Subaru Legacy (1989 - 1998) review



Subarus have always been something of an acquired taste for UK buyers, and owners are immensely loyal. Unusually, for Japanese cars, they are quite individual in many ways. There's the 'flat' four engines (like an Alfa Romeo 33's), frameless door windows and four-wheel drive transmissions. Many buyers have rejected the Legacy because they don't know enough about it. Which is a pity because most examples are well-equipped, well-built, affordable and good to drive, yet seemingly forgotten by many family used car buyers. Plus you get that go almost anywhere four-wheel drive system as part of the package.


Models Covered: 1989-1994: (1.8 Saloon and Estate [4wd GL] / 2.0 Saloon [4wd GL, 4wd 4 Cam Turbo] / 2.0 Estate [DL, DLSE, 4wd GL, 4wd 4 Cam Turbo] / 2.2 Saloon and Estate [4wd GX]) 1994 to 1999: (2.0 Saloon and Estate [4wd GL, 4wd GLS, 4wd LX, Classic 4WD LX, Classic 4WD GL] / 2.2 Saloon [GX] / 2.2 Estate [4wd GX] / 2.5 Saloon and Estate [4 Cam] / 2.5 Estate [4wd Outback])


The Legacy series was launched in October 1989 in both saloon and estate forms. Engines were either 1.8 or 2.2-litres. All 1.8s were four-wheel drive. A 2.0-litre joined the range two years later with both bodies available. At the same time, the rapid 2.0 four-wheel drive 4 Cam Turbo saloon and estate arrived and changed Subaru's image forever. Designed to win rallies, Legacies were quick cars with a lot of grip. The range was replaced in April 1994 by a restyled car that looked very similar, and was again offered in both saloon and estate forms. The awesome turbo models were not replaced, though for 1997 a new 4 Cam 2.5-litre engine went some way to recreating a performance model for the range. In addition, the 2.5-litre Outback estate was imported for the first time. It had sold extremely well in Japan and the USA throughout 1996, due to the raised suspension and chunky styling lending it a purposeful look. It was an unusual machine that Subaru claimed was a cheaper rival for the Volvo V70 AWD estates. The entry-level cars had 2.0 and 2.2 litre engines and were generally well-equipped. Airbags became standard equipment in second generation models. The third generation range arrived late in 1998 with a choice of GX and Outback 2.5-litre estates. For a year or so for budget buyers, Subaru UK continued to import the old-shape 2.0-litre Estate model (built in the US), badged as the Classic in LX and plusher GL forms. In March 1999, a new third generation 2.5-litre GX saloon was added to the range. Late in 1999, the third-generation entry-level two-litre GL saloon and estate were introduced and the old-shape Classic models were finally dropped.

What You Get

Ever-so slightly unusual looks, eccentric touches like Subaru's 'hill-holder' device (makes hill starts easier for those who never got the hang of a normal handbrake), superb quality and great reliability. Most will buy these cars for their all-weather transmission. The fact that a Subaru doesn't look like a four-wheel-drive is exactly why many people buy them. The Legacy has always been a favourite of the dale-dwelling doctor-on-call, so if you can find a one-owner country car, all the better. You might only need the all-wheel drive a few days a year, but, like having air conditioning in a heat wave, you'll never be without it again.

What You Pay

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What to Look For

Estates sell on most easily. The flat-four engine has existed in one form or another for many years now. That's good news, as it's well proven and has had many updates over the years so don't be put off a Legacy just because it's a bit different under the bonnet. Gearboxes are equally well-proven but the turbo cars may have worn synchromesh so check the car when the engine and gearbox are still cold, preferably, for a graunch-free change (warm oil will disguise a worn gearbox). Corrosion is notable by its absence, as are electronic gremlins. Japanese reliability is second to none and the Legacy is typical. Do check the driveshaft 'boots' for wear on the more powerful cars - cornering on full lock will have them making awful noises if damaged.

Replacement Parts

(Based on a Legacy 2.0 GLS and exclusive of VAT) A clutch assembly will set you back about £200 and a new exhaust about £150 excluding catalyst. Front shock absorbers are close to £130 each. An exchange alternator comes in at around £300 and an exchange starter motor at around £150. A new radiator is about £215. Replacement door mirrors are around the £150 mark and a headlamp about £140.

On the Road

Much like many other Japanese cars, though, to be fair, a bit more characterful than, say, a Toyota Carina or Mitsubishi Carisma. Safe handling with a bit of body roll through the bends, though altogether a good handling and comfortably riding car. The turbos and 4 Cams are much better and not too rally-like either - the ride is firm but not overly so.


An intelligently designed car with a couple of nicely odd touches to endear you to it. The four-wheel drive models, especially estates, have an almost cult-like following among new and used buyers and it's not hard to see why.