The Subaru Legacy is a midsize sedan we think is underrated. It’s under-recognized because its looks get lost in the crowd, and its standard all-wheel drive has come to be taken for granted.
If you want all-wheel drive in a midsize sedan, your only other choices are the Ford Fusion and Chrysler 200, and only in their higher-priced models. The Legacy compares well against the front-wheel-drive Honda Accord and Toyota Camry, neither of which has special looks either, but they’re more popular because they’re Honda and Toyota, and there are more powertrains to choose from. Not necessarily better, just more.
The Car Connection named Legacy “Best Car to Buy” in 2015.
As a midsize car, the Subaru Legacy is about as big as it can get without being considered large. The government sets 120 cubic feet in the cabin and trunk as the midsize limit, terminology-wise, and the Legacy comes in at 119.6, after Subaru added a couple inches of width and 1.6 inches to the wheelbase for this generation. So it’s heavy for a midsize, about 3500 pounds, but the weight doesn’t show.
For 2017, Legacy offers a Sport package with bigger wheels and chrome trim on the rocker panels, with two-tone cloth upholstery with accent stitching and carbon fiber touches on the dashboard.
Base powertrain is a 2.5-liter horizontally opposed four-cylinder making 175 horsepower and mated to a continuously variable transmission (CVT) with paddle shifters.
The Legacy Limited uses a 3.6-liter horizontally opposed six-cylinder making 256 horsepower, but it’s not our choice because it’s thirsty and its torque doesn’t match its size. It’s rated by the EPA at 20/28/23 miles per gallon City/Highway/Combined.
The four-cylinder 2.5-liter comes in with much better scores: 26/36/30 mpg, thanks partly to active grille shutters that manage airflow and aerodynamics. Considering it’s four-wheel drive, those high numbers take on more meaning; the AWD four-cylinder Ford Fusion gets much poorer fuel economy with 5 less miles per gallon, while the front-wheel-drive Honda Accord and Chevrolet Malibu only get one more mile per gallon. If you want the maximum fuel mileage from a midsize sedan, there’s the Toyota Camry Hybrid, rated at 43/39/41 miles per gallon. Run into a snow storm and you’ll prefer being in the Subaru.
The NHTSA gives the Legacy five stars in crash safety, while the IIHS gives it top scores in every tests, including the notoriously difficult small-overlap frontal test, to earn its coveted Top Safety Pick+ . The IIHS also rated the Legacy’s available forward collision safety systems on the Legacy Superior.
Subaru’s EyeSight safety system bundles together active safety equipment including adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, lane-departure warning, and forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking. Blind-spot monitors and rear cross-traffic alerts can be added. The Legacy can be made safer on paper than cars costing much more.
The 2017 Subaru Legacy ($21,995) comes with cloth upholstery, manual air conditioning, rearview camera, 6.2-inch touchscreen with infotainment and internet streaming.
Legacy Premium ($23,995) upgrades the seats, automatic climate control and other features. Legacy Limited gets leather upholstery and upgraded suspension.
Legacy 3.6R Limited ($31,640) features the six-cylinder engine.
Subaru Legacy’s sheet metal is conservative and subtle. It’s only daring at the steeply raked windshield and the mildly sculpted fenders and lower bodywork. You can’t see the aluminum hood, but it’s nice to know it’s there, and it saves weight.
The new Sport package adds some style, with 18-inch wheels and a gray grille with chrome accents.
The grille has six sides, and, because it’s tall and the nose is blunt it visually fits the Outback SUV better than it does the Legacy sedan. It doesn’t clash with the sides, which are nicely proportioned, even a bit elegant.
The Legacy is roomy and well appointed, with a 6.2- or 7.0-inch touchscreen, or metallic or wood trim, depending on the model. The instrument panel is clean, the gauges lit in cool blue, the knobs and switches metallic, the vents stacked near the top of the dash. The packaging is good, with big cupholders and a shallow covered bin containing a power outlet and two USB chargers. The console can hold an iPad.
The optional leather is excellent, but the bolstering in the seats is maybe only a bit better than average. The Nissan Altima front seats are way better (but not the rears). Legacy beats the Ford Fusion in the rear, where the legroom is a respectable 38.1 inches, same as the Malibu with its three-inch longer wheelbase, but a bit less than the Accord, Camry, and Passat. The Legacy’s rear seat splits 60/40 and folds, something that can’t be said about the base Accord.
With the rear seat down, there’s a cutout that expands the trunk’s 15.0 cubic feet. The trunk lid itself is wide and square, making it easy to load big things.
Thanks to a new acoustic windshield, thicker windows, more insulation in the floor, and liquid-filled engine mounts, the Legacy’s cabin is very quiet, and the visibility is great, thanks to slim roof pillars.
Besides Subaru, only Porsche uses the horizontally opposed engine design, and Subaru has been doing it for 50 years. With the cylinders in a horizontal position the engine is more compact, and fits lower in the chassis, for a lower center of gravity and better handing. The disadvantage is fuel consumption, because the package, also called boxer or flat, is a bit more complex than an inline or vee layout.
The 2.5-liter flat-four makes 175 horsepower and 174 pound-feet of torque, while the 3.6-liter boxer-six makes 256 hp and 247 lb-ft. The smaller engine gasps for power, and the torque in the bigger engine isn’t fully available at a low rpm range, so it accelerates at a leisurely pace.
Our best solution is to go with the 2.5-liter engine and work the paddle shifters of the excellent CVT that feels like a six-speed automatic. But it still takes at least a couple downshift clicks to make the acceleration interesting. Unfortunately, unlike with the Forester or Outback, Subaru doesn’t offer its SI-Drive in the Legacy to punch up the throttle response, a give the CVT eight steps.
We like the feel of the electric power steering, which increases its weight as you turn. The Legacy tracks well, drives easy, and unwinds smartly from tight corners.
Subaru Legacy has many virtues, including base price, fuel mileage, interior room, likeable CVT, safety, and all-wheel drive. But acceleration isn’t one of them, and that might be a dealbreaker for some. All-wheel drive is the best reason to choose the Legacy.
Sam Moses contributed to this review, with driving impressions by The Car Connection.