Versus the competiton:
The verdict: When life’s hamster wheel of school drop-offs, long work days and endless grocery runs is at full velocity, I forget what I’m driving. The 2016 Subaru Legacy only deepens that rut; while it’s practical and safe, it’s also charmless and forgettable.
Against the competition: Like its middle-of-the-road placement in Cars.com’s 2016 Midsize Sedan Challenge, the Legacy is midpack among the more refined Chevrolet Malibu and more spirited Kia Optima, though its road manners are more pleasant than other competitors, like the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry. Compare them all here.
The Legacy was redesigned for 2015, so changes for 2016 are minor. The steering system was revised and lane departure prevention was added to the available EyeSight safety system. Compare 2015 and 2016 models here.
“Form follows function” seems to be Subaru’s styling edict, and the Legacy is no exception. Its upright stance, tall windows and blocky roofline make for great visibility but yawn-worthy style. Half the sedans in our Challenge were silver, and the Legacy receded into that collective background with its dull face and stocky silhouette. It’s bland compared with the Malibu’s sleek profile and handsome face, and the Optima’s sportier, more aggressive angles.
The Legacy is about as exciting to drive as it is to look at. The standard 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine moves the car anemically from a stop, and the continuously variable automatic transmission’s ever-present groan sounds like it’s helping move mountains, not drive over them. Subaru added simulated shift points to make the CVT respond more like a traditional automatic, and though the setup is better than previous generations, it still feels and sounds artificial.
Once enough power spools up, the Legacy is pleasant on the highway, with a well-damped ride and good bump absorption. Steering feel is also comfortable, with nicely weighted, natural feedback. The Legacy’s handling, however, is ponderous; it leans in corners like a much taller vehicle. It lacks the agile, more engaging handling of the Optima or the Malibu’s composed, planted feel.
Standard all-wheel drive — a rare amenity among non-premium sedans — gives the Legacy a leg up against its front-wheel-drive competition, and the system’s added weight doesn’t appear to weigh down the Subaru’s fuel economy. The EPA rates the Legacy’s four-cylinder 26/36/30 mpg city/highway/combined. In base trims with automatic transmissions, both the Malibu and Accord do slightly better, at 27/37/31 mpg, but the Legacy’s fuel economy is a touch higher than the Optima’s and Camry’s. A more powerful 3.6-liter six-cylinder is available, but it sinks the Legacy’s fuel economy to 20/29/23 mpg.
The cabin is serviceable in both look and materials, with a simple design blanketed by plenty of durable plastic surfaces – and many of them are padded. The interior’s one embellishment fails to jazz things up: The pop of fake metal trim on the dash looks … like fake metal trim.
Front-seat comfort is good, with wide, supportive seats and plenty of headroom and legroom. A nice upright seating position, tall side windows and narrow pillars combine to give the cabin an expansive, airy feel and provide excellent visibility in every direction.
In back, a sizable center floor hump eats into passenger space. Two adults will have plenty of headroom and legroom on comfortable seats, but most competitors offer a bit more space.
Subaru’s old multimedia system was a relic from another decade. The Legacy uses the new version, and while it’s better, it isn’t quite up to the competition, with dated graphics and a busy interface. The standard setup is a 6.2-inch touch-screen flanked by touch-sensitive panels, as well as volume and tuning knobs. I tested a midlevel 2.5i Premium model with the optional 7-inch screen with navigation. The screen’s reaction time is quick, but I found the touch panels’ responsiveness to be hit or miss, and they felt awkward to use because they provided no physical feedback.
Many competitors offer more modern-looking, straightforward systems with more features. Using the Optima’s straightforward touch-screen multimedia system was a snap, and connecting my phone to the Android Auto system was seamless. The Legacy, meanwhile, does not offer the Android Auto or Apple CarPlay smartphone integration systems.
In-cabin storage is generous thanks to a large bin under the center armrest, plus several smaller cubbies. A large bin below the climate controls is wide enough to fit a pair of smartphones, and it also houses the USB ports.
There’s ample trunk space, and the opening itself is usefully large. The Legacy’s trunk offers 15 cubic feet. That’s a touch short of many competitors, but it has one nicety that others don’t: The trunk hinges are struts that don’t dip into the cargo area.
The Legacy earned the highest possible crash-test ratings from both the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
A backup camera is standard; Subaru’s EyeSight safety system is optional on Premium and Limited trims but unavailable on the base Legacy. On Premium trims, it includes forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, as well as lane departure warning and prevention systems. The Limited trim adds blind spot warning and rear cross-traffic alert systems; these are optional on the Premium. Click here for a full list of safety features.
The Legacy has ample room for two child-safety seats, and exposed Latch anchors take the sting out of car seat installation. Click here for the Legacy’s Car Seat Check.
The 2016 Legacy starts at $22,540 including destination – around the same price as the Malibu and a little less than the Accord, Camry and Optima.
The Legacy makes a strong value statement, and its safety ratings and equipment impress, but it’s practical to a fault; its inoffensive road manners are matched by forgettable styling and a bland cabin.