2020 Subaru Legacy

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How much can buying a trunk save you?

About four thousand bucks.

That’s the difference – in price – between the new Subaru Legacy and the new Subaru Outback, which is a Legacy  . . . without the trunk.

Both are mechanically identical and almost physically identical – except for the Outback being a wagon and the Legacy the sedan on which it’s based.

The only things you get less of for your money are cargo room – and ground clearance. Which may matter less to you than the $4k you didn’t spend to get them.

What It Is

The Legacy is the sedan version of the Outback wagon – or the reverse, depending on how you view it.

It’s also the only large sedan with a price that starts under $23k that comes standard with all-wheel-all-drive. Most of the sedans in the same-size range like the Toyota Camry and the Honda Accord don’t even offer it – and they cost more without it.

The Legacy’s base price is $22,745 with all-wheel-drive vs. $23,870 for an Accord sedan without it. A Camry without AWD is even pricier – $24,425 to start.

Both these Legacy rivals do have some things  the Legacy lacks – such as a stronger standard engine in the case of the Camry – and a larger trunk (and an available manual transmission in the case of the Accord).

That said, the Legacy is still the most affordable large sedan with standard AWD on the market.

And it can be a powerful sedan, too – when ordered with its optional turbocharged engine, which is available in the Limited XT  ($34,195) and Touring XT ($35,895) trims.

What’s New

The Legacy gets a major makeover for 2020, including new bodywork, an updated interior with a huge (11.6 inch) LCD touchscreen and a new new optional turbocharged four cylinder engine, which replaces the old Legacy’s optional six-cylinder engine.

The standard engine gets a little stronger, too.

What’s Good

An Outback without the Outback price.

Costs less with AWD than FWD-only rivals.

Large, easy to use LCD touchscreen.

What’s Not So Good

Powerful optional 2.4 liter engine is restricted to the pricey Limited and Touring trims.

Sedan’s trunk has about a third the space of the wagon’s cargo area.

Unpleasant (and unavoidable) Auto-stop/start is standard.

Under The Hood

The new Legacy comes standard with an updated version of the previous Legacy’s standard 2.5 liter horizontally-opposed four cylinder engine – now making 182 horsepower vs. 175 horsepower last year. As before, it’s paired with a continuously variable (CVT) automatic transmission and Subaru’s “symmetric” all-wheel-drive, so-called because the boxer engine is exactly half on one side of the car’s centerline and the other half on the other side.

So equipped, the Legacy can make it to 60 in 8.5 seconds.

Interestingly, this very high-compression engine (12.0:1) is optimized to burn 87 octane regular gas. Usually, an engine running a CR that high would require high-octane premium and for this reason high-CR engines used to be found only in high-performance cars – because people who bought them cared more about horsepower than the cost of premium.

But high-compression is also efficient; if you can rig an engine to have higher cylinder pressure it will burn less gas, too. The trick is to do that without requiring the high octane gas so that you can get the benefit of better efficiency without the cost of unleaded premium.

Subaru did it.

Another thing Subaru did was to add a port fuel-injection circuit to address any potential carbon-crudding issues that might have arisen as a result of using direct injection to fed the engine (the DI makes possible the high CR without the high octane).

The previously optional 3.6 liter horizontally opposed six cylinder engine unfortunately no longer is. Its place has been taken by a turbocharged 2.4 liter engine that has two fewer cylinders but makes more horsepower – 260 vs. 258 previously – and matches the old car’s performance while delivering better gas mileage, which increases to 24 city, 32 highway vs. 20 city, 28 highway previously.

This engine – also designed for 87 octane regular unleaded – is also paired with the CVT and AWD.

Both engines are also paired with ASS – automated engine stop/start. It’s like opting for a an-car paint shaker except it’s not optional. And it’s almost that bad. Some ASS-equipped cars (which is almost all new cars – thanks to Uncle) stop and re-start their engines such that you almost don’t notice it.

The Legacy’s system is hard not to notice.

Which is probably why you’re not allowed to avoid it.

On The Road

The Legacy isn’t as speedy as rivals like the Camry and Accord but they can’t rival its tenaciousness – because they don’t even offer all-wheel-drive.

This  tenaciousness is tempered somewhat by the Legacy’s lower-to-the-ground stance. It has 5.9 inches of clearance, about the same as the others in the class and a lot less than the Outback’s 8.7 inches of clearance.

But the payoff is more sure-footed high-speed stability vs. the Outback combined with higher cornering grip than its FWD-only mid-size sedan rivals.

Another thing the Legacy has is legs. It can travel 647 miles on 18.5 gallons of gas (with the 2.5 liter engine). This is comparable to the range of no-longer-available diesel-powered cars like the (RIP) VW Passat and Jetta TDI – which got RIP’d for cheating on government emissions certification tests.

Something else the Legacy has is shifts – which is strange – because CVT automatics don’t have gears. The whole point of the CVT is to continuously vary the mechanical ratio between the engine and transmission and final drive for maximum efficiency at any road speed.

A conventional automatic’s gears (whether 1-6 or 1-10) are each of them a compromise ratio with the in-between gears kind of like the open spots you jump over when crossing a creek by jumping from rock to rock. That’s why cars with geared automatics usually use a bit more gas than the same car with a CVT. And that’s why so many new cars come with CVTs.

But, many people dislike the shift-less feel of the CVT; so Subaru designed its “Lineartronic” CVT to emulate shifts – eight of them, which you can shift for yourself using steering wheel mounted + and – paddle shifters.

The difference is there’s no shift shock when you change “gears” – because there are no gears meshing and unmeshing. The revs are held – and released – as at each transition, which gives the impression of the transmission shifting.

But it doesn’t really.

The upside is a more “normal” feel – and higher MPGs.

The downside is that CVTs aren’t as responsive as geared automatics, though this is much less noticeable than when CVTs  first began to appear back in the late ’90s. And part of this is due to the engines CVTs are paired with today.

They aren’t underpowered. Even the Legacy’s base engine. It may be less powerful than the Soobie’s optional engine – and relative to other engines that are available today. But it’s still making just shy of 200 horsepower, which for some sense of things is about as much power as the most powerful V8s were making in the early ’80s and much more powerful than the heaving, tuburcular fours that were paired with the first-gen CVTs of the late ’90s and early 2000s.

For example, a late ’90s Honda Civic paired a gaspy 115 hp engine with its first gen CVT and the result was lots of noise because the engine had to be kept floored almost constantly just t keep the thing moving. The CVT enhanced this noise because it kept the revs high as long as you kept your foot down.

Those problems largely no longer exist because there’s sufficient power to get (and keep) the car moving without having to keep the pedal to the floor – and the engine revving near redline.

One other thing worth mentioning that’s different is the Legacy’s ride – which is softer than most of the others in the class, which emphasize sportiness. And they are – more so than the Legacy, which is clearly tuned for an easier-going pace. There’s nothing wrong with either, of course. But it’s nice that the option to choose is available in this case.

The others in the class try too hard to be like each other.

The Legacy’s virtue is that it’s . . . different.

At The Curb

The new Legacy – like the new Camry and Accord – has been restyled with an eye toward making it more appealing to the eye, to make up for the sedan layout not appealing as much to people’s sensibilities – the main appeal of wagons like the Outback.

It’s a more noticeable car than before. Less dad bod; more toned.

And it’s a bit more practical than before. A slight increase in overall length – 190.6 inches now vs. 189.1 before – carves out about an inch more backseat legroom than before (39.5 inches now vs. 38.1 previously).

However, trunk space – 15.1 cubic feet – remains about the same. It’s comparable to other sedans in the class like the Camry (also  15.1 cubic feet) but can’t compare with the Outback’s 32.5 cubic feet – which more than doubles to 75.7 cubic feet when you lower the back seats.

The Honda Accord noses ahead a bit here, class-best backseat legroom (40.4 inches) and a full-size car’s 16.7 cubic foot trunk.

But, no AWD.

Something else that’s different about the Legacy is its seat heaters, which also heat your shoulders. Most other cars that offer seat heaters warm your buns – and your back.

Not the rest.

The car is also available with something you may have a differing opinion of called Driver Focus Distraction Mitigation – which is no easy thing to say out loud correctly on the first attempt. It used facial recognition tech to keep track of your eye movements. If your eyes wander from the road, the car scolds you with a chime and yellow warning screen that pops up in the center of the main gauge cluster.

Is it a gimmick – or sound?

It depends. Some people can probably glance to the left or right without taking their eyes off the road and in such cases, being beeped at is itself a distraction. But some people may benefit from a little correction.

And the good news is you can choose whether to buy your Legacy equipped with it – or not.

Unlike ASS, which comes standard in every trim.

One other thing the Soobie offers that many buyers will probably want is the available Steering Responsive turns-with-the-wheel headlights. This isn’t a gimmick. It absolutely increases what you see – and sooner.

The Rest

Almost all new cars have LCD touchscreens but only a few have touchscreens as large as the Legacy’s optionally available 11.6 unit – which occupies most of the center stack. The size addresses the main weakness of the touchscreen interface, which is that it’s sometimes hard to see – and accurately touch – the usually small icons for the various functions.

Arguably, touchscreens ought to all be this large – so as to reduce  the problem of drivers squinting at and fumbling for the right icon as they hurtle down the road at 70 MPH.

The Bottom Line

The new Legacy goes almost anywhere the new Outback can – for less.

Just pack a bit less.

. . .

Got a question about cars, Libertarian politics – or anything else? Click on the “ask Eric” link and send ’em in!

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  1. So when was the Outback introduced?

    We had a mid-90s Legacy wagon and it was certainly not an Outback. It had very low ground clearance. It proved to be not at all suitable for muddy roads despite being AWD.

  2. Apparently you can turn off ASS, but not permanently – you need to go thru a couple of menus each time you start the car. But when you ask the salesman if you can turn it off, he can (kind of) truthfully say “yes”

  3. I have a 2007 WRX, and I pray it lasts forever, as it does not have the safety crap on it. I recently drove a Cross Trek rental, while I was getting maintenance work done, and yep, the Cross Trek had the saaaafety stuff on it. Even with the steering assist turned off, it would still try and fight me on the road. Sorry, but in this neck of the woods, when it snow, the path on the road is where the road is clear, and it may not be exactly in between the lines. There was a bell for the tire pressure changing, a ding for when I reached optimal gas mileage, etc. God help me, I wish I never had to buy another new car ever again. For it really does beg the question: With this saaaafety crap on the vehicle, who is driving it, me or the computer? And who is liable when the computer screws up?

  4. Ah, the Smirking Catfish. Judging the looks of a car by taking a front quarter pick with the maker moniker just out of the picture, it would be difficult to say what brand it is. You could mistake a car and pickup. Where IS John Galt?

  5. It’s kind of funny… when learning to drive, many years ago, my mother would tell me to keep your eyes moving,,, constant scanning. Glance to the left, then the right with a check of the rear view mirror in between. When changing lanes always look first. And look several hundred feet ahead if possible. When I drove truck I was instructed to scan. Motorcycle training emphasizes constant scanning of traffic all around you. Even when getting my instrument rating scanning was most important.
    Now it appears they want your eyes glued to the road in front of you,,, zombie driving with both hands death gripped to the steering wheel.
    Something about a machine observing / correcting my operating habits that bothers me…. Why is Man so intent on removing Man?

  6. Credit where due….Subaru styling is (ever so) slowly, but surely becoming less stodgy.
    And ASS plus Driver Focus Distraction Mitigation (DFDM??)…how much more fun could a car possibly deliver?
    Best of all, those “synthetic” CVT shifts are every bit as classy as artificial wood grain dash trim.

    Subaru.. “The car for folks who will only wear Crocs.”

  7. Looks like Subaru’s response to Hyundai’s new sonata. Sedans are coming back! Myles makes a good point. Can the ability to turn off ASS and other “assist” systems become a part of your “what’s good” “what’s not so good” analyses?

  8. If it were available with an manual transmission (or even a traditional, planetary-gearset-equipped automatic), I might be interested. It seems like a lot of car for the money, and I dig the Subaru quirkiness.

    I owned an ’02 Legacy GT that I’d probably still be driving had the head gaskets not sprung external oil leaks. Have Subaru solved the head gasket issues?

    Did you write that it’s not possible to disable the ASS? I can’t abide that; my car, my fuel.

    By the way, thanks for the amazing content, Eric. I always look forward to reading EPA.

    • My internet research says they fixed the head gaskets in ‘09. Look for the 2.5L that has the timing chain (vs belt) and oil filter in *top* of the engine. Those are the ones that have the HG issue worked out

      • Our neighbor had a 2010 with the gasket problem. It suddenly ran low on oil so many times that I told her to quick go trade it in. Supposedly, they fixed it with the 2011 models.

        She went out and bought a rental 2017. So far I guess it’s been fine, but I would have a hard time ever buying from a make that had problems like that (well, excepting the Chevy Vega because it was only that one model and engine).


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