DETROIT – Hoping to take advantage of its re-emerging performance image and the U.S.’s growing interest in sport wagons, Subaru of America Inc. unveils its ’05 Legacy 2.5 GT sedan and wagon at the North American International Auto Show.

Offering 250 hp from its turbocharged DOHC 2.5L 4-cyl. Boxer engine, it is the most powerful Legacy ever offered in the U.S. market.

“We are becoming advocates of driving performance,” says Fred Adcock, executive vice president-Subaru of America. “We are accomplishing this through vehicles that possess class-leading levels of safety, agility, stability and performance. The new Legacy 2.5 GT represents a quantum leap forward in terms of the levels by which performance vehicles are judged.”

The 2.5L Legacy sticks with Subaru’s commitment to all-wheel drive. The sedan and wagon offer a choice of an all-new 5-speed automatic transmission with the Sportshift clutchless manual control option or a 5-speed manual gearbox.

The ’05 Subaru Legacy 2.5 GT sedan and wagon debute at NAIAS.

A new unitized body structure makes greater use of aluminum and high-strength steel, Subaru says. The front suspension is new, including aluminum lower L-arms that reduce unsprung weight. The multilink rear suspension attaches to a new hydroformed steel subframe. The rack-and-pinion steering system also has been redesigned.

The 2.5 GT features larger front-brake rotors than other Legacy models, as well as ventilated rear discs (vs. solid discs on other models).

There are multiple AWD systems for the Legacy lineup, including one for the 2.5 GT’s manual transmission and another for the automatic gearbox.

The new Legacy interior design integrates the entire area from the instrument panel and large center panel to the console box. The 2.5 GT’s 4-dial instrument panel features light-emitting diode lighting. Standard equipment includes 4-stage heated seats, dual-zone automatic-climate control and heated exterior mirrors.

The 2.5 GT Limited models add leather-trimmed upholstery, a power moonroof and 8-way power-passenger seat. A dual-panel moonroof is offered on the wagon model. Pricing hasn’t been determined.

The 2.5 GT is expected to hit Subaru’s 585 U.S. dealerships in May. The wedge-shaped body features a hood scoop. The wheelbase has been stretched by nearly 1-in (2.54 cm) and the overall length was increased by just under 2-ins. (5 cm).

“We’re very excited,” Adcock tells Ward's, declining to provide sales forecasts for the Legacy 2.5 GT. “We have a very, very loyal following. We’re very confident our current owners, previous owners, will come back. And I think with the significant enhancements to the exterior and interior that we’ll see a lot of conquest activity also.

“I think we’re seeing somewhat of a trend toward performance-type wagons,” he adds. “I think maybe some of the stigma some people had with wagons in the past is now really going to be in the past.”

Subaru sold roughly 186,500 units in the U.S. in 2003. Its goal is to sell 250,000 units in 2006.

bcorbett@primediabusiness.com