There’s an important reason that we do “First Drives” as well as individual model and trim level reviews of new models. Those initial drives tend to be little more than first impressions, while a week spent commuting in a car often brings out a more accurate overview of a vehicle’s strengths and weaknesses. This couldn’t be more true than with the all-new 2010 Subaru Legacy.
|1. The base 2.5i Legacy model keeps the170-hp boxer 4-cyl, but power comes on 400 rpm sooner.
2. A CVT transmission replaces the automatic delivering a smoother ride, quicker acceleration and vastly improved fuel economy of 23/31 mpg (city/hwy).
3. The Legacy 2.5i starts at $19,995, with a well-equipped Premium trim plus CVT retailing for $21,995 ($22,295 for PZEV).
Subaru has made it very clear that as an automaker it intends to grow significantly by appealing to a larger segment of the market. When we first tested the new Legacy we were impressed with all aspects of the car, but after a longer time behind the wheel it’s become apparent that the Legacy has lost some of its more endearing traits in an effort to go mass-market.
Subaru realized that in order to compete it needed to grow the Legacy into a vehicle that could stand shoulder to shoulder with Japanese rivals like the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord. This it did; and on paper and under initial inspection it seems only like a good thing.
Compared to the previous generation Legacy, the new model is 3.2-inches taller and 3.6-inches wider. The wheelbase has been extended by 3.2-inches and rear legroom has grown even more than that by 3.9-inches.
The longer wheelbase not only gives the Legacy a more comfortable ride, but a new double-whishbone rear suspension was used. This increases cargo room and is designed to deliver a more dynamic driving experience.
This may be true on the Legacy 2.5GT models, but we couldn’t get over how our 2.5i Premium model felt more floaty and how the electric power steering (used to improve fuel economy) seemed to require a lot of small corrections out on the highway. These two factors combined to give the Legacy the feeling that it has grown considerably, which it has; we just don’t think it should feel that way. We particularly lament this change on the Legacy as it’s always been one of the sportier mid-sized offerings on the market.
SAVING FUEL – AT WHAT COST
Another flaw we didn’t pick up on during our initial test became quite evident after a week stuck in rush hour traffic.
Subaru’s new CVT transmission does help improve fuel economy significantly, but as we discovered, it comes at the cost of a less refined ride. Standard equipment on 2.5i Limited and Premium models as well as on all PZEV trim levels, the CVT revs the engine as low as possible in order to achieve maximum fuel economy. When crawling in rush hour traffic we could feel a vibration in the car from the excessively low rpm.
Subaru made a concerted effort to eek out every last mpg from the Legacy, fighting to compete with the fuel economy numbers of front-drive sedans, while delivering the safety, security and traction of all-wheel drive. This it has achieved with a rating of 23/31 mpg (city/highway), compared to 20/26 mpg for the old five-speed automatic. Our test model achieved an impressive 28-mpg average. An impressive number; it has come at the cost of increased NVH (noise vibration and harshness).
That issue aside, the CVT works smoothly, efficiently and quickly the rest of the time. With paddle shifters and six pre-set “gears” the CVT can shift in as little as 100 milliseconds and we enjoy being able to downshift on the highway when traffic slows, rather than use the brakes.
The CVT tranny also helps to improve acceleration and we were impressed at how the 170-hp and 170 ft-lbs of torque is more than adequate for daily driving. We should note that while this power output is the same as on the old 2.5 model, it arrives 400 rpm sooner for better acceleration and an overall more powerful feel around town.
PREMIUM LOOK: INSIDE AND OUT
Apart from those two drawbacks the Legacy continued to impress, with a look and feel that puts the car a step above a typical mid-size sedan.
Outside it looks like a premium near-luxury model, with an aggressive and individualistic design and plenty of chrome trim and detailing. We particularly like the fact that while most automakers will charge extra for a stylish skirt package, all Legacy models come with the same sporty body. Top-trim models are set apart visually by larger 17- or 18-inch wheels, with base models rolling on 16-inch steelies. A step above the base model, our Premium tester featured 16-inch aluminum wheels.
The cabin of the Legacy is equally impressive with nice metallic accents on the dash, wheel and center console. Standard equipment, this trim can be upgraded to wood on the Limited model – although we think it looks pretty terrible and wish we could get all the extras of the top-trim Limited without the wood. We also like the sporty yet simple gauges.
The only ting we’d like to see improved are the rather bland seats. Leather can be had, but only on the Limited model or on more expensive Legacy 2.5GT or 3.6R models.
As it stands, the 2.5i Premium is very well-equipped, especially considering it’s price of $20,995, or $21,995 with the CVT automatic. A PZEV(Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle) model can be had in certain regions for $300 extra on any trim level.
The base model (starting at just $19,995) includes power windows, locks and mirrors, remote keyless entry, air conditioning, redundant audio controls, cruise control, a tilt and telescopic steering wheel, a 4-speaker AM/FM/CD audio system with MP3/WMA playback and an auxiliary jack, as well as a multi-information display. All models also get an electronic parking brake (a nice touch), as well as a Hill Holder system, which seems rather cumbersome is it requires users to actually push a awkwardly mounted button on the dash to engage the system.
Premium trim models add a 10-way power driver’s seat with power lumbar, a leather wrapped steering wheel, driver’s auto up/down power window, as well as a few minor exterior trim items and 16-inch aluminum wheels. Our tester also featured a $500 All-Weather Package, a must for most Subaru owners, with 2-stage heated front seats, heated mirrors and a windshield wiper de-icer.
As for safety features, all Subys come standard with ABS brakes with EBD and BA, as well as six airbags, a tire pressure monitoring system and Subaru’s Vehicle Dynamics control (VDC) stability and traction control systems.
In reaching out to the mass market, the Legacy, at least the entry-level 2.5i model, has lost some of its charm. But it’s also gained a great deal, not the least of which includes a smoother ride, plenty more passenger room and vastly improved fuel economy. Plus, Subaru has managed to hold true to delivering an all-wheel drive family sedan that looks (both inside and out) like a step above the competition.
We understand what the company has done with the longer wheelbase and softer ride and so the only real things we’d want to change would be the low-geared transmission that shudders in traffic and the extra loose steering.
Subaru’s decision to chase market share may cost it some core followers, but it will no doubt pick up far more new buyers, who wouldn’t have given the too-small Legacy of years-gone-by a second look.
And besides, Subaru hasn’t forgotten its hard-core customer base, as those looking for a more engaging drive can still find it in the Legacy, although they’ll have to shell out closer to $28,000 for the 265-hp 2.5GT model.
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