Midsize Game Changer: 2015 Subaru Legacy

By Frank A. Aukofer, July 26th, 2014

Subaru likes to play leapfrog -- except in its own peculiar way it plays the game alone. Witness the 2015 Legacy midsize sedan.

The Japanese manufacturer, which also builds cars in the United States, has always rolled on a different road than its competitors, which has enabled Subaru to increase sales during the 2007-2008 recession that caused other automakers to sputter.

Recently Subaru introduced its all-new sports sedan, the 2015 WRX and its stellar STI performance companion edition, which I had already called the "the best Subaru ever."

Now, with the new Legacy, Subaru's entry in the midsize family sedan category, it has leapfrogged even those sports cars, though in an oblique way.

The STI and Legacy may bear a family resemblance, but they're as different as a hockey player and a mattress tester. One is all storm and fury; the other relaxed and serene. But each, in its own way, could be called the best Subaru ever.

First impressions are always important and my first impression of the new Legacy was a top-of-the-line Limited model with Subaru's horizontally opposed six-cylinder engine and a full load of goodies.

It was handsome, outside and in, prompting speculation that Subaru had decided to take the Legacy upscale into near-luxury territory. The instant guess was that the Limited carried a price tag north of $40,000. It did not.

Fully tricked out, the 3.6R model carried a price tag of $33,380. That included navigation, leather upholstery, automatic climate control, lane change assist, blind spot warning, motorized glass sunroof, adaptive cruise control, pre-collision braking, cross traffic alert, and even fog lights that swivel with the steering.

Though it is curiously nowhere near as successful as midsize sedan sales leaders like the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Ford Fusion, and Nissan Altima, the Subaru Legacy is unique in that it is equipped with all-wheel drive -- as are all Subaru models except for the rear-drive BRZ sports car, which the company jointly developed with Toyota.

Subaru also equips all of its cars and crossover utility vehicles with horizontally opposed engines, which also are called Boxer or flat engines. The design has the cylinders lying flat, feet to feet, on both sides of the crankshaft, instead of leaning or standing upright as in V or inline configurations.

The layout allows Subaru's engineers to settle the engine low in the compartment for a lower center of gravity. It also makes engineering the all-wheel drive relatively easy because the driveshaft to the rear wheels connects right off the back of the engine.

Boxer engines traditionally have delivered lower fuel economy than conventional inline engines, but Subaru seems to have mitigated that. Even the six-cylinder engine has an EPA city/highway/combined fuel economy rating of 20/29/23 mpg, while the test car with the 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine came with a 26/36/30 mpg rating.

For all of the class and panache of Legacy's Limited model, you can save a bunch of money without giving up much if you specify the version tested for this review: Premium trim with the 175-horsepower four-cylinder engine.

All of the Legacy trims use a continuously variable automatic transmission, which uses a system of belts and pulleys to provide a seamless transfer of power to the wheels. There are no shift points, although if you wish, the car's computer can mimic the performance of a six-speed conventional automatic that shifts manually with paddles on the steering wheel.

With the 2.5 engine, the Legacy runs to 60 mph in less than 9 seconds, though it feels quicker and is never challenged in traffic, passing, or merging onto freeways. Should you desire more oomph, the 3.6 engine does it in less than 7 seconds.

But unlike its garage mate, the STI, the Legacy is all about relaxed cruising on anything from twisting ocean roads to Interstate highways. Comfort with the sturdy and nicely detailed cloth upholstery would satisfy any dedicated couch potato and, in this reviewer's opinion, is superior to leather.

Moreover, the tested Premium model with the four-cylinder engine does it all without anxiety or fuss, and at a price that is not daunting. It starts at $24,290 and, with an option package that includes Subaru's Eyesight package of adaptive cruise control, pre-collision braking, and other safety measures, checked in at $27,180, including the destination charge.

The Legacy deserves consideration by anyone in the market for a midsize sedan. And don't forget what sets it apart: Subaru's all-wheel drive.

Specifications

Base price $24,290 (as tested: $27,180)
Curb weight 3,455 lbs.
Displacement 2.5-liter
Epa mileage rating 26 mpg city, 36 mpg highway
Fuel capacity 18.5 gal.
Horsepower (net) 175 at 5800 rpm
Motor type 16-valve Boxer 4-cyl. w/SMPFI
Overall length 188.8 in.
Torque (lb.-ft.) 174 at 4000 rpm
Transmission CVT
Vehicle type 5-passenger AWD midsize sedan
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