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Subaru Legacy GT vs Chrysler LH Cars

Review Notes: 2001 Subaru Legacy GT
Gas mileage 21 city, 28 highway
Superior in: All wheel drive, ride/handling balance, wagon option
Above Average: General user friendliness, predictable acceleration
Needs Work: Gas mileage, base engine acceleration
Review Notes: Chrysler Concorde 2.7
Gas mileage 21 city, 30 highway
Clearly Superior In: Room, ride/handling balance
Above Average: General user friendliness,
stereo, smooth transmission
Needs Work: Transmission options, gas mileage

While the popular Subaru Outback is relatively new, it's based on a venerable if little-known Subaru nameplate - the Legacy. Long beloved by their owners, Subarus have generated a reputation for quality and a secondary reputation for having slow engines.

The Legacy GT's horizontally opposed four provides smooth, quiet power, with extremely steady acceleration from idle to redline. It takes about nine and a half seconds to reach 60 mph. By comparison, the Intrepid's base 2.7 feels less gutsy at first but quickly builds power, beating the Legacy to sixty despite the Intrepid's larger size, and there is an optional 3.2 liter engine which also runs on regular gas; the 2.7, at least, is very slightly more economical than the Legacy's four.

The Legacy transmission is good enough, but doesn't kick down easily, possibly because the engine isn't a screamer at high revs. The Intrepid's smooth shifter does kick down more easily under hard throttle.

The major advantages of the Legacy over the Intrepid (for convenience, we will let you add the "and Concorde" each time you read "Intrepid") are all wheel drive, a station wagon option, and a five speed transmission. You simply cannot buy a Chrysler brand vehicle with a five-speed, and you cannot get the Dodge Intrepid with one, either. No Chrysler or Dodge car comes with all wheel drive or a wagon option. Perhaps that's one reason why Chrysler is in the dumps lately - it's one thing to make a car with two names and slightly different suspension tuning, and it's quite another to make versions that attract different customers. There are a surprising number of people out there who demand five-speeds and station wagons. Mercedes, Toyota, and, of course, Subaru realize that. Regardless of distribution channels, until Dodge and Chrysler start figuring out that some Europeans and Americans like wagons and five-speeds, they're not optimizing their platforms.

Both cars' handling is good and well tuned. Harshness and sharp bumps are easily filtered out, apparently with little damage to turning ability. We were very happy with the cars' smooth ride on rough and broken pavement. They handled potholes and concrete roads with aplomb, while transmitting a good amount of road feel. The Intrepid was noisier on concrete pavement, and the Concorde tended to protest a little when whipped through hard turns - though it did take them, it didn't seem to like them as much as the Legacy and Intrepid.

Inside, the Intrepid and Concorde convey a more luxurious feel, particularly around the instrument panel. The cabins are comfortable. The Legacy's frameless glass windows did not have any problems with hard rain or high winds.

The interior of the Legacy is large for a Japanese sedan, but not by the standards of the cavernous Intrepid. Likewise, while the stereo was okay by midpriced-Japanese-car standards, the Intrepid's optional Infinity system easily had it beat. Headroom on the Intrepid is better, as well. Need we mention Chrysler's legendary advantage in cup-holders? (The Intrepid's center console is also more useful than the Legacy's small bin).

Each vehicle has logical controls for the most part, with the Legacy having a more convenient cruise control but an odd lights-out-when-the-key-is-off-unless-you-press-this-switch control and a car alarm that honks when the car is locked or unlocked, even when it is locked manually. To be fair, Chrysler's vent control is poorly thought out at best, and the radio required some squinting at small print.

While both cars are very pleasant companions on both city and highway, it's hard to beat the Legacy's combination of agile handling, smooth ride, and not-available-on-Chrysler-cars options. Yes, we prefer a five-speed. All wheel drive can be terribly convenient at times, and it's hard to deny the utility of a station wagon (or, for winter drivers, the optional windshield wiper defroster). Still, the Chrysler Concorde and Dodge Intrepid have their advantages too - a nicer interior, a better stereo, more passenger space, more efficient engine, and a somewhat lower price.

Even if you're a Chrysler/Dodge fan, we suggest you take a look at the Subaru Legacy (and maybe even the Outback). Likewise, if you're thinking about the Legacy sedan with an automatic transmission, the Intrepid can be quite a competitor. (As can the Stratus sedan). Drive them both before you make a final decision.

Other recommended and reviewed cars: Chevrolet Impala, Chrysler Sebring Sedan, Toyota Camry.

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