Thursday February 21 2013

Volvo 850T vs Subaru Legacy

By Paul Kaganzi

In the early 1990s, most of the major car manufacturers resorted to new car performance enhancing technology to boost sales of their cars in the ever growing global car markets such as North America and Asia. This heightened the rivalry between Europe and Asia (Japan) especially when some North American car buyers started overlooking their traditional brands like Chrysler or Ford. Volvo and Subaru were not left behind in this endeavour. Together with other leading car makers they developed high performance luxury sedan and wagon cars.

These cars offered an assortment of new performance, safety, comfort as well as convenience features. In 1989, Subaru released the first series of the Legacy, also called Liberty, in sedan and wagon form. They offered the 1.8. 2.0 and 2.2 litre engines both with the naturally aspirated and turbo charged versions. In 1992, Volvo debuted its 850T sedan and wagon with the 2.3 and 2.4 litre naturally aspirated and turbo charged versions. In this edition of Head to Head we look at the fiery duel between the 1993 Volvo 850T with a B5234T 2.3 litre engine and Subaru Legacy with the EJ20 GT 2.0 litre engine, both wagons also sold as used cars in Uganda.

Volvo 850T’s 2.3 litre engine throws some weight with its faster acceleration and slightly more pulling power, however the Legacy’s smaller 2.0 litre engine puts up a spirited fight and delivers an engine output and pulling power close to the Volvo’s. Whereas Legacy remains slower at acceleration or take off, it takes credit for delivering close power output with a smaller engine and much better fuel economy than the Volvo 850T.

This impressive performance by both Volvo and Subaru is due to their similar modern sequential multi port common rail fuel injection systems and the turbo charged engines. Turbo charge is recycled exhaust air compressed by the turbo turbine and released into the engine air intake system at high pressure to improve combustion power. In the Volvo 850T, the above engine attributes are coupled with the unique double over head camshaft rocking the all aluminium 20 valves on the five cylinders in line.

This engine layout harnesses combustible engine resources to release a boundless power output. The Legacy’s spirited engine performance is attributed to the combination of multipoint fuel injection and turbo with its unique H4 cylinder configuration. Two pairs of horizontally opposed pistons are arranged in two banks on either side of a single crankshaft. The Legacy engine activates four valves per cylinder through a single overhead camshaft on each bank. This creates a power surge which gives the small engine excellent acceleration.


Volvo 850T and Subaru Legacy wagons are built to perform as race cars both on road and reasonable off-road slippery conditions. The designers of these cars were targeting the North American, Japanese and European families that drive over snow covered terrain or winding hillside highways.
In Uganda, similar terrain is found in the south west and north west where highways are dogged by frequent sharp bends while off-road village tracks can be slippery in rainy seasons. The immense engine power in the Volvo 850T and the Legacy EJ20GT is equally well ‘married’ to their unique race car transmission designs.

Volvo’s automatic gearbox has three main shafts as opposed to the traditional two shafts while Subaru offers the computer controlled 4EAT.

These compact and inherently strong gearbox designs are popular with race car designers because they harness the boundless engine power well, while fitting well in the transverse or low positioned engines for greater dynamic balance and low frontal sports profile. These attributes contribute to better handling during high speed manoeuvring. Volvo and Subaru are neck to neck as they equipped their wagons with multi terrain access capability. Volvo and Subaru’s Macpherson independent strut system incorporates elongated shock absorbers n helical springs which simple design gives both cars good road holding both off and on road and is easy maintenance.

Safety and comfort

The 850T and Legacy offer an assortment of impressive safety features. Both cars score even points. Comfort features are equally endowed from air-conditioning, electric window and mirror adjust, plush interior upholstery with the leather option for Volvo. In this segment Volvo beats Subaru for its more load space and ability to adjust rear seats to a flat position for loading. This is crucial for the Ugandan upcountry traveller who may wish to carry a lot of luggage or cargo with shopping for his village home.

Reliability and resale value

Volvo and Subaru wagons are very reliable cars if maintained well. First carry out a test drive before you pay for them in case the previous owner has abused the car. In Uganda, the cost of maintenance is a bit high. Subaru has one dealer while Volvo has not got any. Routine maintenance of fast moving items is available in a couple of places. The low purchase price is pocket friendly and the resale value is reasonable. However, this low price is attributed to buyers’ unawareness to the attributes of these ‘trojan horses’.

Volvo and Subaru get four equal star points for good performance, handling, reliability and resale value. Volvo wins an extra star point for better space. It is a tight race folks.