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Editor's note: This review was written in July 2009 about the 2010 Subaru Legacy. Little of substance has changed with this year's model. To see what's new for 2011, click here, or check out a side-by-side comparison of the two model years.
The Subaru Legacy has been redesigned for 2010 and now boasts a bigger backseat and improved gas mileage, with the same nimble steering the 2009 model had. Snowbelt drivers will appreciate its standard all-wheel drive, which few competitors offer.
Among midsize family sedans, the Legacy is a jack of all trades. In trying to do everything, though, it doesn't master very much. The Legacy doesn't feel as high-rent as some of its competitors — particularly the suburb-infesting Honda Accord. Nor will its polarizing styling work for everyone.
The 2010 Legacy — you can compare it with the '09 model here — comes in base, Premium and Limited trim levels, with a four- or six-cylinder engine. The related Outback wagon, also redesigned for 2010, is covered here. I drove a four-cylinder Legacy Limited. There's also a turbocharged four-cylinder available in Premium and Limited trims, though it only comes with a stick shift.
On the Road
Today's four-cylinder family cars are hardly the dogs they used to be (my point of reference being the mid-90s Accord I drove in high school — a car that won me few stoplight-revving contests and even fewer dates). The Legacy gets up and goes without protest, with around-town oomph that's comparable to a four-cylinder Accord or Toyota Camry. At highway speeds, Subaru's continuously variable automatic transmission takes a while to serve up the passing power you asked for, and the same is true on hills. If you prefer to shift your own gears — or just want to save $1,000 — a six-speed manual comes standard.
The all-wheel-drive system provides a confident grip — six-cylinder models get a more sophisticated all-wheel-drive system that's supposed to give the car a more rear-wheel-drive-like experience — and the steering wheel carves corners with admirable precision. Unfortunately, those same maneuvers cause excessive body roll, like you'd expect in a Camry. Subaru says suspension tuning is the same across all variants.
Ride quality is good and wind noise is low, but road noise with my test car's 17-inch wheels seemed loud. Above 70 mph, crosswinds can make the steering wheel a bit jittery. I spent a good chunk of time on the interstate making minor corrections to stay on course. The Camry has its own problems — mostly its numb, lollygagging highway steering — but the Accord feels more settled than the other two.
Gas mileage, at an EPA-estimated 23/31 mpg city/highway with the CVT, is better than last year's four-speed automatic Legacy, but it trails segment leaders like the 33-mpg Camry and Chevrolet Malibu and the 34-mpg Ford Fusion. Subaru's standard all-wheel drive adds weight. With that in mind, its mileage is hardly below par: The all-wheel-drive Fusion's best mpg numbers are 18/25 mpg (though that's with a V-6 engine). Ford doesn't offer all-wheel drive with the four-cylinder, so the Legacy's price of entry for an all-wheel-drive midsize sedan is roughly $8,000 less than Ford's, with 5 mpg of fuel savings to boot.
The Legacy's gas mileage with a manual transmission and non-turbo four-cylinder is 19/27 mpg. Trade the 170-horsepower four-cylinder for either of the more powerful drivetrains — the 256-hp six-cylinder with a five-speed automatic or a 265-hp, turbo four-cylinder with a six-speed manual — and mileage drops to 18/25 mpg.
Horsepower fans, take note: The turbocharged Legacy requires premium fuel. Other drivetrains use regular gas.
I liked the outgoing Legacy. Its appearance — assertive up front, aggressive in profile — set it apart from a number of tubbier-looking competitors. Sadly, times have changed. The Legacy has caught up in girth, which Subaru says was in response to shoppers finding the last one too small. It isn't appreciably heavier by the numbers, but it no longer looks skinny, at least to my eyes.
The actual styling is a whole other affair. I see some Infiniti G37 up front, a Saab 9-5 in back and some Subaru Impreza along the sides. I find it not so much controversial — that can be a good thing — as simply overwrought, chaotic even. It's no worse than the Accord, another car stuck nursing wounds from the ugly stick. Decide for yourself about the Legacy's appeal, and drop me an email when you do.
The cabin boasts more conventional lines and adult-friendly room, with a number of welcome changes. The doors now have window frames, yielding a more substantial thunk when you shut them. The backseat gains 4 inches of legroom, Subaru says, and it's about as roomy as the Accord's, which has been a benchmark for backseat comfort since its 2008 redesign.
Still, I can't shake the feeling that the interior feels low-rent. Too many areas — the wood trim, the silver-painted center controls, the italicized gauges — look trendy, chintzy almost, as if Subaru picked style over substance in a dozen small ways. (To be fair, other Cars.com staffers found the interior quality more to their liking.) The center controls feel needlessly crammed together, and major dials like volume and stereo tuning are too small to find without looking away from the road. The leather upholstery falls closer to Mazda6 territory than to Accord or Camry cowhide. Small gripes, perhaps, but the sum of them all determines whether a cabin feels like something $20,000 to $30,000 ought to get you. Relative to an Accord, Malibu or Fusion, the Legacy's interior feels a few grand short.
Drivers of various sizes should find the space adequate, thanks to long adjustment ranges for both seats. The front seats have less padding than the Fusion's or Camry's chairs, however, and my back grew sore over a few long interstate trips. Shorter drivers should also note that the center armrest doesn't extend forward to accommodate their elbows, as several competitors' armrests now do.
Cargo volume, at 14.7 cubic feet, is comparable to that of an Accord or Camry. If you're looking to pack in suitcases or golf clubs, the Mazda6 and Fusion lead the pack with more than 16 cubic feet apiece.
The optional navigation system includes a large screen with excellent graphics and plenty of street labels, but some simple actions — canceling route guidance, for instance — require an excessive number of intermediary screens.
An MP3 jack is standard on all trims, and the navigation system adds USB/iPod integration. The iPod controls leave something to be desired: A few songs into my iPod's classic rock playlist, I wanted to meander off into some deeper Who cuts. No dice. As Subaru later confirmed, the Legacy's system doesn't let you change playlists, albums or artists unless the car is stopped. I'll agree that distracted driving should be avoided — which is why a lot of navigation systems don't allow you to enter new destinations while you're on the move — but locking out simple music changes is equivalent to barring radio-station changes during a road trip. I've never seen another system that does this. It's nannying at its worst, and it defeats the point of having a massive song library on your iPod in the first place.
The navigation system includes a backup camera, something many family sedans now include. Just a few years ago, you were lucky to find backup cameras in luxury cars.
Safety & Pricing
The new Legacy has yet to be tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Standard safety features for 2010 include six airbags, an electronic stability system and antilock brakes. Click here to see the full list. Active head restraints are no longer included — they were standard last year — but Subaru says the 2010 Legacy's seats use a whiplash-mitigating design.
The base Legacy 2.5i starts at $19,995. That's $800 less than last year, and in league with competitors' base trims — not bad, given the Legacy's standard all-wheel drive. Other four-cylinder trims include the 2.5i Premium and 2.5i Limited. The six-cylinder Legacy 3.6R comes in base ($24,995), Premium ($25,995) and Limited ($27,995) trims, while the turbocharged 2.5GT comes only as a Premium ($27,995) or Limited ($29,995). Premium models get a power driver's seat, while the Limited adds a power passenger seat, leather upholstery and dual-zone automatic climate control. Heated seats, a moonroof and Harman Kardon audio are optional across most trims; the navigation system is optional only on the Limited trim level.
Check all the boxes, and a 2.5GT Limited tops out around $33,000.
Legacy in the Market
Subaru calls the 2010 Legacy a response to what its customers wanted — durability, value and performance, with a bit more cabin room. Those customers ought to be happy: The Legacy is all that, and it should continue to serve as a mildly unconventional alternative for buyers who equate Accord or Camry ownership with a voyage of the bland. Whether Subaru can go toe-to-toe with those heavy hitters, however, remains to be seen. The Legacy will find its buyers, but until Subaru irons out some usability issues and moves its cabin quality upstream, its midsize sedan will have a tough time breaking into the mainstream.
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