ASSOCIATE EDITOR GRAHAM KOZAK: I hope that other editors can get some laid-back open-road cruising in on this 2014 Subaru Legacy 2.5i Sport because I was stuck in the snow. Not literally, thank God. But Detroit's surface roads were (surprise!) unplowed and downright treacherous when I got behind the wheel. The few other drivers venturing out had apparently never encountered snow before, providing hazards of a more dynamic sort.
In other words, these were the exact sort of conditions everyone imagines they'll encounter on a daily basis when they decide to buy a Subaru. Fortunately, the car delivered.
Oh, you never quite forgot you were in a Subaru. The engine/trans combo is OK, but it doesn't feel very refined. I'm talking about the transmission, not the buzzy boxer, which has its own sort of charm. Subaru has proven it can produce a quick CVT, but so far it hasn't been able to build one that doesn't sound like it's going to explode under acceleration.
Step on the gas and you're thrown into a spat between the wheels and the motor; the CVT is caught in the middle and it whines along horribly. I'm not sure how this conflict is resolved, but the result was satisfactory. On the road in terrible conditions, the car remained very balanced, very predictable. With the roads deserted, I figured I'd switch off traction control and see if the car's road manners were solely a product of computerized nannies.
I didn't notice a difference. Limited (if any) wheelspin on takeoff and firm, confident cornering; all in all, it felt well engineered mechanically, if that makes sense. Subaru makes a big deal out of its “Symmetrical All Wheel Drive” system and -- what the hell -- it actually works as advertised. My time in the snow was, dare I say, fun.
But even in the mountains of Vermont, you're not going to be in the snow all year. That's when the Subaru's shortcomings might start to wear on you. Fortunately, for Subaru, they're mostly aesthetic. Namely, the car is pretty boring inside and out -- a real snoozer. Looking back at past models, it doesn't seem like this is a stylistic step back, but damn it if Subaru hasn't cranked out some stunning concepts and then completely ignored them when it came time to order up production sheetmetal.
Similarly, the inside isn't terrible -- it's just old and plain. The infotainment system is functional, and I was immediately familiar with it as it is the same unit found in the BRZ.
All of this was easy enough to overlook before companies like Mazda upped their exterior/interior design game and Ford released the very mature Fusion in our market. How has Subaru managed to overcome this lack of flash and still power through to record-breaking sales as of late? It's got to be the price. I didn't exactly feel like I was being cheated in this car at just under $28,000, but keep in mind that you can get into a bare-bones model for just over $20,000. And then there is a new Legacy coming our way that just debuted at the Chicago auto show.
EDITOR WES RAYNAL: It's definitely winter around here, no question, and Subarus are terrific winter cars.
This example is no exception. The ride is smooth and controlled and comfortable. This is a hugely important point this time of year, when oftentimes the roads are one track through snow and there are mounds of ice and potholes are growing bigger and the whole thing is just a hot mess. This car handles it all with nary a worry. No jarring, no abruptness -- just steady as she goes.
The car's not a rocket, but, in this weather, who cares? The flat four continues to sound Subaru-ish, and I mean that as a compliment. I don't love the CVT, but it's not bad as these things go. Besides, so many automakers are going that route; I've thrown up my hands and just accepted that they're here to stay until someone comes up with something better.
The interior is pleasant. I was surprised at the rear seat room. The materials are good and the layout comfortable. Heated cloth seats are the way to go: They warm up nicely but aren't freezing cold when you first get in. Yeah, I still think the radio buttons are too small, but they actually seem bigger than the ones in the last Subaru I drove.
The only thing I'd do different if this were my car: I'd like to get a wagon, but that would mean having to step up into an Outback. Other than that, I liked it a lot. Nice car that's a solid value.
DIGITAL EDITOR ANDREW STOY: The intrepid Davey G. Johnson was chatting me up about Subaru's new WRX, which is available for the first time with an optional CVT. Johnson attempted to convince me that the transmission was really good, and I attempted to explain to him that he was full of it.
After driving this Legacy, however, I'm not so confident of my convictions. Granted, this car doesn't have the WRX turbo engine, but mated with the 2.5 boxer four-cylinder, the CVT does an outstanding job moving our Subaru sedan along without calling undue attention to itself. The horizontal engine's machinations were even subdued…it's not Honda sewing-machine smooth or anything, but the combination bordered on refined. Egads!
Yet another snowstorm, followed by the well-publicized Polar Vortex, descended upon Detroit while I had the Subaru, and I was thankful it was in the driveway. Even wearing all-season rubber, the Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive system did an outstanding job keeping the car in line, and at no point did I feel the car was in danger of going in an unintended direction. Keep in mind I was driving like a sane, rational person would in terrible weather -- reduced speeds, both hands on the wheel, cell phone in my pocket; no car can overcome stupidity, but the Subaru rewards careful driving.
Speaking of winter weather, our Legacy featured heated cloth seats. Eureka! There's no technical reason this isn't possible, but most manufacturers effectively charge you thousands of dollars for heated seats by shoving them into a package with leather, headlight washers and other options. Subaru makes them standard on all models except the base 2.5i. It's a little detail, but it's one that shows Subaru is paying attention to its clientele.
I commented in a past review of the Legacy 3.6R that the car was too expensive to recommend over more refined competitors. With the 2.5i Sport, that equation completely flip-flops. Subaru is offering lots of interior room, a nice-sized trunk and a downright fun powertrain (yep, I said it) all wrapped in reasonably attractive sheetmetal; add the capability of AWD and a sticker around $27k for our loaded Sport (a base Sport starts under $25k) and you've got a great car for the money.
If you live in the snowbelt or you venture off the beaten path and you don't want to worship at the SUV altar, the Legacy is an outstanding value with few shortcomings.
2014 Subaru Legacy 2.5i Sport
Base Price: $24,390
As-Tested Price: $27,640
Drivetrain: 2.5-liter H4; AWD, continuously variable transmission
Output: 173 hp @ 5,600 rpm, 174 lb-ft @ 4,100 rpm
Curb Weight: 3,315 lb
Fuel Economy (EPA City/Highway/Combined): 24/32/27 mpg
AW Observed Fuel Economy: 24.2 mpg
Options: Option package 37 including 18-inch allow wheels, power moonroof, autodim mirrors, HomeLink, reverse camera, carbon fiber pattern trim, fog lights, aluminum alloy pedal covers, black cloth seats with unique stitching, navigation system with Aha infotainment, SiriusXM NavTraffic, voice activated control ($3,800)
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