Subaru Legacy B4 RSK
My current car is a Subaru Legacy B4 RSK. It's the perfect combination of practicality and fun. On the surface it looks like a respectable, family sedan, but underneath it's a raging maniac thanks to the twin turbo intercooled boxer engine, sports tuned suspension, and various other nice touches which totally transform the car.
The engine is a 2 liter quad cam boxer with two turbos. The first turbo runs basically all the time and the second one starts at around 4,500 rpm to give extra power when needed. There is also an intercooler fed through the scoop on the bonnet. The red-line is at 7,500 rpm. Performance is achieved through specially hardened pistons, lightweight hollow intake valves and sodium-filled exhaust valves, 5 main bearings, and other performance enhancements. I have the standard exhaust on mine but even that makes that distinctive, impressive boxer noise (apparently the muffler is electronically controlled to reduce noise).
Total power (for the Japanese engine running on 100 octane fuel - I run mine on BP's premium 98 octane) is 280 horse power (210 kw), which is pretty impressive for a 2 liter engine. But the power is very smooth (thanks to the two turbos providing even power instead of the one big boost available from single turbo engines) and is always available so it doesn't provide the big kick I've got in other turbo cars - it's just there all the time! Top speed is about 160 miles per hour (about 260 ks) and zero to 60 mph (0-100 kph) is done in about 5.7 seconds.
Like all of Subaru's cars the B4 is four wheel drive (or all wheel drive if you prefer). The balance between front and rear changes based on the grip available and other factors. The suspension is fine-tuned by Porsche to give excellent handling: the steering is very positive and sharp, and there is very little sloppiness even at speed. The 5 speed manual gearbox allows quick changes and is specially strengthened to handle the engine power.
The brakes are very good. There is a high performance ABS system which Subaru claims will stop the car in a straight line with minimal correction even if two of the wheels are on ice. The car will stop from 100 kilometers per hour in less than 40 meters.
The body is mostly galvanised steel but there is also aluminium used to cut weight. The total weight is only about 150 kilograms heavier than the much smaller Prelude I had previously. So even though this is a medium sized car it feels quite light and nimble.
There is a good although not great range of accessories: electric windows, mirrors, and electrically adjustable driver's seat; ABS brakes; climate control with air conditioning; a very nice backlit instrument panel; adjustable HID headlights; and a reasonably nice stereo with minidisk player
The styling is quite conservative. Only the air scoop on the bonnet and the decent sized exhaust give any clues this is a car with excellent performance. Inside the controls are fairly basic but are well placed (most are on the two stalks either side of the Momo sports steering wheel).
The B4 wasn't even expensive. Mine is a 2001 model with about 53,000 ks on it. The paint was quite badly chipped in places so I got a good price: about NZ$13,500. The engine is in great condition according to the test I had done so I consider it a good deal. It's certainly the cheapest car I've ever bought since my first Ford Cortina many years ago. The higher octane fuel will cost a bit more but it won't make that much difference and it will run on 95 or 96 octane if necessary (the ECU knows how to adapt to a range of fuels).
Driving the B4 is what you would expect from a car with two personalities. You can happily cruise around town or on the open road and it's fine. But start pushing it and suddenly you realise this can be a real beast! The turbos give such a wide power band that lots of gear changes are hardly necessary. Pull out in fourth at 100 ks, hit the gas just a bit and you're up to 150 in no time and past the vehicle in front. It's brilliant for getting past big trucks on hills, for example.
Well, you know. Just wondering what happens on those 180 kph limit Japanese speedos when you go past 180. I was hardly even pushing the car at this point: it was still very smooth. Note: this photo was not taken while driving on the public road!
And it's surprisingly economical too. I thought it would be really thirsty but on a recent trip to Christchurch and back it barely used more fuel than our conventional Subaru (although the 98 octane fuel is slightly more expensive) and the trip took an hour less! Obviously if you use the turbos continuously you are going to have to fill it up a lot more often though.
So after having the B4 for about 6 weeks I would have to say I'm very happy with it. It really is a pleasure to drive. Getting back into our other standard Legacy is like driving a totally different car - it's hard to believe they have anything in common at all.
There are one or two problems. The first turbo does make a low whining sound almost all the time which can be annoying, although no one else has even mentioned it. It does lack some of the gadgets you might expect in newer cars and I do miss the sunroof I had in the Prelude. Also it's probably just a bit bigger than I would normally prefer. But overall I think it was a great choice. It's almost the perfect car.