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2013 Subaru Legacy Review
An obvious choice, but only if you need AWD
By Craig Cole, Photography by Craig Cole, Jan. 03, 2013

Subaru is a brand that caters to lovers, lovers of Birkenstocks and bran muffins that is. In a lot of ways the company’s vehicles are as quirky as its certified-organic customers.

FAST FACTS

1. The Legacy is offered with two different engines: a 173 hp 4-cylinder or an optional 256-horsepower flat six.

2. All Subarus with the exception of the BRZ sports coupe come standard with full-time all-wheel drive.

3. The Subaru Legacy was rated a “Top Safety Pick” by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

4. Rated at 24 mpg city, 32 highway, in AutoGuide testing the Legacy 2.5i Limited delivered impressive real-world fuel economy at 27 mpg.

The Japanese automaker spurns convention by utilizing boxer engines and pushing full-time all-wheel drive. The Legacy is its entry into the fiercely competitive midsize-sedan segment, but does this whole-grain family car have the starch to compete with market heavyweights?

In a word, no. Sorry Subaru fans, the Legacy is not the greatest thing since sliced bread. It lacks the Honda Accord’s sophistication, the stellar fuel economy of the Nissan Altima or the avant-garde design of the new Ford Fusion. That’s not to say it’s a poor choice; the Legacy has its share of virtues, but these other cars offer more.

COMPREHENSIVE COMPETITION

 

The Accord is the incumbent, an unfaltering choice with a long track record of reliable service. It offers advanced features and driving dynamics the Legacy can’t match, plus buyers can opt for a sporty coupe model if they prefer two doors.

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The Altima is a solid third-party candidate, think Ross Perot but politically successful. Efficiency is the cornerstone of its platform. While the Legacy delivers admirable numbers, 24 miles per gallon in the city and 32 on the open road, Nissan blows it away with a highway score of 38 MPG. Of course the Subaru comes standard with all-wheel drive, a feature that reduces efficiency, and isn’t available on the Altima, or Accord.

The Fusion is an ambitious up-and-comer looking to steal a seat in the Sedan Senate; charismatic design is its biggest draw. In comparison the Legacy looks downright dowdy, about as exciting a competitive quilting competition. BYOT (bring your own thimble)!

IT’S WHAT’S INSIDE THAT COUNTS

 


But it’s not all bad news, things improve dramatically once you open a door and slide inside. Unlike much of the competition this car’s dashboard is crafted of hard plastic, but you’d never know it unless you prod it with a digit or drum a fingernail across it. It’s a tastefully grained, high-quality piece of engineering.
 
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The overall interior design is unexpectedly fashionable as well, given how frumpy the Legacy’s body is. Fit and finish is superb and the front seats are Lay-Z-Boy comfortable, just be careful not to doze off behind the wheel.

In addition, the second row is surprisingly spacious, with ample legroom for even the gangliest of passengers. An added bonus, front or rear there’s practically enough headroom to wear a sombrero.

Headliner-mounted grab handles are provided for all outboard passengers, including the driver, which is a thoughtful and welcome touch, something that most automakers omit.

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Interior downsides are few, and they center on some of the secondary controls. The navigation and climate systems can be challenging to use, especially the sat-nav. It’s not one of the more common-sense technologies on the market today.

UNDER-HOOD HARDWARE

 

As its name implies, the Legacy 2.5i is powered by a two-and-a-half-liter boxer four-cylinder engine. This thrumming powerplant serves up 173 horsepower and 174 lb-ft of torque, two class-competitive figures.

Our test car was equipped with the company’s “Lineartronic” CVT, the only transmission offered on higher-end models fitted with the 2.5-liter engine. Entry-level Legacies come standard with a six-speed manual cog-crate, something that should be offered on all trim levels. Cars equipped with the up-level 3.6-liter six-cylinder engine are only available with a conventional five-speed automatic transmission.

On paper, CVTs deliver the best combination of performance and fuel economy by keeping a car’s engine in its sweet spot relative to driver demand. Unfortunately, theory and reality can be very different things as demonstrated by this engine/transmission combination.

The Legacy’s boxer-four is by no means a pleasant-sounding powerplant. It’s always grumbling, albeit quietly, as it goes about its business. The engine’s CVT cohort only exacerbates the thrum, adding in its own whirring soundtrack.

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Full-throttle stints are particularly unpleasant, bringing out the worst of this mismatched duet. Stand on the accelerator pedal and the engine revs to about 5800 rpm, parking itself there until the driver backs off. This wouldn’t be an issue if it sounded like a 5.0-liter Mustang, but it doesn’t. The noise it makes can be likened to a Sasquatch gargling barbecue sauce. A proper stepped-gear transmission would go a long way to improving the drive.

Performance isn’t that impressive, either. At wide-open throttle the car seeps ahead, seemingly at the speed of absorption – like a sponge soaking up water.

From an NVH (noise vibration and harshness) standpoint the Legacy’s powertrain is disappointing but observed fuel-economy was downright impressive. As indicated by its onboard consumption computer the car returned an even 27 miles per gallon even after a full week of lead-footed driving. That number perfectly matches the EPA’s combined score. Other automakers may be falling short in this area, but thank you Subaru for delivering on your promises.

PUTTING IT ALL IN MOTION

 

Engine noise and CVT flaccidity notwithstanding, the Legacy is generally pleasant to drive. Its steering system performs directional duties without drama – the wheel’s weighting is decent as is its road feel. The ride, though, is another thing entirely, as it’s quite firm for a family car, giving it a cautiously sporty feel.

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Maybe that extra stiffness is because the Legacy, like all Subarus with the exception of the BRZ coupe, comes standard with full-time all-wheel-drive. This gives the car a healthy dose of confidence, especially in inclement winter weather. It’s a major reason to consider purchasing one – or any Subaru for that matter.

Speaking of low temperatures and snowy roads, the Legacy has a couple of interesting quirks when it comes to cold conditions. The engine seems to take forever to warm up, even in 40-degree weather. During testing the temperature gauge wouldn’t reach the center of its sweep for at least 15 minutes of driving. Cool air would blow from its vents most of the way. Other vehicles warm up in about a third of the time, but the Legacy played it cool.

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Along that line, the seat heaters were equally sluggish.  Even on their “High” setting the butt-cookers took their sweet-ass time to put off any warmth.  A quarter-hour would tick by before any serious BTUs emerged from the leather-clad chairs.

BRING YOUR CHECKBOOK

 

Our high-brow Legacy 2.5i Limited test car stickered for a few hundred bucks less than 31 grand, including $770 worth of destination and delivery charges. Its pricing is right in line with other midsize sedans, including the ones mentioned at the top of this review.

The car only featured one option package, but it inflated the base MSRP by a handsome sum – nearly $4,000. Included in that bundle were a power moonroof, a navigation system and the company’s EyeSight Driver-Assist System, something that added adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning and pre-collision braking, among other things.

Ideally, the extra EyeSight feature would be separate, allowing those who demand maximum safety (the car will literally stop itself at speeds below 20 mph if an collision is seen as imminent) to have it… at a cost.

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THE VERDICT

 

The Legacy is a solid midsize sedan. It offers a spacious, comfortable interior, decent driving dynamics and a surprisingly efficient powertrain.

But these virtues aren’t enough to hide the fact that it feels dated, and the current model has only been on the market for a few years. This just goes to show you how competitive the automotive industry is, the midsize-sedan segment in particular.

You can’t fault someone for buying a Legacy, full-time all-wheel drive is its standout feature and something that’s immensely helpful to drivers in snowy climates. Subaru also has a strong track record of reliability and safety, two things that cannot be ignored. But if all-wheel drive isn’t mission-critical there are better choices on the market today.
 

LOVE IT
  • Real-world fuel economy
  • Comfortable seats
  • Spacious cabin
LEAVE IT
  • Drowsy design
  • Uninspired powertrain
  • CVT = Continuously Vexing Transmission