly stalling a car is downright embarrassing! However, I have been reliably informed by a long-time Subaru owner that adjusting the Hill Holder - the device that stops the car rolling back when you stop on a hill thus preventing the need for a hill start - probably needed adjustment, a simple enough fix.

Ride in both cars is good, and while the ride is noticeably firmer in the GTB, fillings won't be jarred loose when crashing through the odd pothole - a significant achievement considering many cars with similar performance have ride that is so firm they are instantly precluded from being run-around town cars.

No matter which way you look at it, the performance of the GTB cannot be overlooked. And, while for the average family, $60 odd grand might prove to be a bit pricey for a family wagon, as a performance car it represents a true bargain. What other vehicle combines this level of performance while still offering practicality in spades? At a few dollars under $40k, the Legacy is probably still not a bad buy. It might not set hearts afire, but it has benefited from the recent Subaru upgrade... and hey, it's a Subaru! There's no doubt that whichever car you're potentially in the market for, there's no underestimating the added appeal of permanent four-wheel drive, and for that, a few extra dollars it really is worth it....


Price - GTB $63,990 (auto $65,990) Legacy Wagon $39,990 (auto $43,990)

Engine - GTB Horizontally opposed, liquid cooled, four cylinder, DOHC, twin turbo producing 206 kW at 6500 rpm and 319 Nm of torque at 5000 rpm
- Legacy Wagon Horizontally opposed. Liquid cooled, four cylinder, SOHC, producing 92 kW at 5600 rpm and 184 Nm of torque at 3600 rpm

Weight - GTB 1500kg
- Legacy Wagon 1410kg

Performance - GTB 0-100km/ph in 6.5 seconds (NZ Autocar)
- Legacy Wagon (performance figures unavailable)

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