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by Laurence Vittes

Subaru Legacy V70 2.5T

Once upon a time, Subaru sold rugged, dependable cars. Period.

Because they seemed so serious, and were always inexpensive to buy and maintain, Subaru's line of small passenger cars, station wagons and what turned out to be precursors of today's SUVs developed a following among the young and educated as a sort of inexpensive Volvo and (later) Saab. This was particularly true in regions of the country, like the Pacific Northwest, the Rocky Mountains and New England, where extremes of weather played havoc with everyday living, where off-road motoring was fun and useful, and where practicality (you could wash out the interiors of some Subaru models with a garden hose) was a matter of regional pride.

All the while, Subaru's popularity was slowly increasing in less philosophically hardy Southern California, where frequent trips to the desert and the mountains, and up the coast, made its outstanding on- and off-road qualities immensely valuable and enjoyable.

In the late 20th century, when Subaru began to benefit in a big-time marketing sense from its reputation as a world-class rally car, its line of factory souped-up, relatively inexpensive small sedans--the Impreza WRX and WRX STI--developed a cult following among the young who could afford the insurance premiums and elders who remembered what it was like to be young.

However, as environmental concerns began to dominate buying decisions, Subaru has been making an effort to realign and reposition its product line, downplaying the more fire-breathing (and gas guzzling) exploits of the Impreza, and hoping to draw more attention to its Legacy line of mid-scale sedans, and the Forester and Outback station wagon/SUV type models.

As someone who put 134,000 totally trouble-free miles on an entry level Subaru station wagon in the 1980s, driving the new top of the line version of the Legacy has been a absolute eye-opener. Equipped with a smooth 6-cylinder boxer engine (boxer meaning that it's mounted transversely under the hood for efficiency), and permanent 4-wheel drive, so that no matter what's going on around you, you feel in control, whether you're heading for Arrowhead, or Dodger Stadium, I had expected something plain and utilitarian.

Instead, with a lovely leather interior and various other creature comforts, added to its marvelous engineering (including three easy to select transmission modes, ranging from best performance to best gas mileage) and superb feel of quality, Subaru has transformed the Legacy into a truly fabulous automobile. It not only combines a feeling of pleasure with the confidence of safety, it provides with the kind of performance that makes you feel like you can get anywhere you need to quickly and without any fuss. In its quiet, understated way, it is an awesome car!

This time of year, I prefer to fill the tank (carefully driven, the Legacy cruises for close to 500 miles on a tank), read the wildflower reports from the Theodore Payne Foundation in Sun Valley (click here), pick out some Mozart (the sound system in the Legacy is definitely of audiophile quality), and take off with just a loved one or two and, perhaps, without my cell phone (daring, I know, but Subaru instills that kind of confidence).

by Laurence Vittes

New Car Museums and Munich's 850th

The great Bavarian city of Munich will be 850 years old this year. Not so old, actually, for a European city..

From its humble beginnings as a monastery, Munich now boasts a fabulous performing arts life, and the prototype Oktoberfest celebration. Three major events will anchor this year's festivities: the City Foundation Festival, June 14-15; the Old Town Ring Road Festival, July 19-20; and the Isar Bridge Festival, August 1-3. For more information, click here.

For car buffs, visits to two new automotive museums could be the experiences of a lifetime.

BMW Museum in MunichThe BMW museum in Munich, planning to re-open early this summer, features an entirely novel concept showcasing the multifaceted history of the BMW brand. Building on the opening of BMW World, the plan envisages a museum of the future that expresses the power and aggressive approach of the BMW brand. Vehicles, themes, architecture, and design will come together to create an unprecedented exhibition composition.

If you want to know what BMW World is, check out Stephen Bayley's colorful description in The Observer here. His lead paragraph should get you interested: "It's a meeting of architecture and automobile on the grandest scale, in which customers can pick up their new car and worship at the shrine of Germany's most powerful brand. Welcome to the phenomenon that is BMW World."

Porsche Museum in StuttgartIn December, Porsche fans will get a serious rush from the company’s new museum outside of Stuttgart. Not only Porsche's magnificent sports cars, but also Professor Ferdinand Porsche’s early innovations and constructions will be presented in the new building, directly adjacent to the parent plant. Some cars and models will be presented to the public for the first time. The beautiful old convertible in the photo on this page reminds me of my father's first Porsche, one of the first in Southern California.

For more information on these events as well as Germany’s many other events and festivals, visit the Information Center of the German National Tourist Office here.

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