Car Life>> Handling Improvements

I really have only positive things to say about my 2004 Subaru Legacy Wagon. It has served as the perfect chariot to haul all my gear around and has taken me as far south as Hiroshima and as far north as Sendai and pretty much everywhere else in between. Back in 2006 when I picked the car up I decided to go for the 3.0R variant, as I knew that having a 2-liter turbo B4 would eventually lead to an uncontrollable shopping spree on parts to boost power. So the 250 PS 3-liter flat-six EZ30 would not only provide the ultimate balance between power, fuel economy and smoothness, but kind of serve as a tuning deterrent. However within a few months of owning the car the inevitable happened. The rather embarrassing ride height was proving hard to digest and the handling, albeit very comfortable, allowed to car to roll way too much through the corners. Something had to be done. With the intention of spending as little as possible I found a set of Tein adjustable dampers on every enthusiast's favorite Japanese site, Yahoo Auctions! I got rid of the stock Bilsteins and fitted the new adjustable suspension kit which instantly dropped the car right to the ground and looked great with the 18-inch B4 wheels I also picked up for it. However, due to the pillow ball top mounts and settings that went anywhere from very hard to touring car hard, my once comfortable and compliant Legacy had become way too stiff. It was simply amazing on corners, keeping up with much faster cars through the twisties, but it quickly became tiring to drive in town. A change was needed.

The idea was to regain some of that original comfort but not sacrifice important aspects like handling and of course ride height. So I turned to the professionals at Subaru Tecnica International. If there is anyone out there that knows how to make Subarus ride just right it's these guys, proven by all the STI-edition Impreza and Legacys I have driven in the past. The idea was to reuse the stock Bilstein dampers (thankfully I had kept them) and fit slightly lower and stiffer STI springs…

…along with a part that has been impressing everyone that has had a chance to sample it, the STI Flexible Tower Bar. This is something that has been fitted to all the STI models I've driven over the last year and it's something I was really looking forward to fitting as it has such an evident impact on handling and feel. But more on this later.

First up it was necessary to remove the Tein dampers…

…before the nice pink STI springs and the tower bar were to be fitted.

Gotta represent! Turns out there are quite a few fans of the website at STI, something that is always a pleasure to hear.

STI is located in the same brand new building as the Car Do Subaru Mitaka dealership, where the work was to be carried out to the Legacy. You may recall I visited the STI gallery last year.

There are always nice cars being worked on in the main garage area.

First step was to get the wheels off…

…and take a measurement of the suspension geometry to check everything was within correct parameters.

In the meantime I unloaded the stock Bilstein dampers, which I had previously cleaned up and coated.

The factory springs were popped off using this spring press, a process that looks far easier than it actually is.

The pink STI springs would give just the right amount of drop, so I can now park and tackle obstacles without scarping the front bumper and the exhausts.

And on went the springs.

After the front dampers were fitted…

…it was time to unwrap the STI Flexible Tower Bar. The principle of this part is very simple; it allows the front struts to be braced together to stiffen up the chassis, but the loose ball-joint in the center allows some flexibility on multiple planes. Stiffness is always a good thing for a chassis but not if it has a negative impact on steering feel and handling. For example road imperfections can throw the front end off impacting grip and causing understeer, something that is especially true if the front end is too stiff. 

The tower bar is held in place on the struts by the same three bolts the dampers are fixed on.

I quite like the factory look of the bar and how inconspicuous it looks in the engine bay.

Final step was to torque all bots with a torque wrench. 

There rear was next and to access the top mounts most of the rear trunk trim had to be removed. I think that's the first time I've seen my spare tire! 

While under the car the Subaru mechanic also spotted a little nail stuck in my tire (you can see it on the far left above) and proceeded to remove it and patch the tire up. Japanese service for you!

Quick comparison of the Tein dampers and the stock rears.

The STI springs allow the same drop at the rear.

A bit more work on the spring press and the rear dampers were ready to go on.

It might not be slammed or anything, but I'm quite content with the way the car sits. 

The set-up is perfect right now; it's nice and comfortable around the city with just the right amount of stiffness. Thanks to the Flexible Tower Bar the understeer Subraus are all known for, even more evident on the 3.0R with it's big heavy flat-6 over the front wheels, is all but unnoticeable. 

But it doesn't end there, like I discovered on the R205 Impreza and Legacy tS I tested last year, it also feels more eager on turn in with a great deal more mid-corner feel coming in trough the steering wheel. This is great as I often indulge myself when I come across the right roads, the camera equipment might be flying around all over the place in the trunk but I'm up there in front grinning away! Aside for a color change for the wheels I think I'm pretty much done with the Legacy!

STI Japan

-Dino Dalle Carbonare