I pulled out to overtake a slower wehicle and planted my right foot in the corner; the big Subaru Legacy began to respond gently, too gently for my taste.
So without lifting my foot off the loud pedal, I dropped my left hand to the centre console and tweaked the SI-Drive knob clockwise towards the S# (Sport Sharp) marking.
Almost instantaneously the car seemed to come alive - the revs rose sharply and a wave of torque through all four wheels dug the tyres into the road to send the Legacy forward like a sprinter off the blocks.
The lazy delivery box disappeared astern and I thought, "My goodness, but it works!"
"It" of course, is Subaru's latest bit of electronic wizardry, the Subaru Intelligent Drive ?– or SI-Drive for short
It's available on all 2007 Legacy models except the two-litre entry-level trim, under the tagline "three engines in one" - and that's not a bad description of what you get.
But first the nuts and bolts: Subaru has given its flagship luxury sedan a makeover for 2007, with cosmetic updates inside and out but, more importantly, a new engine option and some suspension and steering revisions.
The two-litre, four cylinder unit is unchanged, delivering its claimed 121kW and 187Nm with a distinctive boxer growl that gets quite forceful as the revs rise; and rise they do ?– the engine is redlined at 7500rpm and does its best work above 4000.
Or you can just relax and potter along in traffic; as long as you keep the revs above two-five the power delivery is adequate if uninspiring (especially at Gauteng altitude where the SA launch was held last weekend)
In effect you have two cars in one ?– a quiet, refined town carriage and a rather naughty, hard-revving sports sedan that uses the rocklike stability and leech-like road-holding provided by Subaru's trademark symmetrical all-wheel drive to good effect.
It drives via a five-speed manual or four-speed semi-automatic transmission with the usual manual sequential option.
At the other end of the scale there's Subaru's H6, normally aspirated, flat-six engine. Peak power and torque remain the same at a quoted 180kW and 297Nm, but the camshaft profiles have been reworked to beef up mid-range performance.
Certainly it delivers effortless motivation that, in my opinion, is far better suited to the Legacy persona than the howling four. Face it, Cyril, if I want a four-door rocket sled I'll buy an Impreza.
And in the middle there's the GT, with a new 2.5-litre turbocharged flat four that replaces the previous two-litre turbo. In this application it has reworked porting and a new five-arc scroll turbocharger that Subaru says boosts low to mid-range torque.
The company quotes 184kW at 6000rpm and a beefy 339Nm at 3600; there's a moment of turbo lag as you put your foot down but after that the engine delivers remarkably spirited propulsion even at 1600m above sea level, thanks to the miracle of squashed air.
The two larger engines come with either a six-speed manual 'box or a five-speed semi-automatic with column-mounted paddle shift as well as the usual "push for up, pull for down" sequential shift on the gear lever.
Each also has SI-Drive, which in effect offers three different engine mappings: the default or "Sport" setting delivers full power but with relatively gentle response, ideal for towing or carrying a full load of passengers and luggage.
The "Intelligent" setting (push the knob down) reduces power and torque to "about the same levels as a normally aspirated two-litre engine", with a corresponding reduction in fuel consumption and exhaust emissions (a nod to the greenies, there) and yes, in "I" mode the 2.5 and three-litre variants become just as lazy as their two-litre sibling ?– hence the hurried tweak to the right I mentioned earlier.
That gives you "Sport Sharp" characteristics ?– the same power as in the default mode but with much sharper throttle response (and harder-edged transmission settings on the automatic models) ?– great for crisp overtaking moves or for taking advantage of the chassis' competence through a set of challenging S-bends.
The Legacy comes in sedan and sportwagon format with a distinctive six-sided grille flanked by redesigned headlights (bi-xenon on the 2.5 and three-litre) that flow more elegantly into the front wing, picking up on a neat crease line at their outer corners.
The new bumpers on the bigger models have a pronounced centre intake and larger outer apertures, and of course the GT has a scoop in the bonnet to feed cool, high-pressure air to the intercooler.
The door mirrors are smaller and more aerodynamic and the taillights on the sedan are lower to make the rear of the car look lower and wider. The wagon's taillights stay the same shape as before but with a jewelled effect on the lens to make them more visible from the side.
There's a new, metallic trim strip across the middle of the fascia that turns down to frame either side of the centre stack with its conventional controls for sound and climate; that and the high centre console (gear lever, handbrake and two cup holders) give a pleasant "cockpit" feel to the driver's accommodation.
The front seats have been redesigned for better thigh support, says Subaru, and improved lateral support without making the car difficult to get into. The two are usually mutually exclusive and Subaru is to be congratulated on how well it has succeeded in this respect.
The two-litre has two-tone upholstery in textured fabric, while the 2.5 and three-litre are trimmed in leather; similarly the 2.5 has electrical adjustment on the driver's seat and the three-litre on both front seats.
All Legacys now have cruise control and reach adjustment on the steering column ?– an important omission in previous years ?– while their Momo steering wheels carry satellite buttons for sound and cruise control.
The trip data computer display is now built into the main instrument cluster, and on SI-Drive models includes a neat graphic to show you which mode you're in.
The upper models get a new, built-in McIntosh sound system with an extra speaker (taking the total to 14!) and MP3 compatability while the two-litre also has a new CD/radio/MP3 audio system.
Safety across the range
All Legacy models have front, side and curtain crash bags, active head restraints and pre-tensioners on the front seat belts.
2.0R manual ?– R227 000
2.0R auto ?– R239 000
3.0R-B manual ?– R361 000
3.0R-B auto ?– R361 000
2.5GT-B manual ?– R363 000
2.5GT-B auto ?– R363 000
2.0R manual ?– R237 000
2.0R auto ?– R249 000
2.5GT-B manual ?– R373 000
2.5GT-B auto ?– R373 000
With the outstanding exception of the wilder Impreza variants, Subaru has generated a perception of bland, rather nondescript, competence. Nevertheless, take a second look at the Legacy.
It may lack the almost decadent luxury and over-the-top electronic gizmos of its competitors but its styling is quiet and elegant and its interior restrained almost to the point of austerity.
It delivers real-world performance with usable technology and a unique drivetrain layout that gives it outstanding road manners with the minimum of electronic intervention.
If this car says anything about its driver it's that the Subaru owner doesn't have to make a statement. It conveys the self-confidence of someone who says: "I don't need to be noticed to prove that I've arrived."