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2003 Subaru Legacy REVIEW

Edmunds.com logo Edmunds.com 4/5/2017

Con: Side airbags available only on 2.5 GT models, no six-cylinder engine offered.

Pro: All-wheel drive, a host of standard features, available as a sedan or a wagon, less expensive than many European competitors.

Edmunds Say: A capable all-weather sedan or wagon for an agreeable price.

What’s New: For 2003, Subaru has added standard equipment and slightly altered available trim levels. The previous Legacy GT and GT Limited models have been consolidated into one 2.5 GT series, with all GT Limited equipment now standard. The new 2.5 GT's optional four-speed automatic now comes with a Sportshift manual mode. To fill the void created by the GT consolidation, Subaru has created an L Special Edition Package that adds several features from the 2.5 GT. Base L models now come with a standard CD player and keyless entry. 2.5 GTs have an upgraded sound system with an in-dash six-disc CD changer. Finally, all Legacys receive slightly freshened front-end styling.

Review: Introduction:Do you live in a place where it is often cold and snowy? Do you have an entire drawer at home dedicated to "long johns"? Do you like the idea of owning a vehicle with all-wheel drive? Do you dislike the idea of owning a gas-guzzling SUV? If you've answered yes to any or all of these questions, Subaru has a car it'd like you to take a look at.

Since 1990, the Legacy has been the company's midsize sedan and wagon offering. Some years have certainly been better than others. The current model was last redesigned in 2000, and we have generally found it to be a capable, reliable and enjoyable vehicle. The highlight is, of course, the Legacy's standard AWD system. Only a few sedans and wagons are available with this feature, and many of them are more-expensive models from Europe. All-wheel drive gives the Legacy added stability in wet or snowy conditions, though there are downsides, including reduced fuel efficiency and added complexity and cost.

All-wheel-drive cars like the Audi A4 and Volkswagen Passat have more prestige associated with them, and their base prices are similar to the Legacy's. But load them up with equal amenities, and their stickers go skyward. For buyers with limited funds and a desire for a relatively upmarket AWD sedan, the Legacy is certainly worth consideration.

Body Styles, Trim Levels and Options: Subaru's midsize five-passenger Legacy comes in both sedan and wagon form. Last year's GT and GT Limited have been combined; there are now just two trim levels to choose from. These are the Legacy L and Legacy 2.5 GT. Subaru outfits these cars with a high level of standard equipment. L models receive items like air conditioning, a CD player, cruise control, power windows and locks, keyless entry and a tilting steering wheel. Going with a 2.5 GT earns larger 16-inch wheels, larger front brakes, a sport-tuned suspension, special body add-ons, a power moonroof, a power driver seat, a premium sound system, leather seating (the front seats are heated) and heated side mirrors. If the 2.5 GT seems too much for you, there's a special edition package available this year for the L trim. This package adds selected items from the 2.5 GT, including the moonroof, 16-inch wheels and leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob.

Powertrains and Performance: The Legacy is powered by a 2.5-liter horizontally opposed four-cylinder engine that makes 165 horsepower and 166 pound-feet of torque. This engine can be equipped with either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. 2.5 GT models feature shorter gearing for quicker acceleration. GTs with the automatic also feature a Sportshift sequential gear-selection mode. All versions of the Legacy are all-wheel drive. While the Legacy's drivetrain provides more power than most other four-cylinder midsize cars, it comes up short compared to the V6s found in competitors. If you want a bigger engine, check out the Outback; it comes with a 212-hp six-cylinder.

Safety: The Legacy sedan has earned four stars in driver and front passenger frontal impact safety from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The wagon has been given four stars for front side-impact protection and five stars for rear side-impact protection. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has given the car a "good" rating for front offset crash protection and made it a "best pick" overall. All Legacys have four-wheel disc brakes with ABS and front seatbelts with load limiters and pre-tensioners. Side airbags are also standard on 2.5 GT models.

Interior Design and Special Features:Inside, the Legacy offers supportive seats and a roomy cabin. With the rear seats folded down, the wagon can hold 68.6 cubic feet of cargo. Interior design is straightforward, but it lacks the upscale look and feel found in the car's European competitors.

Driving Impressions:The best reason to take a look at the Legacy is its all-wheel drive. With all four wheels receiving power, the Legacy is more stable than a two-wheel-drive car when it comes to driving on wet, snowy and icy roads. Even on dry roads, the Legacy is an entertaining car to pilot thanks to its compliant suspension and tight steering. For maximum fun, get the GT model with the five-speed manual transmission.

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