Subaru Legacy — there are reasons for success

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

For many years Subaru with its standard across-the-lineup all-wheel drive has been popular in the colder climates, but a slow seller in the rest of the country. Quirky styling, also kept Subaru a niche brand, something like Saab but in less expensive clothes.

Things started to change more than a decade ago when the Japanese company began producing vehicles — led by the small and endearing Forester crossover — that captured the interest of the mainstream population.

With the introduction of the all-new 2010 Outback crossover and Legacy mid-sized sedan, Subaru has seemingly entered a new era of mass appeal. These vehicles are more spacious, more attractive and more desirable than the iterations that came before them — and they still feature an all-wheel drive system across the lineup.

The new Subaru popularity is vividly pointed up by 2009 sales figures. In one of the worst sales climates in a quarter century, Subaru managed to increase sales and gain market share. Amazing but perhaps not as amazing as you might think if you spend time in an Outback or Legacy.

We just finished seven days in a 2010 Legacy sedan and it seems every bit the equal of the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Hyundai Sonata, Ford Fusion and Chevrolet Malibu. That’s some pretty good company.

We noted in our review of the Outback that Subaru engineers seemed to take to heart every customer criticism and made it their primary objective to correct those things that turned people off. The same thinking and action applies to the Legacy as well. Subaru has done a masterful job upgrading the sedan in all the right places.

One of the biggest complaints with previous editions was lack of interior space. Rear passenger room was tighter than the aforementioned rivals. No problem, Subaru said. And the 2010 Legacy is now longer and wider than its predecessor gaining significant passenger and trunk room.

It’s bigger where it matters most. Passenger volume has risen to 103 cubic feet, a big increase over 2009’s 93.5 cubic feet. Rear leg room is now a healthy 37.8 inches, up nearly four inches from last year; now comparing favorably with Accord (37.2 inches), Fusion (37.1 inches) and Camry (38.3 inches). Trunk space has increased from 11.4 cubic feet in 2009 to a more competitive and useable 14.7 in 2010.

Improvements have been made to the three available drivetrains. The old, outdated four-speed automatic is gone in favor of a new continuously variable transmission, now paired with the base 2.5-liter horizontally opposed 4-cylinder engine. Horsepower has been increased from 243 horsepower to 265 in the turbocharged 2.5-liter engine paired only with a six-speed manual. A new 3.6-liter horizontally opposed six packs 256 horsepower compared to 245 in the previous 3.0-liter. The six gets a five-speed automatic.

Mileage is up about a mile to the gallon for both the turbo and six, at 18 mpg city and 25 mpg on the highway. The smaller 170-horsepower 2.5-liter engine with the CVT is rated at a very competitive 23/31.

Styling has been considerably upgraded, although we agree styling is very subjective. We like the sedan’s wedge-shaped stance highlighted by a slight flare of the fenders. Unlike some of the new entries that come with high belt lines and narrowed side glass, the Legacy has a big greenhouse with great sightlines in all directions; and for those with long torsos ingress and egress is achieved without getting knocked in the head.  Overall, the Legacy’s styling is sleek and appealing from all angles. It has a well-designed instrument panel and gauge layout, a vast improvement over the prior model and highly competitive. Controls are generally well thought out and we appreciate a radio with old-fashioned knobs for volume and tuning.  We found the seating position excellent. The power driver’s seat is amazing with the ability to hoist you to the ceiling or drop you to sports-car level; and it’s comfortable.

To make things even more attractive, Subaru has cut prices from last year. The base 2.5 model is in the neighborhood of $1,000 less expensive, and other models are correspondingly lower.

Although we are undisputed lovers of horsepower, we were happy when given a 2.5 version for testing. It afforded us with the opportunity to discover that the 170-horsepower “boxer” four is up to the task of pulling the 3,379-pound Legacy while delivering a solid 30 mpg.

The Legacy performed in an entertaining manner on some winding roads as its handling proved surprisingly good all while displaying a comfortable ride. The Legacy merged and passed without drama and has been measured at around 9 seconds from 0 to 60.

And you don’t have to give up any of the Legacy's amenities when you opt for the smaller engine. All three engine choices can be purchases in well-outfitted Limited and Premium editions. Our Premium test car with a base of $25,690 included leather, heated power driver and passenger seats, dual climate control, upgraded 440-watt Harmon/Kardon audio system, and full power accessories. Another $3,000 added a power moonroof and voice-activated navigation with rearview camera.

A base 2.5i starts at $20,690 with standard features including full power, tilt and telescoping steering wheel with audio controls, air conditioning, and a four-speaker audio system with CD player. If you desire the horsepower of the six-cylinder, prices begin at $25,690. The turbocharged edition begins at $28,685 in Premium trim. The six-cylinder has been measured at about 7 seconds from 0-to-60, and unlike last year, it will burn regular gas.

Safety starts with all-wheel drive, and includes on all models four-wheel antilock brakes with brake assist, stability control, front side airbags, and side curtain airbags.

Our test car with navigation, sunroof and Sirius satellite radio upgrade carried a bottom line of $29,211; and that solved the mystery of Subaru’s exceptional sales statistics over the past year — build cars people want at a fair price and they will come.
Base price: $20,690; as driven, $29,211
Engine: 2.5-liter "boxer" 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 170 @ 5,600 rpm
Torque: 170 foot-pounds @ 4,000 rpm
Drive: all-wheel
Transmission: continuously variable (CVT)
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 108.3 inches
Length: 186.4 inches
Curb weight: 3,379 pounds
Turning circle: 36.8 feet
Luggage capacity: 14.7 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 18.5 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 31mpg highway, 23 mpg city
0-60: 9.4 seconds (
Also consider: Honda Accord, Ford Fusion, Toyota Camry

The Good:
• All-wheel drive standard on all models
• Increased passenger and cargo space
• Three engines to choose from

The Bad:
• No automatic transmission with turbocharged engine

The Ugly:
• Unimpressive 6-cylinder gas mileage