Crisper to drive, cleaner to run and sleeker to look at – the completely new Legacy saloons, Sports Tourers and crossover Outbacks are now aimed unashamedly at leading prestige European marques.

Originally launched for the ’04 model year, the latest Legacy boasts an outstanding new 2.0 litre ‘boxer’ engine which also replaces the previous 2.5 litre.

This new ‘entry level’ Legacy saloon and Sports Tourer – badged 2.0R – is anything but basic and boasts high equipment levels including climate-control, cruise control, front, side and curtain airbags, a leather MOMO steering wheel, 215/45 tyres on 17×7 ins alloy wheels and – of course, Subaru’s acclaimed symmetrical all-wheel drive system.

Not only is the new 165 PS 2.0 litre horizontally-opposed engine the most powerful in its class – after the 168 PS BMW 3 Series unit – but provides a 133 mph top speed for the saloon and 0-60 mph time of 9.2 seconds.

Despite a new close-ratio manual gearbox aimed at exploiting the extra power for livelier acceleration, fuel economy is also outstanding at 41.5 mpg on the Extra Urban Cycle. Meanwhile, emissions of 207 g/km for the manual saloon and 202 g/km for the automatic are also highly competitive.

Other changes for the ’06 model year include the availability of a five-speed automatic transmission for the 3.0R spec.B as an option to the standard six-speed manual.

Elsewhere, the range has been simplified with, for example, all 2.5 litre versions dropped apart from the Outback 2.5 which will be available in S or SE trim.

Small visual revisions for ’06 include chrome headlamp reflectors, the deletion of smoked tail lamps for the saloon, a different grille, new wheel centre caps and two new colours – Urban Grey Metallic and Violet Grey Metallic – the former available for all models and the latter for the Legacy only.

Key features of the 151mph 3.0R spec.B are uprated suspension with inverted front struts, a six-speed manual gearbox and 18ins wheels with 215/45 tyres.

Exterior styling for the new Legacy and Outback now has a confident new poise and presence and the interior ambience matches the best the sporting executive sector has to offer.

Meanwhile, the symmetrical all-wheel drive driving dynamics are even more involving than ever, with the horizontally-opposed ‘boxer’ engines and transmissions lowered and chassis and steering thoroughly revised for an outstanding ride and handling combination.

A ‘flat-six’ 245 PS powerplant is fitted to the Legacy 3.0R spec.B manual and for ’06 onwards the automatic plus the Outback 3.0R auto.

The automatic 3.0 litre models feature a five-speed transmission with ‘sportshift’ sequential manual selection, while the spec.B manual bases its gearbox on the Impreza WRX STi but with 50 per cent of the components changed.

Helping reduce running costs compared to the previous Legacy are better aerodynamics of 0.28 Cd for the saloon and 0.30 Cd for Sports Tourers plus a typical weight reduction of 55 kg.

Also aiding efficiency are many low-friction improvements to the engine and AWD transmission. A new ‘constant pulsation’ exhaust system, for example, provides more power and economy thanks to reduced back pressure. It also produces a new, sweeter-sounding boxer ‘burble’.

Safety enhancements include active front head-restraints which reduce whiplash injuries during rear-end shunts, dual-mode front airbags which inflate according to the severity of the accident and brake and clutch pedals which effectively snap away under severe impact, protecting the driver’s lower limbs.

All Legacy and Outback models now have curtain airbags, side airbags large enough to protect the head and chest and anti-lock brakes (ABS) with electronic brakeforce distribution (EBD).

In addition, both front seats have quick-reacting pre-tensioners with load-limiters, while the rear seat offers the extra protection of a centre, three-point seatbelt and – for very young children – two outer ISOFIX standard locking devices. This allows the easy fitment – and reduced movement – of a child safety seat.

Subaru UK-inspired security measures range from deadlocks, keyless entry and shielded door locks to a sophisticated Thatcham Category One alarm and immobiliser. These initiatives plus easier-to-repair accident-damage parts should result in competitive insurance premiums.

Prices start at £16,995 for the 2.0R manual saloon, rising to £28,400 for the 3.0Rn auto Outback with satellite navigation.