On the one hand, you can’t stick your arms out sideways from your body without touching an all-wheel-drive crossover SUV. These things are like Pez dispensers.
They keep coming up with new ones.
And yet, the feature that has arguably made them so popular (all-wheel-drive) is all-but-absent in family-priced mid-sized sedans.
Or, if it is available (few and far between) it is invariably optional.
With either of its two available engines.
There’s nothing else available right now that checks off those boxes.
Most definitely not for $21,745 to start, either.
WHAT IT IS
The Legacy is Subaru’s family car – in the same general class as the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Mazda6 and Nissan Altima and Honda Accord. But while those cars are compelling in various ways, they’re lacking in one important way – no AWD, not even optionally.
They are front-wheel-drive only.
There are a few that offer AWD – the Ford Taurus, for example. But the AWD-equipped Taurus has a base price of $31,390 – almost $10k higher than the AWD Legacy’s base price of $21,745.
You can buy a top-of-the-line Legacy 3.6R Limited for $29,945.
The app suite that comes standard in Premium and Limited trims is cloud based and now includes an automated “send help” function to EMS in the event you have a crash.
Limited trims also get revised (softer) suspension tuning, in contrast to the sportier (firmer) settings used for the other trims.
A family sedan with AWD that doesn’t cost $30k (or more).
AWD/four cylinder version’s gas mileage (36 highway) is actually slightly better than the mileage of several FWD/four cylinder-powered rivals, including Camry (35 highway).
Tech features include Subaru’s EyesSight suite (bundles adaptive cruise, lane departure and forward collision warning/brake intervention) and seat cushion air bags to supplement the usual front (head) air bags.
Deserved reputation for being hard-to-kill.
WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD
The standard AWD system adds weight and slows the Legacy down relative to its FWD rivals.
Six cylinder engine is only available in one trim – the most-expensive Limited 3.6R trim.
Standard all-wheel-drive isn’t the only thing that separates the Legacy from other mid-sized family sedans like the Camry and Accord.
Both the Legacy’s engines – the standard four and the available six – are boxer engines. The name derives from having the pistons opposing each other on opposite sides of the crankshaft, two on each side for the four and three on each side for the six. The layout is inherently balanced vs in-line and “v” type engines, which usually need counterweights or balancers to keep the reciprocating parts from vibrating excessively. Also, having the cylinders laid flat on either side of the crankshaft rather than standing upright or angled (“v” engines) helps balance the car by spreading out the engine’s weight and mounting it lower down in the chassis.
All but the Limited 3.6R come with a 2.5 liter, 175 hp four; the Limited 3.6R comes with a (surprise) 3.6 liter six that makes 256 hp. Both engines come paired with a continuously variable (CVT) automatic that’s programmed to mimic a conventional six-speed automatic. Instead of the CVT-typical turbine-like surge forward, without upshifts along the way, the Legacy’s CVT seems like it’s shifting from first to second to third (and so on). But because no gears are actually changing inside the CVT (because CVTs don’t have gears) there is no shift shock at each “shift.” You’ll see the tachometer rise and fall, but you won’t feel anything.
Or spill anything.
One of the cool things about a CVT-equipped car is you can sip an open cup of coffee during full-throttle acceleration runs and not get most of it on your shirt. CVTs are also more efficient than conventional automatics with fixed (rather than continuously variable) forward speeds. Which is the main reason why CVTs are becoming so common.
Have a look at the Legacy’s mileage stats. Equipped with the 2.5 liter engine, the Legacy rates 26 city, 36 highway – as good or better than its rivals, which are all front-wheel-drive. Remember: Even the few that do offer AWD – models like the Ford Taurus and the Chrysler 200 – only offer it with fuel-greedy six cylinder engines.
Plus, you have to buy the six – which jacks up the price by about $9k vs. the AWD-equipped 2.5i Legacy.
Downside-wise, the AWD-equipped Legacy is heavier than its rivals. Even with the four cylinder engine, a Legacy weighs about the same as a V6-powered Camry (3,468 lbs. for the Soobie vs. 3,480 lbs. for the Toyota) and as a result of this, it’s more than a little bit slower than several of its rivals. Zero to 60 takes about 9.3 seconds, vs. 8.3 for the Camry (and 7.8 for the speedy Honda Accord).
Performance improves with the six, but you’re limited to the Limited 3.6R trim, which is the most expensive Legacy trim. This version of the Legacy is also heavy – 3,666 lbs. (almost 200 pounds heavier than a V6 Camry) but the additional 81 hp is compensatory.
Gas mileage is also very good: 20 city, 29 highway – about 3-4 MPG better overall than the V6/AWD-equipped versions of the Taurus and Chrysler 200.
Neither version of the Legacy is exciting to drive… which is kind of the point. This is a get-you-to-the-church-on-time in a blizzard kind of car.
I live in a rural, shitty winter area. Subarus are very popular here – as they seem to be in all such places.
And not just because they’re AWD.
The Legacy also has more ground clearance, a huge factor when it snows.
About six inches, which is about an inch more than other cars in this class. With the sole exception of the AWD-equipped Chrysler 200, which has about the same clearance (5.8 inches) as the Legacy.
But – remember – to get AWD in that one you’ll have to spend about $9k more than you’d have to spend to get into the AWD-as-it-sits Subaru.
Cornering grip/control is improved by a torque split system that takes in steering angle/yaw rate data and uses that to meter the flow of engine power front to rear (and side to side) as you go. It’s similar to Acura’s Super Handling All-Wheel-Drive, just a lot less pricey. The optional AWD system in the Chrysler 200 and the Ford Taurus are less sophisticated units that automatically transfer power from the wheels losing grip to those that have traction – but just front to back rather than side to side to side.
Though it’s not designed to be – or marketed as – a sporty car, the Legacy’s layout lends itself to hooning, if desired. The low center of gravity (that boxer engine, hunkered down in the chassis), fast steering (2.8 turns, lock to lock), a tighter turning circle than its AWD-available rivals (38.1 feet vs. 39.2 for the 200 and 39.5 for the Taurus) plus the the WRX-related AWD make fun possible in car that doesn’t look it is … which has its advantages.
The typical new car is very safe if you wreck it, but you’re more likely to wreck it because of the girder-like windshield/roof pillars needed to support the weight of the car if it turns upside down. Subaru manages to comply with federal roof crush standard without crimping your view of what’s going on around you. The seats also have more-than-usual adjustment range, in particular up and down.
Whether you go with the four or the six, the CVT comes with paddle shifters and manual control over the “gear” changes. What actually happens is the CVT’s ratio varies, which amounts to the same thing except without the coffee-spilling transition you’d experience with a conventional automatic during that brief moment when the power has to be transferred from one gear to the next. The reason for the lurch or snap or “shift shock” (or whatever you’d like to call it) is because it’s a literal/physical step up from first to second and second to third (and so on) whereas in a CVT, the power just surges and flows forward, linearly.
Because there’s no torque converter in the typical CVT, initial off-the-line acceleration can be a little sluggish. A torque converter is a fluid (hydraulic) connection between the engine and the transmission that is designed to allow a little slippage (kind of like feathering the clutch in a car with a manual transmission) when you fist stomp on the gas, so that the engine can rev up a little to where it begins to make real power, which helps the car accelerate more quickly from a dead stop.
The Legacy’s CVT doesn’t have a torque converter, so it takes the car a moment to gather its breath if you floor it from a dead stop – but your compensation is ultra-smooth power delivery no matter how hard you mash the gas… along with excellent gas mileage, too.
Not that the Legacy is ugly (it’s not). But there are prettier girls in the room (Mazda6).
However, the Legacy isn’t counting on sex appeal to sell itself.
It previously relied on being more or less the only AWD car in its class, but that’s being challenged by models like the Chrysler 200 and the Ford Taurus (and Fusion), which at least offer AWD.
So, Subaru upped its game by upping the Legacy’s size.
The current model is 1.3 inches longer than the last-generation Legacy (188.8 inches vs. 187.2 previously) and about three-quarters of an inch wider (72.4 inches vs. 71.7 before). It’s not a difference your eyes can pick up, but it’s one you’ll notice when you climb in.
Legroom has been increased to 38.1 inches in the second row, competitive with others in this class – but hip room has been expanded hugely. There’s 55.5 inches up front now – and 55 in the second row – vs. 54.5 up front and 53.9 in the second row in the previous-generation Legacy.
These dimensional adjustments have made the Legacy a true mid-sized car rather than a mid-sized car leaning toward a compact-sized car.
The trunk is still a bit smaller than others in this class – but only slightly so: 15 cubic feet vs. 15.4 for the Camry, 15.8 for the Accord and 16 cubes for the Chrysler 200. The Taurus cleans all their clocks with a Goodfellas worthy 20.1 cubic foot trunk.
The optional EyeSight pedestrian-detection and collision avoidance system differs from other such systems in having the cameras it uses to detect pedestrians and potential collisions mounted up high, near the upper edge of the windshield, rather than down low in the front bumper – as is usual practice. Subaru says this increases the system’s field of vision – putting it on the same plane as the driver’s actual eyes (hence the name).
The system also includes “responsive” cornering lights. Cock the wheel to the left and the left-hand light comes on to give you a better view of the inside of the curve. Cock it to right and the right-side light triggers – to give you a better view of the road’s edge and shoulder.
The Lane Departure Warning system is bundled with Lane Keep Assist, which is a kind of semi-autonomous steering. If you don’t correct, the car will – within limits. I’m unconvinced of the merits of these systems – generally. No slam on Subaru’s in particular. Arguably, they encourage inattentive driving as much as correct for it. And the Buzzer Assault and Light Show is without question enervating. The system, which uses cameras to read the painted lines in the road, hasn’t got a brain – so it can’t tell the difference between you wandering out of your lane and deliberately making say a left turn across a painted line. Cue the Buzzer Assault and Light Show.
Despite both of the Legacy’s engines being high-compression engines (10.3:1 for the four and 10.5:1 for the six) they both are designed to run on regular unleaded rather than premium fuel. They also both use chains rather than belts to drive their camshafts – and chains are more durable (and longer-lived) than belts.
Subaru also thoughtfully designed the engines to be easy to service – routine service, anyhow. The oil filter is mounted on top of the engine where it is easier to see (and get your hands on). The drain plug is located on the underside of the engine (of course) but access is made easier by purposeful design of the exhaust piping with oil changes in mind.
Negatives: The seat heaters are mediocre and the LCD touchscreen isn’t the easiest to use. One annoying thing it does is revert o Channel 1 (Sirius/XM) at start-up rather than remain tuned to whatever station you’d previously been listening to. And like other touchscreen systems, some apps and functions can’t be engaged unless the car is stationary.
It’s odd. They put all these potentially distracting features into cars and then turn them off/limit their usage in order to avoid distracting you.
The four cylinder Legacy has been criticized by some reviewers for being under-engined but context is necessary. It’s the only four cylinder-powered sedan in this class that’s AWD-equipped. And it’s still quicker than the four-cylinder/FWD Chrysler 200 (9.2 seconds to 60).
Regardless, people who buy Subarus revere them for their ability to continue accelerating when the weather turns ugly. What good is a Camry or Accord’s ability to get to 60 a second sooner on dry pavement when you can’t get out of the driveway on a snow day?
If more speed is desired, there’s the Limited 3.6R. It’s not as quick as the V6 Camry or Accord… but (again) context. Those cars are FWD-only.
Subaru’s decision to offer the larger engine only in the more expensive Limited R trim makes inevitable cross-shopping it vs. the AWD-equipped Chrysler 200 and Taurus. It’s a harder choice to go Subaru at this point because now you’re not saving a small fortune – and the Chrysler and the Ford are appealing cars in their own right that offer some things the Subaru doesn’t, such as much more power and speed (V6 200) or much more room (Taurus).
Still, the volume Legacy is the four cylinder Legacy and that one’s hard to argue with… if you want AWD and don’t want to pay a small fortune for it.
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