2009 Subaru Legacy SI-Drive knobEnlarge Photo
In the more upscale models of the outgoing Subaru Legacy, there was a controller that bore a strong resemblance to the one used for BMW's iDrive.
For 2010, it's gone. That elegant controller, for a feature called SI-Drive, looked like it was meant for navigation functions, while in reality it helped fine-tune powertrain performance.
SI-Drive was an unduly complicated name for a simple concept—giving the driver a choice of modes for different types of driving. With a twist, the center-console controller accessed three different modes—Intelligent, Sport, and Sport Sharp. Each mode altered the engine control maps, along with the response curve for the drive-by-wire throttle. In Intelligent mode, throttle response was softened for better fuel economy; Sport mode offered more linear response; and Sport Sharp (S#) mode brought a more aggressive throttle calibration—at the expense of some drivability—for better response in transitional maneuvers.
TheCarConnection.com appreciated the flexibility of the feature, and over several test drives we noted the difference in character that it gave the vehicles, such as softer response for slippery conditions or sharper response for tight switchbacks. But even three years ago at its introduction we wondered whether it might be a little over the head of the typical Outback buyer.
According to Subaru officials, SI Drive—which was offered on much of the Legacy and Outback lines for the past three model years—was indeed sometimes misunderstood and there were issues in educating shoppers on how to use it. SI-Drive was, they said, a boon for tuners, allowing them to toggle between more extreme calibrations. But that small fan base wasn't enough; though SI Drive lives on in some Japan-market 2010 Legacy models, it won't return to the U.S. in the Legacy, even though it lives on in the performance-focused Impreza WRX STI.
Keeping it out of the mix might have helped keep costs down. Subaru has been able cut prices throughout the Legacy lineup while increasing equipment, outside of SI-Drive falling off the list. The price of the turbocharged 2010 Subaru Legacy GT has fallen by $900 versus 2009 and the new six-cylinder 3.6R costs $1600 less than the 3.0R it replaces.
The model we'll most miss the feature on is the Legacy GT, where it served a purpose in delivering full turbo boost earlier, or smoothing it out for drivability. However the new GT's 265-horsepower engine does make significant advances, almost eliminating turbo lag.
2010 Subaru LegacyEnlarge Photo
2010 Subaru LegacyEnlarge Photo
While it appears that SI-Drive is history for these shores, the new Legacy does keep a very useful driver's aid that was introduced on the last-generation Legacy. Throughout the new 2010 Subaru Legacy line—including on the base-model 2.5i—there's an analog eco gauge. Just to the left of the tach and speedo, and effectively replacing the temp gauge, the eco gauge (actually labeled MPG) helps encourage fuel-efficient driving.
Subaru's eco gauge uses a log (cleared with each fill-up) of driving behavior to help show—via a positive or negative swing of the needle—whether a driver's habits are becoming better or worse, along with momentarily, what they should do for better fuel economy. It's driven off information from the engine computer, and a step better than vacuum-based gauges such as those used for decades on BMW models.
The system in the new Legacy is tremendously useful. If a driver feels the need to accelerate briskly to keep up with traffic it desensitizes its response enough to still give useful information about which gear is a better choice, yet featherfoots will still find meaningful advice if they're trying to improve on already good habits.
In case you missed them last week, be sure to read up on the new 2010 Subaru Legacy, browse pictures, and shop specs and prices—all here at TheCarConnection.com.