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2020 Subaru Legacy Review: Boring in the Best Ways

The verdict: The 2020 Subaru Legacy is boring in the best ways: It’s comfortable, predictable and practical.

Versus the competition: Other mid-size sedans have more refined powertrains and better fuel economy, but the Legacy leapfrogs some in the class with its slick multimedia system, cushy ride and long list of standard safety features.

Subaru redesigned its mid-size sedan for 2020, giving the Legacy a new platform and beefier styling, plus a newly available turbocharged horizontally opposed four-cylinder engine for XT models, replacing the outgoing flat-six. Compare it with the previous Legacy.

The Legacy competes against popular sedans like the Honda Accord, Nissan Altima and Toyota Camry, and it’s the only one with standard all-wheel drive. See the models compared.

Patience-Testing Powertrain

There’s not a lot to like about the Legacy’s powertrain, and much like the daily struggle to get my 5-year-old twins to kindergarten on time, MY PATIENCE WAS TESTED (yes, sometimes yelling is involved).

Power from the standard 182-horsepower, 2.5-liter boxer four-cylinder engine and continuously variable automatic transmission is meager from a stop and doesn’t get much better; stab the pedal for more and the Legacy responds with the athletic prowess of a sloth, with a slowness that puts it at the bottom of the class in terms of responsiveness. I have not yet tested the optional 260-hp, turbocharged 2.4-liter engine, but it has to be better.

The sedan also does its fair share of raising a fuss. The powertrain’s unrefined-sounding drone is a loud, frequent reminder of the CVT — and a drag. The automatic engine stop-start system is also rough; it shudders obtrusively every time.

In fuel economy, the Legacy also disappoints when compared with many competitors due to its standard all-wheel drive, which adds some extra weight to the car. The Legacy has an EPA rating of 27/35/30 city/highway/combined mpg —  worse than base front-drive versions of the Honda Accord (30/38/33), Toyota Camry (28/39/32) and Nissan Altima (28/39/32). But the AWD Altima is rated 26/36/30 mpg — lower in the city, higher on the highway but the same as the Legacy for the combined rating.

Where it does well is in ride comfort. Like Subaru’s other vehicles, the move to the automaker’s new global platform has been a good one. The Legacy excels in ride comfort, with soft suspension tuning and good isolation. The ride is cushy with good bump absorption and an overall solid composure that makes it long-drive approved.

What also sets it apart is its standard all-wheel-drive system: Subaru’s torque-vectoring all-wheel drive remains standard for 2020. The Nissan Altima now offers all-wheel drive, but few other sedans do.

Hello, Huge Screen!

I tested a mid-level Limited trim and the cabin — though generic looking — is handsomely dressed and comfortably cushioned. The sedan’s pillowy front seats are a treat, but the rest of the materials and design are forgettable.

It almost doesn’t matter, though, because all eyes are on the flashy, giant touchscreen, which is 11.6 inches (measured diagonally). The vertically oriented screen reminds me of the setup in Volvo and Tesla vehicles, but Legacy’s physical knobs for volume and tuning are more ergonomically placed.

The screen is standard on all trims except the base one, and I found it refreshingly easy to use. Its icons are huge and easy to read, the menu setup is simple and the screen is customizable: You can move icons and configure the screen to your needs, or it can be changed to a split screen showing two types of information — like navigation and audio — simultaneously. Even though most climate controls are embedded in the screen and smaller than other icons, they’re still readable and straightforward.

I did have a couple hiccups with the system: First, although the touchscreen’s responsiveness seemed quick when just tapping something on the screen, things slowed down a lot when using the map with pinching and zooming actions. Also, the map only displays some street name labels — many are oddly blank even when you zoom in. Going into the map settings didn’t help.

The system’s vertical orientation works against it at times: For such a large screen, the backup camera display is smaller than in many cars because the screen is narrow — 5.8 inches wide — and only the top few of the display’s generous 10 inches of height are used for the image. The same is true of how Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are displayed, resulting in small icons and graphics. For comparison, horizontally oriented displays of the increasingly common 8-inch size (measured diagonally) are typically about 7 inches wide.

Lastly, a couple of things are thornier than they should be. Minor but annoying: Turning on the heated seats takes a couple of clicks. Major and distracting: Changing the settings for safety features is complicated and often requires drilling down into the multimedia system’s menus. An on/off button would be easier and take much less focus from the road.

Room

Room is another comfort highlight, with both rows offering plenty of passenger space.

By both specifications and feel, the Legacy’s backseat is adult-size roomy. With 39.5 inches of maximum legroom, it’s got more than the Altima and Camry but slightly less than the Accord. Rear headroom is a similar story.

For families with kids in car seats, two of them fit comfortably and they go in easily thanks to accessible lower anchors and clearly marked top tether anchors; read the full Car Seat Check.

Small items storage spaces are plentiful, highlighted by a two-tiered center console box and deep open well ahead of the shifter.

Trunk volume is mid-pack compared with other mid-size sedans, and the seats fold down in a 60/40 split via handy levers in the trunk or seat-mounted buttons.

Safety and Driver Assistance

Like last year, Subaru’s EyeSight bundle of safety and driver-assistance technology is standard; it comes with essentials like a front collision warning system with automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control and lane departure alert. What’s new this year is a lane-centering function. Also new is an optional driver attention system that uses a camera and facial recognition software to spot driver fatigue or distraction and display a warning on the touchscreen.

For the most part, I’m a big fan of Subaru’s safety systems, but some tweaking is needed. First, the driver assistance system sounds helpful, but it can be too sensitive. A couple times, I got a warning to keep my eyes on the road when my eyes were on the road.

Other annoyances followed from the lane-centering system. It’s easy to engage via the steering wheel and when it works, it works well at automatically keeping the car in the lane at a set speed. However, it works well only some of the time. I found it was quick to switch off; Subaru said it deactivates when the vehicle ahead and/or the lane marking are no longer detected but sometimes that happened when the road conditions seemed good. When it turns off, it’s over-the-top jarring, with plenty of beeping and flashing lights.

Bottom Line

The AWD 2020 Subaru Legacy starts around $23,600 — less than base, front-wheel-drive versions of the Honda Accord, Nissan Altima and Toyota Camry.

The Legacy’s powertrain needs work, and managing its safety systems will take some getting used to, but if you can get past those issues, this sleepy sedan is comfortable, practical and a good value. Forget fancy — the Legacy is anything but — but sometimes boring is just what we need.

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