First Drive

9/25/2014

Fall 2014

Author Neil Szigethy spent eight days and almost 1,000 miles in the all-new 2015 Legacy, running errands in rural New Jersey, tackling traffic in crowded East Coast metro areas, and taking a couple of road trips, including a Woodstock “pilgrimage” to Bethel, New York.
 
 

FIRST ENCOUNTER

I had seen the press-release photos in advance of picking up the car, but, even so, I was surprised when I first walked up to the new Legacy. Its wider grille and low-profile headlights reinforced the presence that was apparent in the photos. The sleek, new Legacy has a sense of both motion and strength.

ROOM, WITH A VIEW

Going inside, I was impressed by how Subaru has managed to fit more interior space into the same-size car. While the exterior dimensions are within an inch of the previous-generation Legacy, this new model has noticeably more leg room and shoulder room, front and rear. And the spacious trunk easily carried my son’s electric guitar and amplifier, with room left over for speakers and luggage.
 
The driver’s seat, according to my hard-to-please back, is very supportive, even after a two-and-one-half-hour ride to Bethel, New York. There’s a premium feel to all the “touch points” inside – everything from the materials on the door panels to the textured metallic trim on the dashboard to the feel of the climate control knobs.
 
From the driver’s seat, the new Legacy has excellent visibility due to its more steeply raked windshield and “partition glass” in the front doors. My wife commented that the quarter-windows reminded her of vent windows of yore; I simply applaud their ability to let me see where I’m going. They were especially helpful finding our way through a dark and narrow parking garage in Morristown, New Jersey.

GETTING UP TO SPEED 

Once on the road, the first thing you notice is the quiet – a tribute to careful engineering. Pulling out onto busy Route 70 in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, the familiar thrum of activity is there, but it’s very much muted in the background.
 
And probably the second thing you notice is how the engine and transmission seem to read the subtlest input from your right foot. On this 50-mph stretch of suburban four-lane, I could pick a spot in traffic and get there easily. It’s amazing how responsive 175 horsepower can feel!
 
I’m a manual transmission guy, but I came to appreciate how well the Lineartronic CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission) is programmed in the new Legacy. This transmission acts like a six-speed automatic when you accelerate briskly.
  
At full throttle, such as our high-speed merge onto I-80, the SUBARU BOXER four-cylinder zings up to redline and then shifts through six virtual gears, never letting the engine drop below 5,000 rpm. And that’s without using the standard paddle shifters. Even with the virtual shifts, the transmission is extraordinarily smooth. 

TACKLING THE OPEN ROAD 

As a Subaru owner, I’ve gotten used to the ability to confidently pull away from a stop sign in torrential rain, and this new Legacy is as sure-footed as ever. But it has a more hunkered-down feel. No, it’s not a WRX, but the suspension feels tight and well-controlled over dips and bumps.   

On the broad, sweeping curves of State Route 55 heading north from the Delaware River, the Legacy is fast and planted, giving me the confidence that there’s more grip if I need it.
 
The new electric power-assisted steering is light and easy-to-use when parking, but it tightens up as you build speed. Out on the road, the steering has just the right amount of feel without transmitting harshness back to your hands. 

ROAD PLAY 

Thanks to Legacy’s quiet ride, conversations with others are easier. Also, the audio system has an easier job providing clear, easy-to-hear music.

The instrumentation is very high-tech, and the center stack with the large touch-screen is top notch. My test car had the optional high-end audio system with navigation. The 7-inch touch-screen was bright and clear, which not only made selecting radio stations or iPod® songs easier, but also provided a wonderfully crisp view from the rear-vision camera – great for backing out of a parking spot at the strip mall near my home.
 
For the navigation system, one of the most satisfying-to-use features was the voice recognition. It is uncanny how well it works. For example, you can enter an address by voice command in one shot – “2235 Marlton Pike, Cherry Hill, New Jersey” – and away you go. Beyond navigation, you can use voice commands to switch audio sources or even to adjust the climate control. I tried a number of different commands, and the system responded perfectly.

When I’m not concentrating on a sporty section of two-lane road or dealing with traffic, I enjoy listening to news and music. The new Legacy offers a wealth of audio choices beyond AM, FM and CD: HD Radio™, SiriusXM® satellite radio, Pandora®, Aha™, and the songs on my iPhone®. This wide selection of “road music” made the miles go by quickly. 

THE CONFIDENCE OF SAFETY

My test car had the optional EyeSight and Subaru Rear Vehicle Detection (SRVD) systems. In the first 15 minutes of driving the car, I experienced the benefits of EyeSight when a truck ahead of me stopped short while changing lanes on New Jersey’s crowded Route 130 near Camden. My foot was swiveling from gas pedal to brake when the “obstacle detected” warning flashed in the instrument panel. If I hadn’t been paying close attention, it was great to know that EyeSight was.

Blind Spot Detection – part of SRVD – provided warning icons in the exterior mirrors when cars were alongside me on this six-lane highway. Even with the mirrors adjusted properly, it’s reassuring to have the rear-mounted radar units looking out for you.

THE BOTTOM LINE 

At the end of my time with the new Legacy, I was most impressed by this Subaru sedan’s quiet comfort, responsive power, and great fuel efficiency. The new Legacy has the style, refinement, and capability to go head-to-head with anything in the highly competitive midsize sedan market.
 
Stop by and take a look at your local Subaru retailer. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

BY THE TIME I GOT TO WOODSTOCK 

Everyone of a certain age probably has a Woodstock story. In August 1969, I was about to start my freshman year in college. A high school buddy asked if I wanted to go to the music festival, but after considering it for a day or two, I said no. I didn’t bother to ask my parents – I knew what they would say.
 
The 1969 Woodstock Music and Art Fair, as it was originally named, was not held in Woodstock, New York, but rather in the rural hamlet of Bethel, New York, about 70 miles south of Woodstock and more than 100 from New York City. Almost 45 years after the fact, I’m making the pilgrimage to the site of that world-famous event, driving a 2015 Subaru Legacy, a car that my 18-year-old self never could have imagined.

Take the Back Way

There may be no way to get to Bethel other than “the back way.” I find myself driving past little lakeside communities with signs for firewood and snowplowing. Tall pines mix with deciduous trees that are just getting their greenery. Spring comes a bit later here.

A museum and outdoor performing arts center (Bethel Woods Center for the Arts) now occupy what was Max Yasgur’s dairy farm and the temporary home to almost half a million people in 1969. It feels like a proper legacy for those three days of peace and music.

More Than Just a Celebration 

The Museum at Bethel Woods offers more than just a celebration of Woodstock, but rather a keen look at the lives that were touched and the history that was swirling around them in the late 1960s. There’s a prominent quote by Mr. Yasgur, who provided a last-minute venue for the music festival when the town fathers of Wallkill, New York, had second thoughts. He said, “I think you people have proven something to the world: that a half a million kids can get together and have three days of fun and music and have nothing but fun and music.” Of course, it wasn’t all music and fun, but that’s another story.
 
The museum can easily occupy hours of your time as you follow serpentine paths through displays of 1960s fashion and album covers, linger over photos, or take a seat in a psychedelic school bus converted into a mini movie theater. I found myself going back through several times and finding new nooks and nuggets of information that I had missed. The whole background story about how the concert came together is intriguing, and I was surprised how much I didn’t know.

 

 
A couple of sound booths let museum visitors leave their own oral histories or listen to others talk about what it was like, or why they missed it, or maybe just a few words about what the whole thing meant to them.

Photo: Neil M. Szigethy/CarKnack LLC

My favorite part of the museum was the special exhibit downstairs. I’ll gladly admit to being a Beatles fan, and this display of black-and-white photos chronicling the Fab Four’s first visit to America in 1964 captured my imagination. These never-before-seen pictures by Life magazine photographer Bill Eppridge follow the Beatles on their whirlwind tour and first performance on The Ed Sullivan Show.
 
If you go, take a moment to look at the actual building, which is a LEED-certified “green” structure. Rather fitting for an organization that “draws inspiration from its unique place in history,” as its mission statement notes.   

 

The Woodstock Monument 

Photo: Neil M. Szigethy/CarKnack LLC

But since this was a pilgrimage, I had to visit the actual site of the music festival, marked by a large stone monument less than a mile from the museum. On the quiet Saturday afternoon of my visit, I came across Mikey Randels, carefully repainting gold leaf on the names of the performers. Randels is commissioned to spruce up the monument each year, and he’s a great conversationalist and local artist – his Facebook®page includes a photo of a “tie-dyed” cow. He points out the location of the stage for the 1969 event, now marked with a swath of gray gravel among the rolling hills.
 
With just a handful of cars at the Woodstock Monument site and little noise other than the distant buzz of a farm tractor, it’s hard to imagine what it must have been like 45 years ago.

Road Music 

The 1960s were pivotal years for many of us. Going to Bethel made me take a look back at 1969 and consider what I did and didn’t do. It sure was a decade of great music. As I start the two-hour drive back home, I select Joni Mitchell from my music files … “We are stardust, we are golden ...” 

If You Go 

The Museum at Bethel Woods is located off Route 17B, approximately 12 miles west of Monticello, New York. Museum admission is $15. The Bethel Woods Center for the Arts puts on many concerts throughout the summer, with artists ranging from Lady Antebellum to Santana to chamber music. The museum is open from April through December.