Damn. Fell in Love with the wrong car.

You know how you go out looking for the right car, with a checklist and a list of requirements?  I've been doing that for the better part of two years.  I've driven every small car known to man at intervals, trying to find some reasonable personal transportation when the Camry of Doom goes kaput.

What I'm *really* looking to do is duplicate the love I had for the 1998 Impreza 2.5RS, a car with All-Wheel Drive, a sweet 5-speed manual transmission and the turn-in responses of a B13 Sentra SE-R.  I still remember the test drive I took at the now-defunct Oldhan's Subaru in Nicholasville Kentucky back in college, and whoo boy, was it FUN.  Pity I had no job at the time. :-)

Anyway, fast forward > 1 decade, and here I am.  Camry is getting lose about the....well, everything.  The Front end wobbles.  The transmission slips.  There's the every-present water leak in the trunk that's never bad enough to fix.  It smells like vomit so badly that none of the females in my family want to ride in it.  It drives like a wet sponge, basically--easy and unchallenging.

Anyway x 2: I took a personal sanity afternoon this past Friday.  I'm quickly becoming one of those overstressed, no-perspective corporate drones, and it's following me home.  Looking at the weather forecast (4" snow by Sunday) I decided to pull a Ferris Bueller and call in disheartened (well, at least the second half of the day).

I drove by Green's Toyota and beheld the new scion of the Prius sub-brand, the Prius V.  This is basically a Prius with a full wagon rear-end.  Think of it like the dearly departed Kia Rondo or the slow-selling Mazda5.  


It drives just like a Prius; slightly heavier as you'd expect, but it seems to have all the (effective) utility of our Honda Odyssey, while getting 3x better mileage.

And it was boring.  Well, it's a Toyota, so that goes without saying.  You buy a Toyota with your head, not with your heart.

So...I was itching to see if I could rekindle some of that Subaru love, so I swung by the new Quantrell Subaru on East New Circle in Lexington.  This was a former Saturn dealership and it shows: The sales personnel treat you like an adult and they have the discretion to send you out on personal test drives.  Roy send me out in their only 2012 Impreza with a stick.  Before I left, I snapped this picture indicative of a NICE engineering touch on the new 2.0L engine: The oil filter is a standard canister, and it's right at the very top-right of the cam-chain driven engine:



So, I got my unassisted test-drive, spinning the car and its manual transmission from Palumbo drive down to Tates Creek Rd and back on New Circle.

I can't express my disappointment.  Aside from the obvious snarl of it's boxer engine, this car could easily have been any Kia, Toyota, or GM econo-car of the modern era.  The seats tortured my back, the steering felt numb, and the gearbox (while reasonably precise and pleasantly notchy) unlocked no joy.  This is a vastly undersquare engine, and it has NO top-end to reward one for venturing above 4500 rpm.  I downshifted two gears to slice around merge traffic, and it's like the car frowned at me and asked if I really wanted to be doing that.  Finally--and I'm no audiophile, mind--the stereo was a tinny nightmare:  FM sounded like AM.  AM sounded like a bad WW2 movie.  Not. Good.

Dejected, I came back and Roy Olbersheim said w/o me saying a word "Not enough power for you, right?" Right, Roy.  "How about a Legacy with the 2.5L?"  I enjoyed a complimentary decaf cup of Lexington Coffee and Tea as Roy juggled 3 other customers expertly and produced some keys to a silver 2012 Legacy with the 6 speed manual.

I knew I was in trouble from the moment I got in.  YES!  This was a Subaru, with its cockpit feel that brought the WRX to mind--black surround with black guages.  The seats were comfortable and supportive and they evoked that 2.5RS in that pleasant way they suctioned to my lower back and haunches.  Off again--alone--the clutch and I negotiated how we'd work.  The engagement was super-progressive, and 1st was short enough that no slippage was necessary.  There was even a little "Low temp" warning light on the guage cluster to advise you the coolant wasn't up to temp so avoid piling on the revs.  

The tranny and I both had to warm up; she to my ham-fist and me to her utter reluctance to engage 2nd.  It felt like this car'd been sitting for quite some time and the gearbox oil resembled tar.  So, I babied it and after about 1/4 mile, things got more interesting.

Subarus bark. They all feature boxer engines, and when they hit real snort, they sound like baby Porsches.  This Legacy warmed up, loosened-up and hit its stride, notching into 6th on the freeway and tracking like, well like nothing else I've ever driven.  I did the same 6th-to-4th downshift and the car lept ahead LOVING the 3k-6k range on the tach.  I know it's only a 30hp difference between the EB20 engine in the Impreza and the EJ25 in the Legacy, but this engine felt so much more eager and alert.

Not everything was rosy--in particular the vague shift linkage had me banging FIIIIIIRST....SECOND....fifth....on the up-hill onramp to New Circle outer loop from Tates Creek.  If I bought this car, I think I'd have to look into a short-shifter.

I texted Bella stopped at a stop light.  I was in love.  And she's a bad, bad car:  Only 27 mpg with a tailwind on level ground.  The way she begged to be flogged like the naughty rally-bred girl she is, I'd be lucky to see the 23mpg I average in my Camry.  Throughout, this Legacy was aptly named--no bluetooth, no Direct Injection engine, no navigation, no satelite/onstar/telematics nonsense.

On the whole, the experience did teach me some things:  I'm not dead, for one.  Seriously, there are days where I've been ROI'ing buying a Nissan Leaf or Chevy Volt.  I think that's pretty-much done.  My next car will have "adequate" power, coming from a gasoline-burning engine hitched to a manual transmission.  Secondly, I think I'm going to stop trying to buy a micro-car.  I'm by no means a giant, but I do have 3 kids and I'd like to drive them around concurrently, safely, and with enough power and handling that the four of us can have (safe) fun.

It was a fun way to spend a couple of hours, and a re-affirmation that I'm still a car guy :-)


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