Subaru presents attractive entry in midsize sedan field

Subaru's 2015 Legacy was built to excel in its tough market segment - and unlike some earlier versions, to look fantastic, to boot.
Subaru's 2015 Legacy was built to excel in its tough market segment - and unlike some earlier versions, to look fantastic, to boot.
Posted: May 25, 2014

Despite a growth spurt since the arrival of the new millennium, Subaru remains a small, niche automaker best known for its sturdy, all-wheel-drive crossover SUVs.

Predictably enough, it would like to grow, primarily by peddling more non-crossovers.

"We are too heavy on crossovers," said Michael McHale, Subaru's director of corporate communications. "We'd like to sell more sedans."

Enter the extensively redesigned 2015 Legacy, Subaru's player in the biggest car game of them all: the popularly priced midsize sedan.

The Legacy, to date, has lived in the sales shadow of mainstream midsizers such as the Toyota Camry, which outsells it 17-1. And, certainly, its styling has had something to do with that. As Legacy car line manager Peter Tenn put it: "Subaru was not known in the past as a design leader, and that's putting it mildly."

So, the automaker set out to build a handsome sedan that would rival or exceed the competition. And given my test drives of several models at a recent regional press preview, I would say it succeeded. This extensively revised Legacy turns out to be good-looking, technically au courant, quiet, comfortable, and drivable. With a starting price of $21,695 that includes all-wheel drive and a rear camera, it also represents good value.

The new Legacy's bragging rights include its roominess and fuel economy. While its footprint hasn't grown much, the Legacy now boasts the largest interior volume in the segment. The projected EPA mileage estimates for the four-cylinder model are 26 city and 36 highway, giving it a combined 30 - which is the best combined mileage for an AWD midsizer and better than some front-drivers.

Let's look at the design highlights of the new Legacy, which will be in the showrooms in late June or early July:

Stronger structure. The new car enjoys a 43 percent increase in torsional stiffness, and 35 percent in bending stiffness. This translates into better ride and handling, and a quieter automobile. Ride and handling are also enhanced by suspension revisions and wider tires. More insulation contributes to the new car's increase in quietude.

Mileage enhancers. There is a long litany of new reasons the sixth-generation Legacy's fuel economy is so good, particularly in the four-banger. In the interests of efficiency, the 2.5-liter four was revised to the point where it is really a new engine. Better body aerodynamics improve mileage, as does a grille shutter that helps economy by reducing wind resistance when closed. New electric power steering also saves gas by not using engine power the way a hydraulic system does.

New safety gear. Subaru has increased the Legacy's EyeSight safety menu, which includes such aids as adaptive cruise control and lane-departure alert, to include blind-spot and rear-cross-traffic alerts. It has also come up with an additional front air bag that helps hold occupants in place during a frontal crash, thus preventing them from "submarining" under the dashboard.

Driving the 175-horse Legacy 2.5i and the 256-horsepower, top-of-the-line, $29,595 3.6R Limited proved pleasant. Yes, the more powerful 3.6-liter six was more fun, but I was pleasantly surprised by the four-banger's liveliness. Both cars handled well, and benefited in the corners from a new torque vectoring system, which pinches the inside front brake to get you into a corner with a minimum of understeer. The steering offered a surprising amount of road feel for an electric system.

The new Legacy proved satisfying aesthetically as well as dynamically. I wasn't even repulsed by the faux wood interior trim, which is inevitable at this price point. As Dominick Infante, Subaru's product communications manager, put it:

"We've got the best fake tree forest out there."

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