We tested both transmissions in the base Subaru Legacy 2.5i. We like the Legacy 2.5i with the optional Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT). This transmission makes driving effortless and gets 4 more miles per gallon than the 6-speed manual gearbox. The CVT comes with paddle shifters on the steering wheel allowing the driver to shift into different ratios. Called Lineartronic, and driven by a chain (actually more of a metal belt) for durability, this compact CVT is Subaru's first CVT in recent years, but the company was an early leader in the technology, making CVTs some 20 years ago.
All three models have Subaru's Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive, but they are different systems. The manual transmission uses continuous awd with a viscous-coupling locking center differential to distribute power 50-50 at all times; the 2.5i with CVT uses Active Torque Split awd that electronically varies the front-rear distribution; and the 3.6R model uses Variable Torque Distribution which sends more power to the rear wheels but adjusts to the front when it senses the need.
The 2.5-liter four-cylinder boxer engine produces 170 horsepower and 170 pound-feet of torque, with the torque peaking at 4000 rpm. We challenged the engine and CVT during a day of driving in the Pacific Northwest, and only hot-rodders will need more acceleration than this 30-mpg sophisticated $21,000 midsize sedan offers.
The Subaru Legacy 2.5GT comes with a 6-speed manual gearbox. The 265-hp turbocharged engine, with its large turbocharger that sits lowe and near to the exhaust, is capable of pulling 258 pound-feet of torque, available from 2000 to 5000 rpm. And there's no lag. The 2011 Subaru Legacy 2.5GT pulls off a 0-to-60 acceleration time of 5.9 seconds, much better than the 3.6R's pokey 7.1 seconds.
The chassis features a front subframe with a cradle that allows the engine to sit relatively low. Subarus handle well because of the inherent excellent weight distribution offered by the front-mounted boxer engine. Combined with standard all-wheel drive, there isn't a better design for stability on the road in the midsize sedan segment.
Other technical features contribute to the Legacy's comfortable driving dynamics, including a suspension system that uses MacPherson struts in front with double wishbones in rear, and a responsive steering ratio that put a smile on our faces, even with the base 2.5i model. The brakes feel good and inspire confidence.
The Subaru Legacy 3.6R feels like a more expensive car, thanks to its smooth power train, lovely perforated leather and the nine-speaker, Harman-Kardon sound system. The 3.6R offers the same 265 horsepower as the hot-rod 2.5GT, delivered more smoothly with a sweet 5-speed automatic transmission, while getting 18 to 25 mpg on regular fuel. But as we mentioned before, it's not going beat the competition in a drag race.
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