For 2015, the Subaru Legacy has overcome the fuel economy penalty of standard all-wheel drive while delivering all-season capability in a handsome package, inside and out. It's now one of the most affordable cars in its class.
The prototypical family sedan is a relatively simple formula. It needs a comfortable ride, acceptable power, and plenty of space for said family and their stuff. One thing most sedan shoppers have ignored is all-wheel drive, due to its drain on fuel economy minus any universally appreciated performance benefits.
As before, the Legacy comes with the choice of a four- or six-cylinder horizontally opposed engine. Both work with a continuously variable automatic transmission. The manual and conventional automatic transmissions have been discontinued.
Exterior & Styling
Midsize sedan designs take one of two paths: There's the wild road of the aggressively styled Mazda6, Ford Fusion and Chrysler 200, and there's the safe road of the Honda Accord, Nissan Altima and Hyundai Sonata.
The Legacy joins the latter group with a generic look that's as easy to lose in a grocery store parking lot as any car. No matter what angle you approach it from, there's nothing that really screams "Subaru." The grille looks a bit like a Ford, the side resembles an Accord and the rear could be from any of a handful of contemporary sedans.
How It Drives
Most Legacy sedans will be sold with the 2.5-liter, four-cylinder boxer engine. These flat power plants provide a bit of an edge in handling because of a lower center of gravity. Horsepower and torque haven't changed much versus the outgoing model — 175 hp versus 173 hp, while torque remains 174 pounds-feet — but nearly every part of the engine has been upgraded or straight-out replaced. It seems Subaru wasn't comfortable calling it "new," though, because the specs aren't eye-catching.
One spec that has dramatically changed, however, is fuel efficiency. With the 2.5-liter engine, combined mileage has increased from 27 mpg to 30 mpg (it's rated 26/36 city/highway). These are similar or better numbers than the Honda Accord (29 mpg combined) and Toyota Camry (28 mpg), while the Nissan Altima (31 mpg) and Mazda6 (32 mpg) still have an edge. However, the Legacy includes the additional weight of all-wheel drive while the rest of the class is largely front-wheel drive.
For comparison, the four-cylinder, all-wheel-drive 2015 Ford Fusion is rated 25 mpg combined, and the all-wheel-drive 2015 Chrysler 200, which comes only with a V-6, is rated 22 mpg.
On the road, it isn't the additional 2 hp that makes a difference, it's the upgraded continuously variable automatic transmission. The company added artificial shift points to make the CVT respond like a traditional automatic, losing the long wind-out of steady acceleration that consumers have complained about. It's roughly two generations removed from the CVT I drive every week in my 2010 Outback, and it responds significantly better. Other editors on staff, though, still found the CVT lacking in terms of refinement and too noisy with both the 2.5-liter and the more powerful 3.6-liter six-cylinder.
The six-cylinder is offered only in the highest, Limited trim level and delivers more oomph to pass — as would be expected from the more than 75 additional horsepower. Some editors found the power welcome, while others, including myself, thought the four-cylinder was the better all-around car considering its fuel economy numbers.
Both versions feature standard all-wheel drive, and the system has been revised for 2015, offering a 60/40 rear/front torque split. Our editors agreed it delivered impressive handling. Only the tires proved to be a sore spot, giving up grip in the hardest of turns.
The all-wheel-drive Chrysler 200 V-6 feels much sportier than the Legacy's 3.6-liter. The Chrysler's handling is also sharper and the ride considerably quieter. However, the 200's nine-speed transmission and ride quality leave a bit to be desired.
Ride comfort was universally praised for both versions of the Legacy. There's isolation from road imperfections without too much wheel travel or a floaty feeling over bumps.
One knock against the previous Legacy was its low-rent interior, and the 2015 has been significantly upgraded, with padded materials wherever passengers come in contact with them. Most of our editors found the upgrades well worth it and on par with the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry, while others pointed to the fake metal trim pieces as less than stellar.
The driver and front passenger seats are well-padded and quite wide, while the backseat is exceptionally spacious. Legroom and headroom back there are slightly behind the Accord and Camry, but both rear hip room and shoulder room are slightly ahead of those two.
The relatively tall greenhouse offers plenty of glass for not only good visibility for the driver, but also a feeling of openness for passengers, which is a nice carryover from the outgoing model.
Ergonomics & Electronics
One of the biggest gripes we've had with recent Subaru vehicles involved their subpar multimedia offerings. The Legacy is the first Subaru to feature the company's next-generation system. A 6.2-inch touch-screen radio comes standard, and when you move up to the Premium trim, you get a 7-inch version that I tested while riding shotgun.
The touch-sensitive shortcut buttons flanking the screen react quickly, as do the on-screen controls. Lag time has proved a deciding factor for Cars.com editors when it comes to whether we deem a system like this successful or not. But editors were happy to see Subaru still using plenty of physical buttons and knobs not only for the volume and tuning, but also for the climate control system.
The screen can get washed out in extremely bright sun at certain angles, however. Otherwise, it was quite crisp with detailed graphics.
Music fans will appreciate the shortcut buttons on the steering wheel. You can pull up a "Browse" menu for artists, albums and songs, displayed on the touch-screen, by pushing a single button on the steering wheel. You use a thumb pad on the steering wheel to select what you want, and there's a back button if you make a mistake.
Cargo & Storage
Subaru has altered the center console to create more logical storage for tech-savvy drivers. A large cubby directly below the climate controls is large enough to fit wallets and smartphones, and it also houses the USB ports. That leaves the center console cubby free to hold even bulkier items, like sunglasses or small bags.
Trunk space is rated at 15 cubic feet, behind not just the Accord, Camry and Nissan's Altima, but also a full cubic foot behind the Ford Fusion and Chrysler 200. However, we had no problem fitting bulky items like baby strollers and full-size golf bags in it.
The Legacy earned a Top Safety Pick Plus award from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the group's highest nod. It's earned by scoring good in front, side and rear crash tests, as well as passing roof-strength tests. The Legacy had not been crash-tested by the federal government as of this writing.
The Legacy also offers EyeSight, an active safety system that includes lane departure assist and collision warning and mitigation systems. It's a $1,195 option on Premium trims and available in different option packages on higher trims.
Value in Its Class
It might seem that getting fuel economy in line with its front-wheel-drive competition would be the biggest success for the new Legacy, but that honor belongs to its starting price. At $22,490 including destination, the Legacy comes standard with a CVT and all-wheel-drive yet costs less than every other competitor except the 2015 Hyundai Sonata and Kia Optima.
The Subaru's value statement, combined with its impressive road chops, upgraded materials, roomy interior and safety scores, should force sedan shoppers to move it up on their consideration lists.
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