For years, anyone in search of a mainstream all-wheel drive family sedan only had one solution: the Subaru Legacy.
Even then, the Legacy wasn’t exactly mainstream with its symmetrical AWD, boxer engines and high-riding Outback variants. But over the years the Legacy crept closer and closer to being a “normal” family sedan in the quest of higher sales.
At the same time, other mid-size sedans started to get closer to the Legacy. In 2012 Ford started offering an all-wheel drive option on the Fusion, paired to the company’s 2.0-liter EcoBoost engine. Chrysler also dabbled with all-wheel drive versions of the Sebring sedan, but never seemed serious about making a big splash in this sub-segment of family sedans. That is, until now.
Legacy and 200 Saunter Towards the Mainstream
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Completely reborn for the 2015 model year, the Chrysler 200 features seductive new sheet metal built on a stretched version of the Dodge Dart platform. Power comes from a 184-HP four-cylinder engine or an optional 295-HP 3.6-liter V6. But the big news for the 2015 200 has to do with what comes after the engine. All models get a brand-new nine-speed automatic transmission while V6 models can also be had with all-wheel drive.
SEE ALSO: 2015 Chrysler 200S Review
Not about to be outshone in a segment it owned for decades, Subaru introduced an all-new version of the Legacy this year as well. Unlike the 200, the Legacy is less of a revolution in design. Although the exterior and interior have been thoroughly updated, the car’s mechanics are essentially carryover items with one exception; six-cylinder models ditch the five-speed automatic transmission and adopt a chain-drive continuously variable (CVT).
The 3.6-liter “Boxer” six-cylinder engine still makes 256 HP and 247 lb-ft. of torque. That is significantly less power than the 200S produces, but in a straight line it doesn’t feel like it. Weighing about 150 lbs. less than the AWD 200S, the Legacy’s CVT keeps the engine in the power band at all times to maximize performance. In a straight line contest the 200S would easily beat the Legacy, but the nine-speed automatic in the Chrysler makes the car feel slower than it really is.
CVT vs. Nine-Speeds
Quiet and efficient, the nine-speed needs more development work. At low speeds, it trips up on itself and hesitates before upshifting. Juddering and jiggling are present during stop-and-go traffic and downshifts for highway passing maneuvers are downright painful as the transmission leisurely works its way through each gear on its way to a proper passing ratio. Basically, the Subaru’s CVT is one of the best gearless transmissions on the market whereas the technological marvel that is the Chrysler nine-speed is not a very good automatic.
But, even with less power and an ultra-efficient CVT, the Legacy couldn’t match the 200S in our real world fuel economy testing when equipped with six-cylinder engines. Despite being rated slight higher at 20 MPG city and 29 MPG highway compared to the 200S’ ratings of 18 MPG city and 29 MPG highway, the Chrysler edged out the Subaru with a return of 25.9 MPG compared to 25.3 MPG.
Full-Time AWD vs. Part-Time AWD
Part of the fuel discrepancy could be attributed to the respective AWD systems. The Legacy continues on with Subaru’s full-time, active-torque split AWD that sees power sent front and rear at all times. The 200S on the other hand will decouple the rear-axle in order to reduce parasitic loss and improve fuel economy during regular driving conditions. When needed though, the car will send up to 60 percent of the power to the rear wheels. AWD purists will despise this slip and grip system, but unless living on a greasy, muddy mountain, Subaru’s AWD system is overkill for the majority of driving situations.
Neither of the cars are sporty to drive, nor should they be. Designed for everyday drivers, the Legacy holds the edge here with better sightlines, a seamless transmission and low-effort driving controls. It’s very easy to get behind the wheel of the Subaru and feel instantly comfortable.
Conservative vs. Stylish
Subaru has been working hard on improving its interiors and it shows. Still not a class leader, the 2015 Legacy has much nicer materials inside now and better overall design, including an infotainment unit that is actually integrated into the center console. Compared to the 200’s interior though and the Legacy looks conservative and boring.
More modern and stylish, Chrysler did a done a good job inside the new 200S. That’s not to say everything is perfect as a few questionable styling elements snuck into the generation family sedan like blue-tinted wood-trim and captain-obvious labelling of the speedometer and tachometer.
SEE ALSO: 2015 Subaru Legacy Review
The Legacy’s front seats edge out the 200S’ due to the inclusion of a mesh-like insert in the Chrysler that isn’t attractive at all. Rear seat space also favors the Subaru with 38.1-inches of rear legroom on hand, half an inch more than in the 200S. More importantly, since the Legacy has more of a square exterior shape, real world passenger comfort trumps the Chrysler as head room is sorely lacking in the back of the 200S.
When it comes to the exterior of the two cars, there is no contest. Although much improved and contemporary looking, the Legacy cannot match the 200S when it comes to style. High-tech LED lights highlight the front and rear of the car, while S models like our tester have a darker, more sinister look thanks to glossy black trim and accent pieces as well as bumper-integrated exhaust tips. Chrysler probably has the best looking mid-size sedan on the market. When’s the last time that could be said?
|Vehicle||2015 Chrysler 200S AWD||Advantage||2015 Subaru Legacy Limited 3.6R|
|Engine||3.6 L Six-Cylinder||-||3.6 L Six-Cylinder|
|Horsepower||295 hp||200S||256 hp|
|Max. Torque||262 lb-ft||200S||247 lb-ft|
|Fuel Economy||18 MPG city / 29 MPG hwy||Legacy||20 MPG city / 29 MPG hwy|
|Observed MPG||25.9 mpg||200S||25.3 mpg|
|Weight||3,795 lbs.||Legacy||3,662 lbs.|
|Rear Cargo Capacity||16.0 cu. ft.||200S||15.0 cu. ft.|
|As Tested Price||$35,360||Legacy||$33,380|
A Question of Value
And that brings us to the question of value. Both cars start within spitting distance of each other as a base Legacy commands $22,490 after destination charges compared to the 200’s entry price of $22,695. Step up to the high-end of the model hierarchy though and things begin to separate.
A fully loaded Legacy 3.6R Limited comes equipped with Subaru’s Eye Sight crash detection and adaptive cruise control system, for a final bill of $33,380. Ringing in at $35,560, the loaded up 200S ups the ante with a panoramic sunroof, but is not available with adaptive cruise as the 200C model must be selected that not only costs more money, but also loses some of the 200S’ style.
The new Chrysler 200 is a quantum leap ahead of the old model and offers so much style, power and technology compared to the old 200, it probably deserved a new model name. The problem is, the car isn’t quite refined enough to compete in the near luxury class against the likes of the Acura TLX or Volvo S60, yet it’s too stylistically compromised to compete as a proper family friendly mid-size sedan.
On the other hand, the new Legacy is basically an all-wheel drive Honda Accord, which is a big complement to the Subaru sedan. It does everything right in a family friendly vehicle, while remaining anonymous and inoffensive. And when the weather turns nasty, the Legacy is more than ready to tackle the worst Mother Nature can throw at it.
2015 Chrysler 200S
2015 Subaru Legacy Limited 3.6R