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Horses for courses - Subaru 3.0R Spec B.

8 December 2004

Horses for courses - Subaru 3.0R Spec B.

I'm not really into horses or horse racing for that matter. In fact, the last time I went to a racecourse was a few years ago while living in the US to a little place called Charlotte, Virginia. It was a pretty depressing affair to be honest, memorable more for its morose, smoke-pacified patrons drooped over one-arm bandit slot machines - of which there were hundreds - than for its horses (and Virginia's a big horse state). But I did win a good number of US dollars on one fine black stallion and that made the evening worthwhile.

But what, prey tell, does any of this have to do with Subaru's latest 3.0R Legacy sedan? To be honest, the link is pretty tenuous, but I couldn't help but be reminded of my winning stallion on first acquaintance with the 3.0R. Okay, the test car was jet black, so there was an obvious comparison. But that aside, there's something quite equine about this latest iteration of the Legacy.

At the heart of the package is Subaru's brilliant normally aspirated 3.0 litre boxer engine. It boasts a substantial 180kW at 6600rpm and 297Nm at an accessible 4200rpm and there isn't a turbo insight. The boost in power over Subaru's previous incarnation of this engine comes courtesy of variable valve timing, two stage valve lift and 24 valves. The engine is not new, having already appeared here in Outback guise earlier this year. And while it is a great engine, the Outback lends itself more to practical undertakings than pure driving delight.

Not so the 3.0R. But, like any thoroughbred, it needs to be treated with care and respect. Starting the car and taking off casually is likely to result in a stall - the cars slightly 'twitchy' personality coming to the fore in the form of a sensitive clutch. Treat it with a firm hand though, and it will reward. The car not only 'feels' like it wants to be driven, but driven well.

Nail the throttle and the engine sings through 6000 revs. It feels quick, much quicker than its Outback brethren. Subaru claim 0-100km/h in 6.9 seconds which could even be conservative in my view. In fact, I could have sworn the engine was turbo charged the acceleration was so impressive except for the fact that a) there was no lag, and b) I knew it wasn't! It's worth noting that this performance also comes with the added safety factor of four-wheel drive ensuring a smooth delivery of power to the road right through the band.

Punt it through a favourite twisty stretch of road, and the 3.0R Legacy won't disappoint. Roadholding is first class and has the added benefit - four-wheel drive to the fore again - of handling loads of acceleration early in the corner so you can blast out the other side. There's nothing twitchy about it - just point the nose and the car, nostrils flaring, will do the rest.

The steering too is a true delight. It is light and direct with loads of feel and works in concert with the six-speed manual gear box. It's closely spaced ratios encourage plenty of gear shifting as you work through the rev-range, but equally, the car has enough torque that it will pull credibly in virtually any gear, and any speed. There is a five-speed auto available too for the slightly less adventurous, but the manual would be my preference even if it meant suffering through the odd traffic jam once in a while.

I expected the suspension to be super firm like some of the other performance Subarus I have driven, so I was pleasantly surprised by the 3.0R. The 'B' in 'Spec. B' stands for Bilstein suspension which Aussie and NZ models have been fitted with to help firm them up for our roads. Usually, that means great roadholding on super flat bitumen, and bone-jarring, suspension crashing driving on everything else. Not so. Sure, the suspension is firm but not horribly so and the body hugging sports seats also do a great job of cosseting the driver and passenger.

Speaking of which, the interior spec is of a very high level. Build quality is excellent as we have come to expect from the 2004 model-year Legacy range. In addition to the usual goodies offered at this end of the Subaru range such as climate controlled air-con, electric everything and multiple airbags, add black leather trim, 18-inch seven-spoke alloy wheels and a 13-speaker McIntosh sound system which really is the business. Interior dynamics are generally good, but rear leg and head room for tall passengers could be a bit of a problem over a sustained period. The only other fault I could note was that any drinking container of more than modest size tended to interfere with the gear stick if placed in one of the two cup holders.

At $57,990 for either the 6-speed manual model or the automatic, the Subaru 3.0R spec B represents a lot of car for the money. There are faster cars on the market for less, but not with four-wheel drive and the ease and comfort of four doors. A performance Subaru sedan that doesn't have a turbo strapped to the engine may not immediately leap to mind as a fast and rewarding drive, but the 3.0R should certainly change that perception and quickly. In fact, I reckon you could bet on it.

ENDS

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