2016 Subaru Legacy

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The car business is weird.'16 Legacy lead

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.

The sole exception is Subaru’s Legacy sedan. It not only offers all-whee-drive, it comes standard with all-wheel-drive.'16 Legacy symmetric AWD

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.

WHAT’S NEW'16 Legacy apps

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.

WHAT’S GOOD

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.

UNDER THE HOOD'16 Legacy 2.4 engine

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.

Only Subaru – and Porsche –  currently build this type of engine.'16 Legacy boxer cut away

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.'16 Legacy 3.6 engine pic

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.

ON THE ROAD'16 Legacy road 1

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.

The Soobie’s “symmetrical” all-wheel-drive isn’t just for snow days, either.'16 Legacy road 2

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.

Visibility is also outstanding – and that’s also unusual.'16 Legacy road 5

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.

A properly set-up CVT is superior in almost every way to a conventional automatic except for one way.'16 Legacy road 3

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.

AT THE CURB'16 Legacy curb 1

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.

Especially in between.'16 Legacy back seats

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.'16 Legacy eyesight2

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.

Neat.'16 Legacy eyesight

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.

THE REST'16 Legacy Starlink

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.

For “safety.”

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.

Go figure.

THE BOTTOM LINE'16 Legacy sweeper

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.

The Legacy 3.6 does have competition, though.'16 Legacy last 2

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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32 COMMENTS

  1. Kind of off-topic, but why does it seem like every new car comes with black carpeting, even if you choose a tan interior? Kia Sorento, Subaru Outback… I’m sure there are more. I dislike black interiors. I feel like I’m sitting in a coal mine. It gets claustrophobic and an all-black interior, not to mention extra hot in the Florida summer (or winter for that matter). Are they selling so many cars that they don’t have to offer options? My girl has a 2007 Highlander with a tan interior. Everything is tan, no black. It is *so* much nicer than black. Drove a 2016 Sorento today that has a “Stone Beige” interior, which includes the sitting area of the seats and a few pieces of trim. Everything else is pitch black. Anybody have any idea why a true tan interior seems to have gone extinct?

    • Hi Phil,

      That’s an interesting observation; gonna go outside and see whether the Dune Beetle I have this week has black carpet, too.

  2. Being that almost all subarus have aw d and come with a manual tran, doesn’t that make them funner, better traction, and handle turns better?

    All the reviews I read about the subarus with awd make them seem boring.

    • They’re very staid cars (WRX excepted). That’s their market. It’s not that they’re slow or handle poorly; it’s that they don’t have much personality. Also, the “safety” stuff is over-the-top. Subaru has become the Japanese Volvo.

  3. Is this correct?

    “Chrysler 200 and the Ford Taurus are less sophisticated units that automatically transfer power from the wheels with grip to those slipping –”

    If so, sounds like they need to rework their AWD systems.
    Perhaps use some sort of limited slip, viscous, Torsen type diffs?

  4. You Google these autos and you will find lots of problems with them, regardless what some consumers magazines or websites may claim. I have see some with bad head gaskets. problems….under 75k miles too.

    • From my internet research, I’ve come to the conclusion that Subaru sorted out the head gasket problems by ’09. This ran from 96 to 09 in their 2.5L engines. From memory, I believe it was gasket material and gasket design. The engine to get, though is the 2.2L! It ran in the Legacy/Outback till 96 and Imprezza till 99.

  5. I have two Subaru Legacies: a 95 and an 05. Easy to work on and fantastic in the snow. I live on a mountain and will only buy AWD cars. Subaru has the best layout, w/the boxer engine and transmission. It was designed from the outset to be AWD. With that praise being said, I absolutely cant stand that every one of these damn cars leaks oil! Every one I’ve ever looked at (used of course) has had some kind of oil leak. What is it? Too many gaskets and mating surfaces due to the boxer layout? If Chevrolets all leaked like this, they would be crucified by the automotive press. But somehow Subary gets a pass (since they are a Japanese mfr) from the press. Have they cleared up the oil leaks in later models???

    • My 2010 has 135,000 miles on the clock. No oil leakage issues. I don’t need any more issues with this car or I’ll drive it into a lake.

    • I’ve notice hard use separates the men from the boys. One reason I loved that old ’93 Chevy Turbo diesel was never a drop of nuttin under it. It got the whee worked out of it carrying overloads along with a hugely overloaded bumper pull trailer. I rebuilt the home made rear bumper(4″ casing) and instead of having the receiver beyond the bumper as is now common, I incorporated it into the bumper so the hitch ball stuck out just enough for the trailer to clear. One trailer had 1200 lbs of hitch weight at minimum and more often. And I never wore out the brake shoes on the rear axle. Being a trucker though, I’m easy on brakes. You learn to not rush down there to the stop and stand on the brakes only to find there’s been an air line leak between there and then. That’ll learn you to stop easy.

  6. Of course one thing that makes it hard to shop a Subaru is their pathetic ad campaign. “Love, it’s a Subaru”. But worse I have always noted two basic types of Subaru drivers. The first are those who drive much more slowly than the speed limit and obstruct traffic on purpose. These are usually recognizable by bumper stickers festooned upon the vehicle reading “coexist”, “Free Tibet”, or some combination of Democrat party propaganda. Odd that you drive an energy inefficient 4wd vehicle when you could be riding a bike. The second are those who have the intellectual conceit that they are driving “a special energy efficient 4wd vehicle” that allows them to occupy the left lane with total impunity. Often speeding, they at least will signal lane changes unlike the typical German vehicle left lane bandit. Check it out.

        • yep… neighbor had one back in the 80s. Another neighbor had a suburu wagon. Same car with two slightly different bodies. Actually if I could get either new today there’s a fair chance I’d buy one. Best would be something that could convert between the two.

        • Yeah, I remember that one. I kind of understand why you would like it in that it was designed to carry passengers in the bed. I am completely turned off by Subarus at the moment, but what I like about the Legacy is that it is extremely roomy, has very good balance and handling, and it is good on gas. Otherwise, the car is very average in terms of acceleration and reliability. I am not sure I will buy one again, though the car choices today are so poor, a Subie still looks okay.

          • One thing about them – about all new cars – that skeeves me out is that there’s just too much electronic crap in them all. There is no way this stuff will endure for 12-plus years without expensive failures. Even a desktop computer that just sits on your desk in a nice warm room and is never subjected to vibration, jarring, extremes of heat and cold… will probably go dark or fritz out after 10 years or so. And it’s just the computer… now add in all the peripherals that comprise a car’s integrated electronic systems.

            No thanks!

  7. If the AWD system still had the “ejection seat” 4WD pushbutton on the gearshift, I wonder what the fuel economy would be.

    Like the old mutt I had to put down a few years ago, I still miss that old hunk of junk XT…

  8. One correction on your article, Eric. The Subaru CVT cars do have a torque converter. It’s smaller than a standard automatic torque converter, and it locks up whenever no slippage is required, however, when you’re starting from a stop, or some slippage would be required, like when climbing up a muddy hill, it does unlock. You can actually feel the lock shaft engaging and dis-engaging as you drive it.

  9. Is it available as a wagon?

    That way it would at least offer a ton of utility to help offset the shortfall of aesthetics and acceleration.

    • The Outback is basically a Legacy wagon. We own one, it’s great, but even with the 3.6 engine, the CVT makes power delivery numb.

  10. Although I hate this car, I don’t necessarily think it’s an indictment of Subaru’s cars, though it bothers me that this 4 cyl doesn’t have 200 hp. It needs it.

    • Hi Swamp,

      First, sorry to hear about your problems… yeesh!

      On the rest: The base four is only slightly less powerful than par for the class. It does ok.

      It’d do better if it were available with a manual six-speed and I wish Subaru would offer it. But you can thank Uncle for that not happening…

      • Eric – Have you seen the story going around about the 2 would-be carjackers in Pittsburgh that abandoned their attempt when they realized the car had a manual trans?

  11. I drive a 2010 Subaru Legacy 2.5i that I bought with 39,000 miles on the odometer. The problems with this car are numerous. I now have 134,000 on it.

    First off, the left front strut rattles like a tambourine at low speeds over teh slightest bump. I have replaced struts, sway links, and mounts to no avail. It drives me nuts.

    The CVT crapped out on me and gave me a CVT TEMP HI light at 125,000. The problem was related to a lockup solenoid in the valve body. The repair cost me $1800. I could have done it cheaper, but I don’t have time for that. It was my only functioning car at the time.

    The car has had electrical problems. A connector in the steering wheel causes the horn to beep when you step on the gas in cold weather. it is due to some nonsense in slip ring type of device in the steering column. I haven’t fixed that yet.

    The headlight harness causes the headlights to burn out about every year. Instead of replacing the harness, I just replace the headlights.

    I am hoping to offload it on someone in the next year if I need the cash.

    • Nothing like a plethora of problem to totally sour you on a vehicle. Sorry to hear it. I think I’d do some sort of car report on it anyway just to see if it had ever been wrecked. That strut problem is suspicious.

      I’ve noticed several people complaining about them burning up headlights. Subaru must have channeled Lucas. I drive a company truck with a flashing red light for the airbag. I never get used to it and don’t think anyone else does either.

      I’d bitch about big rigs I drive but I suppose it’s not germane. It’s all I can do not to though.

      • I bought the car from Car Max. I got the car fax showing it was a one owner vehicle before it was sold to a dealer and then to them. The car was in very straight shape when I bought it.

        I frankly don’t know what to do with the car now. If things were better, I would take both my rides, turn them into cash and get something better. I don’t know what to buy although I only want a car with a manual transmission. I’m sick to death of automatics and sick to death of 4 cylinder cars. That’s the future, so I may have to look a few years back.

        I think that cars built before 2010-11 are better quality. The 11 to present models have the squinty windows and the emissions addled engines.

        • I was once sick of automatics but I had more transmission problems with my last manual pickup than the autos before it. Of course, improperly repaired entered into that equation.

          Back when turbo-diesel pickups still had manual transmissions, they had dual mass flywheels. When they got old, they’d get stiff. I never realized how stiff mine had gotten till a friend drove it and asked how I manged to push the clutch. Then another said the same thing. They opined how my left leg must be larger than my right leg which was the case.

          One day I get out at a convenience store for a six to get back to the house on. When I got back in and depressed the clutch, there was this loud “wham”and my clutch pedal hit the floor. It had blown the line to the slave cylinder. Luckily, I only had a couple stop signs that I didn’t stop at to get on the road home. I rarely stop at a stop sign anyway, at least not a complete stop. I replaced the line and ordered a new flywheel/clutch assembly, a non-dual mass. The guy who put it in(I was recovering from a shoulder problem) was just jamming it up there and not being careful of the then new needlebearing throwout bearing. He screwed it up and the transmission wouldn’t take off smoothly till I paid another guy to replace it, another transmission and transfer case R&R. It went back with a bushing style bearing. I would warn anyone doing this repair on anything to find a bushing bearing instead of the needle bearing. Not much to go wrong with a bushing bearing and esp. since my pickup had a grease zerk for it and the throwout bearing. When the transmission came out and those needle bearings did too, there was no doubt as to the cause of a shuddering engagement.

          This was in front of a New Venture Gear HD OD 3 speed transmission which i rarely used all the gears on anyway. It has a low gear not for regular starting, then 1-3 and OD. One nice thing about diesels is I could start in 2nd and shift to OD. I’d have another manual for that pickup but don’t find a great deal of advantage on a car.

        • Hey Swamp,

          The Jeep Wrangler, Toyota Tacoma or Tundra, and Ford Ranger, all can have 4×4, a manual, and more than 4 cylinders. However, if you wanted something low to the ground, all you got left is BMWs and Audis.

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