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When it first debuted in 2009, the Legacy struck a more muscular, more aggressive figure than its slab-sided contemporaries from Toyota, Honda, and Nissan. Today, the sedan still looks more aggressive than your average Camry or Accord. Muscular fender flares serve as reminders of the all-wheel-drive system beneath the sheet metal and the sporting heritage that it shares with the likes of the smaller, nimbler WRX. Large, eagle-eyed headlamps house high-intensity discharge projectors that crisply illuminate the road ahead. The Legacy is just a giant wing and a set of plus-sized mags away from looking like an FIA World Touring Car Championship racer. It looks fast, but does so in a way that doesn't scream boy racer.
Proportionally, however, it's just as big and imposing as its more pedestrian competition; which is sort of unavoidable if it hopes to offer the passenger and cargo volume that will keep it competitive in this class. Its performance -- which we'll come back to -- is also just as conservative as the rest. As it turns out, building a car that looks fast is quite different from building one that is fast, though I'm not sure that the latter was ever Subaru's goal with the Legacy's 2.5i configuration.
Hop behind the wheel and you'll be greeted with dashboard materials that, frankly, feel cheap. No, that's not real brushed metal on the center stack. Yes, that dashboard is made of hard plastic. However, the Legacy's designers have done a good job of creating a nice visual texture and a variety of colors and textures that make the cabin look much nicer than it feels. And since I don't spend a lot of time pawing at the upper dashboard, I don't mind at all. I do mind the pair of patches of translucent blue plastic near the volume and tuning knobs that look out of place and chintzy in the otherwise well-designed cabin. Toyota used to cover the Camry's dashboard in this flash years ago, but has since learned better. I hope not to see this on the upcoming 2015 model.
Heated front buckets don't offer much in the way of cornering support, but they are nice on a chilly day. And I was surprised to see an actual key for our fully loaded example at a time where most automakers' entry models offer push-button starters, touch-sensitive keyless entry, or both.
Audio sources for the Limited's standard Harman Kardon audio system include Bluetooth for both hands-free calling, audio streaming, and text-to-speech SMS messaging; AM/FM radio with HD Radio decoding (a nice quality bump for fans of terrestrial radio); SiriusXM satellite radio; and the standard 3.5mm analog auxiliary input-USB port combo that supports iPod connections from iOS devices.
DivX logos on the dashboard hint that the receiver's display has been upgraded with the navigation option for playback of DivX-encoded video CDs or commercial DVDs while parked. You probably won't be doing that very often, but you can still use the display to peek behind you when reversing using the rearview camera, which features a distance marker overlay, but no dynamically updating trajectory lines or proximity detection.
Upgrading to the package that includes the navigation system also adds Aha Radio integration when paired with a compatible smartphone via USB (for iOS), or Bluetooth (for Android). I like Aha's audio-streaming options for music and talk radio programming, but I simply can't figure out what kind of person would want to listen to robotic TTS readings of Twitter and Facebook feeds. It was nice to listen to Yelp ratings for nearby destination types (such as coffee shops) and then navigate to one of those destinations with the touch of a button, so I suppose it's not totally impractical.
The aforementioned Harman Kardon stereo packs in nine speakers and sounds pretty good with some seriously powerful bass from its parcel shelf-mounted subwoofer. However, its default flat setting is a bit muddy and could be better where midrange clarity is concerned. Fortunately, you've got a seven-band equalizer to play with so you can tweak the audio to your liking. Subaru doesn't include any preset curves for this equalizer, so, with this level of flexibility, you could just as easily make the system sound worse, but that's not Subaru's fault. I found some great starting-point settings by searching the Legacy owners' forums and found the powerful stereo's performance to be one of the most pleasurable aspects of the week's testing.
The SD card-based Subaru Starlink navigation will get you from point A to point B if you follow its instructions, but the system is also rudimentary, sluggish, and frankly disappointing for this class. At every tap of the touch screen's virtual buttons, I was disappointed at what was up to a 1-second lag between tapping a menu button and getting an onscreen response. One second doesn't sound like a lot, but it adds up when you're performing multiple taps to search for the nearest gas station at highway speeds. For your trouble, the navigation isn't even really that good. The volume of the spoken prompts doesn't adjust with the music volume, so I found that they were either too quiet to be heard or too loud. The traffic reporting will tell you that there's a jam ahead, but will not offer any way around it. By the end of the week, I'd reverted to using my smartphone tucked into a cup holder -- not a strong vote of confidence for the onboard navigation, which comes as part of a $4,040 package.
Also part of that $4,040 package is Subaru's EyeSight camera system, which lives on the cabin's ceiling and features a pair of cameras that look out at the road ahead with stereoscopic vision. The camera's feeds, though not visible to the driver, are put to use powering the lane departure warnings, forward-collision warnings, pedestrian and cyclist detection, and adaptive cruise control systems. That Subaru does all of this with two cameras is impressive; most automakers use radar or lasers for their forward sensors.
The Subaru adaptive cruise control can bring the vehicle to a complete stop, if necessary and possible, and brakes pretty aggressively to keep you from plowing into a vehicle stopped ahead. In stop-and-go traffic it can also be useful, but its hold feature won't automatically resume forward movement after it comes to a complete stop without your intervention. One minor annoyance of this system is that, by default, it beeps every time the cameras lock onto, or lose their lock on, the lead vehicle, which leads to incessant beeping as vehicles enter and leave your lane. Thankfully, you can (and should) disable the beeps in a settings menu.