‘What is wrong with the middle?’ asked a recent advertising campaign for a delicious, buttery substance. It had a good point when it comes to dairy products.

There is nothing more annoying than trying to apply butter with a consistency measured using geological surveying equipment to a freshly baked baguette, while there is nothing more off-putting than soft, greasy pats that feel disconcertingly close to body temperature.

Things are slightly different with cars. Being at the top of the tree is clearly the ideal, assuming you can deal with the stress of trying to stay there. Yet being an underdog has its advantages, too.

Some brands seem to have been eternally up-and-coming and it does them little harm. It’s fashionable to be able to claim you saw a manufacturer’s rise to prominence coming — that you've been driving a particular brand for a while because you picked up on the quality, the economy, the value for money before the herd.

The middle is less rewarding, however. Subaru makes reliable, worthy and occasionally quite dashing cars — but the Japanese manufacturer is not enough of an underdog or market leader to garner popular support, meaning the qualities of models like the Legacy Tourer can get overlooked.

We can address that right here. First, you will struggle to find a more spacious vehicle in the Legacy’s price range.

Yes, it has a bulky body — its dimensions exaggerated by a highly-contemporary executive exterior — but the Legacy still looks and feels like a traditional estate car and not an SUV or crossover.

Rear leg room is impressive and masses of headroom gives the interior an accommodating feel. The boot is enormous, with the big fifth door opening to reveal a cavernous load space.

Second, it is extremely practical. The Legacy’s four-wheel drive system is robust and proven. For drivers who regularly need the advantage of additional traction for negotiating treacherous surfaces or towing it is a real boon.

But little touches are equally important. Folding the rear seats, for example, is a process made easier by release handles conveniently located in the boot.

A luggage net is present even on the base level S model to stop items being battered around in the rear, while there is masses of storage up front and the doors open to a sensibly wide angle.

Third, it is very well equipped, with heated seats as standard on the entry model, an electric parking brake and hill-hold assist selectable using a separate button.

As a large and versatile estate car it ticks all the boxes, but it has the potential to fall flat in the engine department. Perhaps the closest rival to the Legacy Tourer in terms of pricing, space and four-wheel drive availability is the Skoda Superb estate, but Subaru does not have such a varied range of Volkswagen engines to fall back on. Fortunately, it does have its unique Boxer diesel. The two-litre unit offers an excellent blend of performance and economy, reaching 62mph in a reasonably lag-free 9.6 seconds while returning 46.3 mpg.

It also returns an impressive degree of refinement at speed. At motorway pace, and making the most of the cruise control on the Outback model, the engine is a distant and faint hum. It’s smooth for a diesel unit and the long sixth ratio helps keeps revs to a minimum.

Another advantage is the flat configuration, meaning it can be positioned low in the engine bay. That shows when it comes to agility and, although the ride is extremely comfortable — helped by the long wheel base and smaller diameter wheels with more cushioned tyres of the S model — the Legacy Tourer can turn in quite sharply and with comparatively little roll and flex. The four-wheel traction helps this.

It is an unlikely car to thrash around of course, even with the provocative bonnet scoop for the turbocharger, and the executive interior has a more calming influence.

As with the exterior, build quality is extremely impressive. Although the materials don’t match the level of more sophisticated rivals, they look and feel smart and robust. A traditional centre console is uninspired but highly functional, as is the control-equipped steering wheel.

If Subaru were to introduce the Legacy under a crafty pseudonym, it would be challenging for the ‘best newcomer’ title in a flash.

Familiarity may cause it to be overlooked, but it is worthy of greater recognition.

Model: Subaru Legacy Tourer 2.0D S Peformance: 0-62mph: 9.6 seconds, top speed 120mph Economy: 46.3mpg CO2 emissions: 161g/km

Price: £23,745 Web: www.subaru.co.uk