The company which taught us the beauty of all-wheel drive has been enjoying massive sales success in this country.
After a small blip in 2020, Subaru has bounced right back, posting multiple best-ever sales months in 2021.
The Legacy and Impreza aren’t the company’s best-sellers—far from it, in fact. The larger Legacy is outsold by everything else save the small-batch BRZ while the Crosstrek—kissing cousin to the Impreza—more than doubles the Za’s volume. Still, combining for nearly 10,000 units it nothing to sneeze at, speaking instead to the massive success of the remaining lineup.
Which one of these two cars from the Pleiades brand is right for you? Let’s help you find out.
Impreza: The smaller of our two contendahs has but a single option choice, appearing in the form of a 2.0-liter boxer four making 152 horsepower and 145 lb-ft of torque. It runs just fine on regular-grade fuel and features all-wheel drive as standard equipment. Two transmissions are available: a five-speed manual as nature intended and a continuously variable ‘box with seven simulated gear steps. You don’t need a crystal ball to know which one your author prefers.
SEE ALSO: 2017 Subaru Impreza Review
Legacy: For the current generation, Subie engineers have deigned fans with a brace of mills, from one of which hangs a turbocharger. The naturally-aspirated unit is a 2.5-liter four-pot heaving out 182 horses and 176 lb-ft of twist. Stepping up to the turbo means a slight drop in displacement to 2.4 liters, but a huge jump in power to 260 ponies and a healthy 277 lb-ft of torque. Both engines are leashed to a CVT which does a passable job of not sounding like a rubber band thanks to an octet of programmed ratios.
SEE ALSO: 2020 Subaru Legacy Review
Bottom Line: A stick shift is fun but a turbocharger is funner. The surprising thrust provided by the Legacy’s engine is welcome in its three-box sedan body.
Impreza: Unlike in your grandfather’s day, when selecting a manual transmission was a one-way ticket to fuel savings, the efficient CVT in this Impreza produces better economy numbers than the stick shift. Sedan versions of the Impreza earn ratings of 24/32/27 mpg in city/highway/combined cycles when equipped with a manual. The CVT returns 28/38/32 in the same conditions. That highway number is especially impressive. Wagon versions are rated slightly less across all measures thanks to differences in styling and aerodynamics.
Legacy: Speed costs money. How fast do you want to go? The non-turbo 2.5-liter is rated at 27 mpg in city driving and 35 mpg on the highway, good for a combined rating of 30 miles per gallon. Opting for the turbo engine will dent your wallet at the pumps, as that engine exacts a 3 mpg penalty across the board. Both engines draw from an 18.5 gallon fuel tank so you’ll be stopping more often in the turbo.
Bottom Line: You’ll spend the least amount on fuel in an CVT-equipped Impreza sedan, no question … but you’ll have the most fun in a turbocharged Legacy. Which one is more important? That’s up to you.
Impreza: In terms of passenger space, Impreza cares not one whit if you opt for the sedan or wagon. Front seat occupants will enjoy 39.8 inches (1,011 mm) of headroom, while rear seat passengers make do with 2.5 inches (50 mm) less. Fitting a moonroof reduces front row headroom to rear row levels. Legroom is 43.1 inches (1,095 mm) up front and a relatively diminutive 36.5 inches (927 mm) for the peanut gallery.
Legacy: Perhaps surprisingly, Legacy offers not one whit more headroom space than its smaller Impreza cousin. Yes, your author had to triple-check the numbers as well. Where the Legacy shines is in rear seat legroom space offering nearly 40 inches (1,016 mm) of stretch-em-out room. Those sitting up front will enjoy similar legroom as those riding in the front chairs of Impreza. The larger sedan also offers about 3 inches (75 mm) more shoulder room, which makes for a less claustrophobic riding experience.
Bottom Line: If your household includes a passel of long-limbed teenagers, sampling the Legacy would be a smart idea. The rest of us can enjoy similar space in the front of both cars.
Impreza: It will surprise exactly no one to learn the wagon version of the Impreza handily beats the sedan in terms of cargo capacity. With the rear seatbacks up, a 5-door can haul 20.8 cubic feet (589 L) of kit from Whole Foods. Folding those seats out of the way opens things up to the total tune of 55.3 cubes (1,566 L). Go ahead and bring the bike on your camping trip, then. Trunk capacity of the 4-door is 12.3 cubic feet (348 L).
Legacy: Capacity in the trunk of the Legacy sedan checks in at 15.1 cubic feet (428 L). Just over two feet of liftover separates your groceries from their temporary home in the trunk. Flipping the car’s back seat to its stowed position opens up the boot for long items but Subaru does not specify a total measure for that configuration.
Bottom Line: With certainty, anyone who is planning to take home seaweed for basket making or load boxes at the farmer’s market will want to invest in a Impreza 5-door. Its wagon shape is far and away the most practical for hauling picket signs to the next Greenpeace demonstration at an oil refinery.
Impreza: The littlest Subaru offers a 6.5-inch infotainment screen with CarPlay as standard equipment, and all CVT-equipped cars come with the brand’s much-awarded EyeSight Driver Assist Technology. Premium models are fitted with a Starlink system that swaps out the smaller infotainment kit for an 8.0-inch screen.
Legacy: Available on snazzy models is the gee-whiz 11.6-inch Starlink multimedia screen, a unit which stands ready to facilitate the operation of audio and climate control duties plus a bunch of other functions. A new DriverFocus raft of tech aims to cut down on driver distraction by deploying facial recognition software to detect distracted or drowsy driving. Standard on all trims is the EyeSight tool, now equipped for the first time with lane centering functions.
Bottom Line: Both cars up the safety game with EyeSight but Legacy takes it to the next level with lane centering and the DriverFocus facial recognition software. This, in addition to the nifty 11.6-inch tablet, hands the W to Legacy in the technology department.
Impreza: Subaru has long been the purveyor of odd-looking machines, to the point it has occasionally poked fun at itself through shrewd advertising. The Impreza does a decent job of not out-weirding the competition, with a snazzy set of headlights bookending a corporate grille that features a chrome spear. Five-door versions appear to have taken posture lessons from the Hunchback of Notre Dame but that criticism can be levelled at just about any compact hatch.
Legacy: Fresh for the 2020 model year, the Legacy does a good job of not looking like a science project, offering appropriately chunky styling and an array of attractive colors. This includes in the interior, where one will find a Tesla-esque tablet and the option to fit attractive brown leather trappings. A bodyline crease along its flanks, like that in the Impreza, would be welcome.
Bottom Line: This is a toss up, simply because it is like choosing between a green pepper and a red pepper. The Legacy’s interior seals the deal for this author, with its dandy integration of a huge infotainment screen. Outwardly, though, it’s as personal a choice as selecting amongst a variety of brown L.L. Bean hiking boots.
Impreza: For model year 2019, the 4-door Impreza sedan begins at an affordable $19,720, including destination. Adding the CVT box bumps the price by $1,300. 5-door models start at $20,220. Limited trims will easily blow past $26,000 but remain equipped with the same engine and CVT transmission as base cars.
Legacy: Starting at just $23,820, the Legacy makes a great case for itself in terms of value. In fact, only one naturally-aspirated Legacy bears a starting price over thirty grand: the $30,820 Limited. Turbocharged cars, with all their delicious horsepower, are denoted by an XT trim designation and a much higher price tag. A Limited XT is $35,370 while the slightly snazzier Touring XT is $37,070.
Bottom Line: From the view of a bed-wetting accountant, the Impreza empirically wins this skirmish thanks to its economy car roots and subsequent pricing. However, the base Legacy brings a lot of value to the table for under $24k. Great fuel economy ratings, all-wheel drive, and a raft of safety equipment—not to mention a good-sized interior and trunk—make this the pricing winner around these parts.
The 4- or 5-door Impreza is certainly the most affordable way to gain access to the Subaru Lifestyle and all the bohemian delights it has to offer. Your author, however, feels that the Legacy’s value proposition cannot be ignored—especially in base trim. It’s bigger, has better technology and safety kit, and consumes roughly the same amount of fuel. That’s a difficult argument to counter, even from within the Subaru family.
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