DETROIT — Pity the
Subaru Legacy sedan.
It has a hard enough
time competing for dates in SUV Nation, but it also has to compete
against its sibling Outback. Separated at birth, the Outback and
Legacy share the same DNA, platform and electronics — except the
Outback got jacked up by 8.7 inches to SUV status and became the
fun, outdoors-loving, best-selling big man on campus. Its dance card
is full every weekend.
To make matters
worse, the Outback went out and got plastic surgery.
Legacy was always the
better-looking sibling with its sleek roofline and Sport trim and
athletic stance. But for its sixth generation, the Outback got Botox
shots that cleaned up its lumpy face, toned down its love handles
and — this one really hurts — picked up the same Sport trim as
The new Outback has
cool black highlights, black wheels, blacked-out window pillars, the
full Sport treatment. And to rub it in, the Outback calls its sport
The Legacy could
wallow in self-pity, but it knows its strengths and builds on them
for its own next-generation makeover.
For 2020, Legacy is
more athletic, more attractive and more of an all-wheel-drive
bargain than ever. The Outback may have more rugged sex appeal than
Russell Crowe, but it comes at a $4,000 premium. The Legacy is a
cheap date with quick moves that will get you to dinner and a movie
Sedan sales may be
down compared to sport utilities, but the Legacy is evidence they
are still the best bargain on the showroom floor. For us
aesthetically minded penny pinchers, the midsize sedan is one
best-in-segment Honda Accord sedan, the Legacy offers standard
luxury features and handling for about $25,000. Indeed, these
sedans’ amenities are so good that luxury buyers have to think
long and hard whether Audi’s four-rings ($54,000 for a base A6) or
Acura’s caliper logo ($33,000 for a base TLX) are worth the hit to
the bank account.
For the same price as
a base Honda LX, the $25,895 Legacy Premium echoes with standard —
standard! — adaptive cruise-control, lane-keep assist and
11.6-inch, Tesla-like console screen. Good luck finding those
features on equivalent luxury models for under $50,000.
With a press of the
adaptive cruise-control button on the steering wheel, the Legacy
competently self-drove through heavy California traffic (is there
any other kind?), with lane-centering, braking for the car in front
of me and accelerating automatically. It allowed me to negotiate the
big console screen to adjust temperature, seat heater, navigation
directions (Apple CarPlay/Android Auto also standard) and … um,
the start-stop button.
For a brand
synonymous with its “Love” ad campaign, Subaru is surprisingly
obtuse about Americans’ hatred of start-stop, which makes cars
stall at stoplights in order to get credits toward federal
BMW, VW and Mercedes
love their customers so much they put the start-stop button right
next to the on-off button so drivers can shut it off as soon as they
get in the car. Subaru buries it deep in the infotainment screen.
Love returns when you
hit the gas pedal. Built on Subaru’s excellent new Global
Architecture, the Legacy benefits just as the compact Impreza sedan
and Outback before it.
With an impressive
70% improvement in torsional rigidity thanks to high-strength steel
and lots of glue (the new, new engineering thing), Legacy rotated
nicely through California’s Ojai Mountain twisties (like Hell,
Michigan, except miles longer).
Venture off-road and
the Legacy can go confidently where few other sedans dare with its
standard (there’s that word again) all-wheel drive. Muddy,
pockmarked national-park dirt roads are no problem with Legacy’s
torque-vectoring AWD — all four corners are always spinning to get
you out of trouble.
This is Legacy’s
secret sauce. And though the sedan segment may be shrinking, Subaru
sees it as a tasty alternative as Detroit manufacturers leave the
segment. Chrysler long ago headed for the weeds and the fetching
Ford Fusion (with Altima, the only other automaker that offers
all-wheel drive in the segment) is scheduled for the scrap heap.
Only the Subaru comes – yup – standard with AWD in the segment.
If you face
all-season weather, that’s a welcome sight for a $23,000 base
Dress the Legacy in
my favorite Sport trim and it’s ready for a night on the town for
about $30,000. And bring friends. I could sit behind myself
comfortably in the back seat, 6-foot-6 frame and all. Continuing the
interior upgrade, the Legacy has gained a healthy 1.4 inches of rear
leg room despite no wheelbase length change.
While the interior
has had a full remake, the outside is familiar save for a rimless
grille here, a higher beltline there. The biggest exterior
alteration is – typical Subaru – value-driven. The rear trunk
opening has been stretched allowing for four full-size bags to fit
in the trunk where only three did before. Clever.
styling bucks the segment trend in which Accord, Hyundai Sonata, and
Toyota Camry sexed up their offerings to keep their customers’
cheating eyes riveted on sedans. If Legacy were ice cream, it would
be vanilla. That’s a gamble, especially in light of brother
Outback’s better looks.
Also a gamble is the
bet that performance-minded customers (like me) won’t miss its
In a crowded segment,
the six’s throaty roar was a siren song for customers looking to
upgrade from the base 2.5-liter four-banger’s dull buzz. To
improve fuel economy, pricier Legacys (designated LX) get
turbocharged 2.4-liter fours to match the Accord’s 2.0-liter
But the turbo remains
mated to the same CVT transmission as the standard 2.5-liter
four-cylinder, whereas the Accord moves to a 10-speed and the Mazda
6 boasts one of the silkiest 6-speeds you’ll ever encounter.
Even King Accord’s
own Sport model shows up my favorite Subaru Sport with a more
powerful standard engine and optional stick shift. Price? The same.
Both cars are made in the midwest (Accord in Ohio, Legacy in
Indiana). Both have more rear seat room than Delta Comfort.
So Legacy makes its
case with that secret-sauce AWD. It is catnip in the upper Midwest,
save for one thing: Sibling Outback also has AWD. And that
lah-dee-dah Onyx model, unlike Legacy’s Sport, gets the 260-horse
Curse you, twin
2020 Subaru Legacy
Front-engine, all-wheel drive, five-passenger midsize sedan
Price: Base price
$23,645 including $900 destination charge ($30,090 Sport as tested)
4-cylinder or 2.4-liter turbo 4-cylinder
horsepower, 176 pound-feet of torque (2.5-liter); 260 horsepower,
277 pound-feet of torque (turbo-4)
Continuously variable transmission (CVT)
mph, 6.1 sec. (manufacturer estimate for turbo-4); top speed, 130
Weight: 3,523 pounds
(Sport as tested)
Fuel economy: EPA: 27
city/35 highway/30 combined (2.5-liter); 24 city/32 highway/27
Highs: AWD sedan
bargain, Tesla-like screen
exterior; start-stop switch off hard to find
Overall: 3 stars