DETROIT – Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd., maker of Subaru cars, kicks off a new product barrage with mid-cycle revisions to its core Legacy sedan and Outback wagon.

Unveiled at the North American International Auto Show here, the ’08 Legacy and Outback models benefit from a host of improvements aimed at improving the aesthetics, refinement and performance of the auto maker’s volume models.

Most improved is the Legacy, now offered in 3.0 R Limited trim and serving as the first Legacy model to feature a 6-cyl. engine.

Tom Doll, executive vice president-Subaru of America Inc., says the new 3.0 R model is the auto maker’s flagship sedan, slotting above the base 2.5i, 2.5 GT Limited and the sport-tuned 2.5 GT spec.B.

However, the new model’s normally aspirated DOHC 3.0L flat-6-cyl., rated at 245 hp and 215 lb.-ft. (292 Nm) of torque, falls short of the 250 hp and 250 lb.-ft. (339 Nm) of torque produced by the performance-oriented turbocharged 2.5L flat-4-cyl. in the GT Limited and GT spec.B.

Technical highlights of the powertrain include Subaru’s Active Valve Control and Active Valve Lift technologies, which help optimize power at all engine speeds, the auto maker says.

A 5-speed automatic transmission with improved shift quality is standard on the 3.0 R and optional on turbocharged models, with the spec.B continuing as the only version to be fitted with a 6-speed manual.

Doll declines to confirm if the 3.0 R will be offered with a manual transmission in the future.

Other highlights include new steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters (automatic transmissions only) with rev-matching downshift capability; a Bilstein performance-tuned sport suspension, similar to the spec.B; and standard 18-in. alloy wheels.

Subaru’s Symmetrical All-Wheel-Drive system is standard on all Legacy and Outback models, as are 4-wheel antilock disc brakes with electronic brake-force distribution.

Also standard is Subaru’s 3-stage SI-DRIVE powertrain management system, which gives drivers a central control knob for adjusting the engine and transmission control units and electronic throttle for fuel economy, normal driving or performance.

Dynamically, the ’08 Outback carries over largely unchanged, as the 3.0L 6-cyl. engine and most of the performance improvements were already offered on the ’07 model.

Distinguishing the new ’08 Legacy and Outback are revised exteriors featuring new front and rear fascias and sheetmetal, new headlight and taillight designs and a larger, more pronounced grille with a prominent chrome crossbar housing the Subaru emblem.

Six-cyl. models lose Subaru’s characteristic hood scoop, which funnels air into the top-mount intercooler on turbocharged models.

Inside, all ’08 Legacy and Outback models receive new instrument panels and revised interior fabrics, as well as a new telescoping steering column and integrated ignition key/remote entry units.

Electroluminescent gauges, previously only available on turbocharged models, now are available on 6-cyl. trims, Subaru says, with redesigned, multi-function steering wheels added to vehicles with premium packages.

Pricing for the new Legacy and Outback will be released closer to their early summer on-sale dates, Doll says, noting the auto maker intends to make several more new product announcements this year.

He declines to confirm any specifics, but media reports suggest an all-new 5-door Impreza small car is set to be released sometime this year.