The 2014 Subaru Legacy 2.5i Sport is a safe, sensible family sedan, but the dated interior and tepid styling of the soon-to-be-redesigned model limits its appeal.
Americans increasingly have a soft spot in their hearts for Subaru. The brand's sales have been steadily climbing, despite criticism that the company's vehicles have dated-looking interiors, middle-of-the-road fuel economy and uninspired styling. The Subaru Legacy is the brand's midsize sedan, a step up from the Impreza compact in size, power and price. The last freshening of the Legacy happened for the 2013 model year when the car received some minor updates to its style, a revised 2.5-liter engine and some trim package changes. In late 2013, Subaru introduced a new Sport trim level to the Legacy, joining the base, Premium and Limited models; I drove a new Sport. Changes from 2013 to 2014 are minimal; you can compare the model years side by side here.
Exterior & Styling
The latest Legacy isn't all that different from earlier versions of the car, and you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who'd call it exciting. It's very upright with a tall cabin and window glass that bucks the trend nearly every other automaker is following of lower, swoopier roofs with rising belt lines to create a wedge shape, making most other sedans look like each other. The Legacy is distinctive in that regard. Its exterior style is helped by the Sport model's 18-inch wheels and tires that fill out the wheel wells nicely and give the car a more aggressive stance. Overall, the Legacy looks wholly unremarkable — it's not likely to offend anyone's sensibilities, but you won't find your kids pinning posters of it to their bedroom wall.
How It Drives
Driving the Legacy isn't much more entertaining than looking at it. Acceleration is acceptable, thanks to a big 2.5-liter horizontally opposed four-cylinder engine under the hood, making 173 horsepower with a surprisingly menacing growl that's characteristic of boxer engines. That power is channeled to all four wheels, as the Legacy is the only midsize sedan in the segment that features standard all-wheel drive. In the 2.5i Sport trim, it goes through a continuously variable automatic transmission that is "shiftable" through flappy paddle shifters located behind the steering wheel.
As CVTs go, the Subaru unit isn't bad. Acceleration and passing are easily accomplished with a minimum of fuss, and the snorty grumble from the boxer engine is far more pleasant to listen to than the thrashy drone from competitors' four-cylinder engines. The transmission received a programming update for 2014, and the result is a powertrain that may not inspire drag racing, but it is easy to live with and is well-suited to the Legacy's mission in life. If you're looking for more power, Subaru offers a 3.6-liter boxer six-cylinder engine that bumps out 256 hp; it's guaranteed to provide a more exciting commute — at the expense of fuel economy.
The Legacy's handling is tame and uneventful, with more communicative steering than is found in competitors like the Toyota Camry and Chevrolet Malibu. Sadly, the Sport Package doesn't bring any changes to the suspension — the tuning is the same as in other Legacy versions, and it's a little harsh in ride quality and comfort. I blame the big 18-inch wheels and low-profile tires that got smacked around on Michigan's frost-heaved roads. The brakes are strong and fade-free, and overall the car is confident and predictable, if unremarkable.
But all that changes when the weather turns foul and the Legacy really comes into its element. For a while I found myself wondering why anyone would choose the Legacy over any number of competing sedans, but upon waking one morning to find everything covered in 4 inches of snow, I became a believer in the value of Subaru's standard all-wheel drive. Simply put, this thing is a mountain goat in inclement conditions. Come into a slippery corner a bit too fast and find yourself sliding instead of turning? Give it a little gas and feel the wheels dig in and change your direction. Even with 18-inch all-season tires, the Subaru was impressive; with proper winter tires, it would be nigh unstoppable. All-wheel drive is available on only three direct competitors, as an option: the Ford Fusion, the Buick Regal and the upcoming, new-for-2015 Chrysler 200. In each of those models, all-wheel drive is available only on high-spec trim levels, making them considerably more expensive than the Legacy.
That all-wheel-drive system does exact a minor fuel-economy penalty, however. EPA-rated mileage comes in at 24/32/27 mpg city/highway/combined. My week of testing netted about 26 mpg in combined driving — a respectable figure, but not class-leading. By comparison, the Toyota Camry is rated 25/35/28 mpg, the Honda Accord comes in at 27/36/30 mpg and the Chevrolet Malibu nets 25/36/29 mpg. None of them features all-wheel drive even as an option, however, much less as standard equipment on a base four-cylinder model.
Slide into the Legacy's black cloth seats with contrasting stitching and it's like stepping back in time. I would vote this the best new automotive interior of 1998. There has been so little change and progression in Subaru's style, design, materials and even electronics that anyone who grew up in Japanese cars over the past 20 years will easily recognize this cabin. In some ways this is a positive — it's familiar, extremely well-screwed-together and everything works as it should. But in most ways this is a negative — it looks truly outdated, featuring LCD displays straight out of the 1980s in the gauge cluster and upper console. Translucent plastic on the audio display and cheap-feeling fake metal trim don't help, and sadly neither does the Sport Package's swaths of faux carbon fiber.
So it may not look like much inside, but the Legacy makes up for style shortcomings with two important features: comfort and visibility. The seats are well-sized for a variety of body types, and they're firm yet supportive in the right ways. A 10-way power-adjustable heated driver's seat comes in the Sport trim, and the leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio and cruise-control buttons feels grippy and comfortable. The rear seats feature a surprising amount of legroom, and that's also where the benefit of that tall greenhouse becomes apparent: Backseat headroom is no problem at all, even with the moonroof that came on my test vehicle. The high roofline and tall windows make for an extremely open and airy cabin, and combined with the low dash and belt line, they make for outstanding outward visibility. Add the comfort and roominess with the decent motor and all-wheel drive, and the appeal of the Legacy starts to become evident — it's just easy to drive and feels extremely secure.
Ergonomics & Electronics
The onboard technology is a mixed bag. Opting for the navigation system brings a touch-screen in the dashboard that features a relatively updated multimedia system. The voice controls are responsive and work on most requests. The brand's Aha smartphone integration brings full access and a suite of apps that allow for audiobooks, full Bluetooth streaming audio and more. While the multimedia system looks modern and features clear, easy-to-use graphics, the rest of the car is oddly out of date. An actual liquid crystal display, like on an ancient clock radio, sits atop the dash, featuring a clock, an exterior thermometer and a fuel-range meter. That LCD look is echoed in the gauge cluster and looks like a true anachronism. The gauges themselves are simple, clear and easy to read at a glance, but all the displays need an update.
Cargo & Storage
The Legacy's upright bodywork allows for a decent cargo area, with 14.7 cubic feet of trunk room. That falls a little short of competitors; the Camry provides 15.4 cubic feet, the Accord has 15.8 cubic feet and the Fusion tops them all with 16 cubic feet. A 65/35-split folding rear seatback can improve cargo room by opening up the trunk to the passenger cabin for longer loads.
One area where the Legacy really shines is in the safety department. It has a long list of standard equipment and is one of the few models in the segment with a five-star overall crash-test rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The car was also rated a Top Safety Pick Plus by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, though that only applies to models equipped with the EyeSight safety system. That electronic system includes cameras and sensors to monitor the car's environment as well as lane departure warning, forward collision alert, distance-keeping cruise control and even automatic braking functions. Even without these features, the Legacy has a Top Safety Pick rating (without the Plus). See all the Legacy's safety features here.
Value in Its Class
Subaru divides most features and options into different trim levels and packages. My 2014 Legacy 2.5i Sport started at $24,390 including destination charge, but the entry price for the Legacy is $21,090, making it highly competitive. My Sport model slotted in between the Premium and Limited models but included a CVT, satellite radio, Bluetooth streaming audio, a power driver's seat and remote keyless entry. A Navigation Package added $3,250 and included a touch-screen navigation system, a moonroof, 18-inch wheels, fog lights, aluminum pedal covers, black cloth seats with special stitching and carbon-fiber-patterned interior trim. The grand total for my test car was $27,640, but if you opt for a six-cylinder Limited model and tick all the boxes, a completely loaded Legacy will come in at just $33,730 — thousands less than all-wheel-drive-equipped competitors. Option one up for yourself here.
The Legacy's size and price put it squarely in the highly competitive midsize segment, but its standard all-wheel drive is available only on competitors' high-priced trim levels. The two segment leaders, the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord, compete on price, equipment, space, family friendliness and ease of operation, but neither offers an all-wheel-drive option. Chances are you're considering a Subaru Legacy because it has that feature, so competitors that offer it are a more appropriate crowd to consider. For that, you'll have to turn to the domestic manufacturers: While the Ford has it only in the top trim level, the Chrysler offers it in the 2015 200S trim, making it the only sedan besides the Legacy to offer all-wheel drive for less than $30,000 (but just barely; a 200S all-wheel drive starts at $29,690 including destination). See how the Legacy stacks up against all-wheel-drive versions of the Regal and Fusion here.
No matter how you arrange it, in order to get all-wheel drive in a competitor's midsize family sedan, you're going to need to spend considerably more money than the Legacy requires. You'll get considerably more car in a competitor, as well, but comfort and safety at an eminently reasonable price keeps the Legacy an interesting alternative to mainstream offerings.