2015 Mazda6 vs. 2015 Subaru Legacy

Can AWD be Fuel Efficient?

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For decades, Subaru has been perfecting the craft of equipping all-wheel drive to nearly every product in its portfolio.

With so much experience and knowledge, the symmetrical all-wheel drive systems have been engineered into compact, lightweight units. Frequently beating its competitor’s all-wheel drive setups with better packaging and efficiency, Subaru has a new target in sight. It wants to offer all-wheel drive products with comparable efficiency to competitors with front-wheel drive powertrains.

SEE ALSO: 2014 Mazda6 Review – Video

During the new product launch for the new 2015 Legacy, Subaru kept commenting on how the permanent all-wheel drive sedan could match its front-wheel drive counterparts in real world efficiency testing. Wanting to evaluate this claim for myself, I decided to pit the Legacy against the 2015 Mazda6, another efficient mid-size sedan.

i-ELOOP vs. Symmetrical AWD

A few years ago Mazda switched from being the “Zoom Zoom” company to one that’s all about “SkyActiv.” Using a design philosophy that focuses on lightweight materials, friction reduction and efficient engines, the 2015 Mazda6 Grand Touring is rated at 26 MPG city and 38 MPG highway. Impressive figures already, add the energy recovering i-ELOOP system and the efficiency rises to a class leading 28 MPG city and 40 MPG highway.

2015-Mazda6-vs-2015-Subaru-Legacy-932015-Mazda6-vs-2015-Subaru-Legacy-98

The Subaru Legacy isn’t rated quite as high, with official figures pegged at 26 MPG city and 36 MPG. But remember, this is a car with permanent all-wheel drive. The Legacy sends 40 percent of its power to its rear wheels while still achieving EPA fuel economy ratings that beat those of the four-cylinder Toyota Camry. The Legacy 2.5i Premium I drove weighs 3,455 lbs., which makes it the lightest of the Legacy line-up. Svelte as that may make it seem, the Mazda6 still undercuts it by 223 pounds.

2015-Mazda6-vs-2015-Subaru-Legacy-95

Driving for Maximum Efficiency

On paper the Legacy and Mazda6 match up fairly well. Both cars start at just over $22,000 after destination charges and use a 2.5-liter four-cylinder base engine; albeit with the cylinders sitting in different configurations. The power edge favors the Mazda with 184 HP and 185 lb-ft. of torque on tap compared to the Subaru’s 175 HP and 174 lb-ft.

Equipped with a continuously variable transmission, the Legacy has an aggressive throttle that makes smooth, efficient driving hard to achieve at first. With an initial lurch off the line, I found I needed to try to catch the engine between that initial forward jump and the point where it settles back down. The Mazda6’s six-speed automatic transmission provides a much smoother roll-out from a stop without peaks or valleys in the power delivery.

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2,000 RPM is Enough, Thanks

In general, efficient driving requires you to pay more attention to the tachometer than the speedometer because it’s important to drive in the optimal RPM range. There’s a surprising amount of low-end torque in both cars considering their modest power output. Driving it slowly and smoothly, gear changes in the Mazda6 are quick and occur at just over 1,500 RPM. It’s also possible to keep the Legacy under 1,500 RPM with prudent throttle applications.

Only when climbing steeper freeway passages did I need to push either the Legacy or the Mazda6 past 2,000 RPM. With careful driving and planning, there was no reason to ever go beyond that point.

Compare Specs

2015 Mazda6
vs
2015 Subaru Legacy
Vehicle 2015 Mazda6 Advantage 2015 Subaru Legacy
Engine 2.4L Four-Cylinder 2.5L Four-Cylinder
Horsepower 184 HP Mazda6 175 HP
Torque 185 lb-ft Mazda6 174 lb-ft
Transmission Six-speed automatic CVT
Curb weight 3,232 lbs. Mazda6 3,455 lbs.
Rear seat legroom 38.7 inches Mazda6 38.1 inches
Trunk space 14.8 cubic feet Legacy 15 cubic feet
Fuel economy (US) 28 MPG city, 40 MPG highway Mazda6 26 MPG city, 36 MPG highway
Fuel economy (CDN) 8.5 l/100 km city, 5.9 l/100 km highway Mazda6 9.0 l/100 km city, 6.5 L/100 km highway
Observed fuel economy 37.9 MPG Mazda6 36.8 MPG
Starting price (US) $22,010 $22,490
Starting price (CDN) $26,190 Legacy $25,090
Top trim price (US) $33,095 $33,380
Top trim price (CDN) $37,090 $36,990

Different Driving Styles, Surprising Results

By using the steering wheel mounted paddle shifter in the Mazda6, I achieved greater efficiency, especially when climbing hills, by forcing the car to stay in lower more efficient gears. At 50 MPH, you can keep the Mazda in sixth gear and maintain speed even on slight inclines.

SEE ALSO: 2015 Subaru Legacy Review

The Legacy calls for a different technique to achieve maximum efficiency. Instead of using the paddle shifters, I left the CVT in D (drive mode) and used various throttle applications to keep the engine speed low. In fact, at freeway speeds the Legacy would cruise at lower RPM in “D” than if slotted into the paddle-shifter-induced simulated sixth gear.

After several hours of driving, the Legacy was able to beats it’s official highway rating with an observed average of 36.8 MPG. Surprisingly, the Mazda6 wasn’t able to live up to the 40-MPG EPA figure, but it still beat the Legacy with an average of 37.9 MPG.

2015-Mazda6-vs-2015-Subaru-Legacy-90

The Verdict:

Even if it came up short to the Mazda6, the Legacy can match most of its front-wheel drive competitors in terms of fuel efficiency while offering permanent all-wheel drive. The win still goes to the Mazda6 for being more efficient, having a more premium interior and for being more engaging to drive while sacrificing little ride comfort compared to the legacy.

Still, at least it’s good to know that if all-wheel drive is required in a mid-size sedan, it’s not only possible to get it in a wholly compelling package like the Legacy, but also one that doesn’t suffer the old drawback of excessive fuel consumption.

2015 Mazda6

2015 Subaru Legacy

  • Yal100

    The fact that magazines and websites keep comparing all comers to the Subaru Legacy should tell you something about the Legacy. Note, they do the same with the BMW 3 Series. The Subaru is no 3 Series but it does share something with that car and that is…it is in a class all by its awesome AWD self 🙂

  • felix turpin

    dayum that last mazda6 photo is hot!

  • But for me, it’s always the Subaru Outback!

  • Isend2C

    Now, I’m biased because I have an Outback, but the Legacy here is pretty base while the Mazda6 is fully loaded, so the lower rent interior is partial a by product of the extra $9k in the Mazda. That said, the interior of my $35k Outback is still pretty meh. I’d probably take the 6 over the legacy… But there’s really only one wagon in town.

  • But for me, the interior of the new Outback is astounding, thanks to the new infotainment system.

  • H Nilsson

    If you would have left the Mazda 6 in D the Legacy would have won easily. And, still, that’s how most people would drive their cars

  • jonn

    lol 2000 rpm is enough… i cant even begin..

  • 8632paul

    In Canada we can still buy the lower two trim levels of the Legacy 2.5 with a very nice six speed manual. I test drove the CVT and continue to dislike them, with a disconnected feel between the driver and the motor. Probably good for commuters in urban traffic, but we live in the mountains and driving is a lot of fun when you can pick your own gears. BTW our Legacy was made in Indiana. The Mazda6 is a nice car, but with no AWD it wasn’t even an option for us. The fact that the Legacy rivals the class leader in mpg is just a bonus. With soon to be upgraded rubber, the Legacy will handle with the segment leaders in the summer and just destroy them in the winter. 🙂

  • The Equalizer

    The Mazda6 is a driver’s car and the Subaru, as usual, is an appliance. If you want to read real car comparisons written by people who really know automobiles, Car and Driver is the place to go, not here or Kiplingers.
    BTW, do Subarus come from the factory with the “Coexist” bumper sticker or is that a dealer add?

  • But the Mazda6 is more than a driver’s appliance, the Mazda6 is a BULLSHIT! And Subaru, as usual, IS a true driver’s car! And Car and Driver is an infamous BULLSHIT when it comes to bashing Subaru all year long! and YOU shouls be banned FOREVER! BTW, do Subarus come from the factory with the “BULLSHIT” bumper sticker or is that a dealer add?

  • The Equalizer

    NOT! Have you ever driven the Mazda6 with it’s superior 6-speed auto? 0-60 comes in 7.0 sec vs 8.8 in the rubber band/CVT equipped Subaru.

  • The Equalizer

    LMAO at, “BTW, do Subarus come from the factory with the “BULLSHIT” bumper sticker or is that a dealer add?” I think you meant to put that mythical bumper sticker on the rear of the Mazda didn’t you? Most Subarus I see have the “Coexist” sticker on them along with “I’m ready for Hillary”, and that funny multi-colored thing which I think means the driver is LGBT-friendly?

    Is “BS” your fav word and are you old enough to drive?

  • The Equalizer

    You are absolutely right. “The Subaru is no 3 Series”…it’s also no Mazda6. It’s a pedestrian and boring alternative to many far superior cars in it’s class.

  • TIE

    My Honda Accord has 210K miles under its belt, so I’ve been car-shopping. I’ve recently test-driven both of the cars featured in this comparison – a 2016 Mazda 6 GT and a 2017 Subaru Legacy Limited (also the Honda Accord Hybrid and V6 models, Passat 1.8T, Malibu Hybrid, Sonata Hybrid, and RAV4 Hybrid). The Subaru is no “appliance” – next to the Mazda 6, it was the most fun-to-drive and, in some circumstances (*cough* cornering *cough*) was superior to the Mazda. The Mazda looks great but the wind noise at highway speeds and excessive road noise were deal-breakers. The Subie, though, held tight corners much better than the Mazda and its boxer engine (we test-drove the 2.5i) was more refined.

    There is a saying: “There are lies, damned lies, and stastistics.” While the numbers suggest that the Mazda has more rear seat legroom than the Subaru, that simply isn’t true. I always adjust the front seat for myself and, after a test drive, I hop in the back. In the Subaru, I still had a couple inches of legroom but, in the Mazda, my knees were brushing the back of the front seat (I stand at 6’1″).

    The Subaru was far more practical inside, even if it didn’t look as nice. Cups in cupholders won’t block your access to the audio and nav controls as they would in the Mazda and the touchscreen is easier to reach and is always ‘on’. There’s an actual, usable armrest in the Subaru. As noted here, the fuel economy is almost as good as the Mazda’s and that’s with AWD. I did prefer the Mazda’s 6-speed auto to the Subaru’s CVT but the Subie’s CVT is the best of all those I’ve tried.

    FWIW, there will be no Trump, Hillary, or ‘Coexist’ bumper stickers on my new car, no matter what it ends up being 😉

  • TIE

    “rubber band / CVT”… you haven’t driven a Legacy, have you?

  • The Equalizer

    Actually, I have. Not bad. Just don’t like the feel or sounds of the CVT. Mazda looked at CVT’s for their Sky-Activ suite of technologies. Their engineers nixed them because, “It doesn’t feel like a Mazda.”

  • TIE

    Fair enough. I do prefer planetary gears or DCTs but the Subaru CVT only exhibits the rubber band feeling occasionally as opposed to, say, a Nissan, which seems to hem and haw all the time.