CHESTERVILLE, Penn. -- Coming out of a sharp curve on route 841, which tracks out of the berg of Chesterville, we put the pedal down on the new Legacy 3.0 R Limited sports sedan by Subaru packing electronically controlled all-wheel-drive equipment.
Response comes instantly, as the sleek vehicle leaps ahead with its six-pack engine growling and all four of the Bridgestone Potenza performance tires scratching pavement to keep pace with the muscular engine's high-revving whirrs.
The speedometer's needle moves swiftly around the number notches while we work a sporty leather-wrapped steering wheel and play the shifter from tabs on the wheel's cross-bar.
Then we simply hang on as this car seems to slink down on the pavement and run with bedrock stability -- as all wheels feel confidently rooted to the roadbed.
In only a mile-long stretch on the 841, this new Legacy demonstrates that it has the right kind of structure and strong mechanical components to earn the descriptive of a serious high-performance sports sedan.
Yet the surprise, at least from one driver's perspective, is that the Legacy also carries the six-star oval badge of Subaru.
This automaker, headquartered in Japan but armed for America with a manufacturing plant in Indiana, only builds all-wheel-drive (AWD) vehicles for our market and has a reputation here for producing economical cars powered by efficient although usually tepid four-cylinder engines.
Yet Subaru also has a motorsports division and produces trophy-collecting rally cars as well as a street-legal production version, the Impreza WRX STI.
And in Subaru's 2009 line the Legacy -- mid-size four-door sedans -- presents three different engines and multiple transmission options on a slew of trims which modulate the performance traits of this car from mild to wild.
Exterior styling for Legacy looks strong and powerful.
The prow, tapering to a narrow point in front of a sculpted hood, carries halogen headlamp clusters flanking an octagonal grille split by a bar of chrome and lower fascia with broad air intake ports plus round foglamps notching into corners.
Smooth flanks with body-color moldings, mirrors and door handles are interrupted by modest wheelwell blisters and large multi-spoke alloy wheels.
At the blunt tail there's a spoiler lip on the flat trunk deck and bold taillamp clusters at back corners followed way down by chrome tips of twin pipes.
Subaru outfits all Legacy sedans with suspension, brake and steering systems designed to forge a responsive vehicle.
The suspension is fully independent with tuned MacPherson struts up front, lower L arms, a stabilizer bar and negative scrub geometry.
In back the rear multi-link, set on a sub-frame of hydroformed steel, has a low roll center and geometry to increase stability and enhance handling.
And the steering system, through a rack and pinion arrangement, is tuned for quick responses with a precise on-center feel from the wheel.
All editions in the Legacy series employ AWD equipment, although the device differs by type of transmission.
With a manual five-speed shifter, the AWD system has a viscous-coupling locking center differential (VCLCD) designed to distribute the engine's power evenly between front and rear wheels.
Slippage of either front or back wheels may prompt the device to redirect some of the power to the wheels not slipping, and it's possible to send all of the torque to the front or rear, depending on the circumstance.
With an electronically controlled automatic transmission, Subaru installs a symmetrical AWD system which operates quite simply, as power from the engine moves directly through an electronically controlled transfer case to whichever set of wheels (front or rear) supports traction, with scant loss of energy or reduction in fuel efficiency in the process.
This AWD device employs sophisticated electronic controls like variable torque distribution (VTD) in conjunction with a stability system under Subaru's label of Vehicle Dynamics Control (VDC) plus a four-wheel all-speed traction control system (ASTCS).
Trims for Legacy begin with Legacy 2.5i, 2.5i Special Edition and 2.5i Limited, each rigged with a single-cam 2.5-liter horizontally-opposed four-cylinder engine which makes 170 hp at 6000 rpm and torque of 170 lb-ft at 4400 rpm.
The four-cylinder engine links to a five-speed manual transmission, although an automatic four-speed transaxle is available.
For more power, Subaru borrows from the sporty WRX a turbo-charged and inter-cooled boxer-four to create three souped-up Legacy models, the 2.5 GT and 2.5 GT Limited plus a 2.5 GT spec. B special edition.
The turbo plant, with twin cams and 2.5-liter displacement, adds active valve control system (AVCS) variable valve timing to optimize engine efficiency.
Output reaches 243 hp at 6000 rpm as torque zips to 241 lb-ft at 3600 rpm.
All that energy channels through a heavy-duty manual five-speed or optional five-speed automatic with Subaru's SportShift mode for manual sequential shifting, yet Legacy GT spec. B edition scores a heavy-duty six-speed manual gearbox.
For 2009 Subaru offers two new Legacy models with the Legacy 3.0 R and 3.0 R Limited.
These top-tier sports sedans stock Subaru's horizontally-opposed 3.0-liter six-cylinder engine featuring dual overhead camshafts and four valves per cylinder with AVCS variable valve timing.
The 3.0-six romps with a robust 245 hp at 6600 rpm plus torque of 215 lb-ft at 4200 rpm and employs the five-speed electronic automatic transmission with SportShift mode via steering wheel paddle shifters plus rev-matching downshift blipping control.
Legacy R Limited gains a Bilstein Sport Suspension and 18-inch aluminum alloy wheels with Bridgestone Potenza RE92A rubber. Standard cabin equipment includes dual-zone automatic climate controls, four-stage heated front bucket seats with perforated leather upholstery, chrome rocker trim and an audio kit with AM/FM/6xCD/MP3/WMA.
Subaru sets the MSRP for new Legacy R at $27,290, or $30,590 for the Legacy R Limited.