The Subaru Legacy has always been a quixotic choice in the ferocious midsize-sedan market, its AWD traditionally limiting it to legions of diehard Northerners whose fond memories of turbo Leones inspired them to subject their children to a lifetime of humiliation. Last year, for example, the Legacy was outsold by the Dodge Avenger and Buick Lacrosse. It barely eked out a hardscrabble existence over the folks who scored the lastSuzuki Kizashi on the lot.
"We'd like to sell more sedans," said a Subaru executive, morosely. "If we can expand 1-2 percent market share…we'd like to be second, third, fourth on a shopping list."
Well, cheer up, Subaru! The 2015 Legacy is much improved over the sack of frumpiness that it replaces. Its roofline is much sleeker, for starters -- more coupe-like, as its stylists and engineers intended, though the overall exterior is still milquetoast. At least the overwrought fender flares are outta here.
The two engines remain similar: a 175-hp, 2.5-liter flat-four and the 256-hp, 3.6-liter flat-six. A CVT is the only transmission, and Subaru claims the mileage is the highest among AWD sedans: 26 mpg city/36 mpg highway in the 2.5i, which could bring the AWD Subaru into further mainstream acceptance.
Inside, a new navigation screen obliterates any memory of how awful the last one was. You can pinch the map! You can rotate it with two fingers! You can play with it like it's an iPhone -- and it won't lag or seize up! A 12-speaker Harman Kardon audio system is available as well. Subaru's EyeSight technology, developed "by a guy sitting in a basement for 20 years," said a PR man, gets increased range and vehicle detection for its adaptive-cruise control, collision braking all the way to 0 mph, and a lane departure warning -- all facilitated by two compact cameras, mounted by the rearview mirror and enshrouded by ominous "do not touch" warning signs.
What's it like to drive?
Drive, say, an Impreza WRX with its Stone Age suspension back-to-back against a Legacy, and you'd be hard-pressed to believe that these two cars came from the same era, much less the same company. The ride comfort on the Legacy is excellent. Both engines are quiet, the 3.6R more so.
The Legacy 2.5i has 175 hp. Two generations ago, the Legacy 2.5i had about the same horsepower. It's remarkable to note that the Legacy's power and weight figures have varied little over the past 10 years; squeezing past the occasional infuriating dawdler along the Pacific Coast Highway at one of its rare, God-gifted passing zones induces the same tense, dramatic experience. The 3.6R's 256 hp is welcome and comes on much more smoothly. But, at any rate, compared to the 2014 Legacy, both engines have progressed beyond sounding "like they're going to explode under acceleration."
Subaru might just be building the best CVT available today, perhaps because it does a stellar job pretending its CVTs don't feel like CVTs. The stepped gears react quickly to paddle shifting -- the only way to manually switch gears on a Subaru automatic -- and the power is always right there, ready to be used.
Roadholding is equally stellar, with just a bit of body roll. The chassis has been given revised suspension geometry front and rear, with incremental changes to the front MacPherson struts and rear double-wishbone suspension. But the important feature is that the Legacy now packs the same Active Torque Vectoring as in the Impreza WRX STI. What this means is that if you pitch it into a corner at a rate slightly above your pay grade, the Legacy will carry you out smoothly enough to make you look like a hero.
Still, the rest of the Legacy isn't as confidence inspiring -- the chassis still feels slightly disconnected, like you're going too fast through said corner. The brakes could be a bit grabbier -- as it stands, they slow down so evenly that it's hard to gauge your speed when you brake. The steering is light but accurate, though the right moment on the right set of curves might actually offer bit of scant resistance. Dare I say sporty? Perhaps. The Legacy is one of those cars that isn't obviously sporty, but it conducts itself with more composure than you might think.
Do I want one?
Smooth, capable and fairly quick in 3.6-liter trim, the Legacy is now as mainstream as the rest of the midsize-sedan segment. Bundle that with the famous Subaru all-wheel drive and decent fuel economy, and the Legacy now has a chance to expand past its Northwest and New England enclaves.
The Legacy is entering its 26th year, and "There's enough shine and positivity in the brand to carry onto Legacy," said Subaru's hardworking PR people. Hopefully it's enough to win it some hesitant expansion. Maybe it'll even inspire some parents to cement their enthusiasm in their offspring.
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