LILLIWAUP, Wash. -- Taking zigzag curves at a rather swift clip on the 101 that follows every contour on the shore of Puget Sound in Washington state, an expansive and refined 2010 Legacy 3.6 R Limited sports sedan by Subaru waltzes through the twisties.
Carrying speed through a slaloming set of highway curves might not work with just any sedan, as the action could upset the suspension's balance. The body may careen laterally away from the radius of the first corner, then settle on the straight but roll in the opposite direction on the next opposing curve.
Such to-and-fro pitching of the car body, while unsettling and uncomfortable for passengers, might also be dangerous if it causes the driver to lose control.
But the new Legacy plays it differently.
There's hardly any roll in the body and all four of the all-season tires maintain a firm grip on the blacktop because this vehicle -- like every Subaru -- carries electronically controlled all-wheel-drive (AWD) equipment.
This automaker, headquartered in Japan but armed for America with a manufacturing plant in Indiana, only builds AWD vehicles for our market and has a reputation here for producing economical cars powered by efficient although sometimes 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 2010 line the Legacy series -- 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.
Legacy for 2010 has been redesigned for the fifth generation with a larger structure, fresh body styling with prominent fender flares, a new cabin with more room for riders, a redesigned suspension for sporty handling traits and new engines with more power and better fuel economy.
Exterior styling for Legacy looks strong and powerful.
The prow, tapering to a narrow point in front of a sculpted hood, carries long corner headlamp clusters flanking a revised chrome grille with squared bottom edge and lower fascia with broad air intake ports.
Smooth flanks with body-color moldings, mirrors and door handles are interrupted by bold 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.
The design appears sleek and sporty although the car measures more than three inches taller than the previous version.
It rides on a larger chassis with noticeably wider stance. The wheelbase stretches 3.2 inches longer and the wheel track also expands -- by 2.7 inches wider in front and 3.3 inches wider in back.
Subaru outfits all Legacy sedans with suspension, brake and steering systems designed to forge a responsive vehicle.
The new suspension is fully independent with tuned MacPherson struts up front and a double wishbone design in the rear.
And the steering system, through a rack and pinion arrangement, is tuned for quick responses with a precise on-center feel from the wheel.
The four-wheel disc brakes tie to an anti-lock brake system (ABS) with electronic brake distribution (EBD) and electronic brake assist (EBA) plus a stability system under Subaru's label of Vehicle Dynamics Control (VDC) with a four-wheel traction control system (TCS).
While every edition in the Legacy series employs AWD equipment, the device differs by type of transmission.
With a manual six-speed shifter, the continuous 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 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.
With Subaru's Lineartronic CVT (continuously variable transmission), the active AWD system has a continuously variable hydraulic transfer clutch (CVHTC) managed electronically, while for a five-speed electronic automatic transmission, Subaru adds variable torque distribution (VTD) to the AWD system with a planetary center differential and an electronically controlled CVHTC to distribute the power, which normally splits 45/55 percent front/rear but can modify that ratio if the tires slip.
Trims for Legacy begin with Legacy 2.5i, 2.5i Limited and 2.5i Premium, each rigged with a revised single-cam 2.5-liter horizontally-opposed four-cylinder engine which makes 170 hp at 5600 rpm and torque of 170 lb-ft at 4000 rpm.
The four-cylinder engine links to a five-speed manual transmission, or the Lineartronic CVT which has a manual shift mode and paddle shifters at hand on the steering wheel.
For more power, Subaru borrows from the sporty WRX a turbo-charged and inter-cooled boxer-four to create two souped-up Legacy issues, the 2.5 GT Premium and 2.5 GT Limited.
The turbo plant, with twin cams and 2.5-liter displacement, adds AVCS (active valve control system) variable valve timing to optimize engine efficiency.
Output reaches 265 hp at 5600 rpm while the torque zooms to 258 lb-ft in a range between 2000 rpm and 5200 rpm.
All of that energy channels through a heavy-duty manual six-speed gearbox.
For 2010 Subaru also offers three new top-tier Legacy models with the Legacy 3.6 R, 3.6 R Premium and 3.6 R Limited.
These sports sedans stock Subaru's new horizontally-opposed six-cylinder engine which displaces 3.6 liters and features dual overhead camshafts and four valves per cylinder with AVCS variable valve timing on intake and exhaust valves.
The 3.6-six romps with a rowdy 256 hp at 6000 rpm plus torque of 247 lb-ft at 4400 rpm.
It links to Subaru's electronically controlled five-speed SportShift automatic which features RMDBC (rev-matching downshift blipping control) and steering wheel paddle shifters.
Pricing for new 2010 Legacy models skews to low numbers -- beginning at $19,995 for the Legacy 2.5i.