Driving a car for 200 miles gives you a pretty good sense of its driving characteristics, but spending thousands of miles behind the wheel brings out comfort and ergonomic issues in detail. On a five-day road trip covering something over 2,000 miles, the 2015 Subaru Legacy got me to each waypoint with ease while maintaining very good fuel economy, and added high-tech convenience unique to Subaru.
The Legacy is Subaru's midsize sedan, set to compete against the Toyota Camry, Ford Fusion, Chevrolet Malibu, and a host of others; a class of car that I frankly find boring. Midsize sedans are supposed to get you to work every weekday, run errands on weekends, and transport families to see the relatives. It may not be a driver's car, but it is a class favored heavily by the US public.
Subaru traditionally sits outside the mainstream, offering crossovers popular to outdoorsy types and rally-bred cars for boy racers. The Legacy, however, settles neatly into the midsize sedan category with comfortable seating for five, big trunk space, and an economical engine. The previous generation earned the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's Top Safety Pick Plus award, and the 2015 model is likely to follow suit.
Unlike the competition, the Legacy comes with all-wheel-drive, standard. Subaru adds its corner braking technology, a system that lightly engages the brakes on the inside wheels in a turn to enhance handling. A continuously variable transmission (CVT) is not unheard of in this segment, but Subaru includes a manual mode, complete with paddle shifters, relying on six virtual shift points that can help during hill descents and other situations where you want more control over engine speed.
The Subaru Legacy is available in the US starting at a list price of $21,695, while in Australia (where it takes the name "Liberty"), its MSRP begins at AU$43,676.
Miles by the hundreds
Setting out on this road trip odyssey, the Legacy's cabin proved roomy for two with plenty of excess space in the trunk after loading our luggage. I enjoyed the welcoming chimes and Subaru splash screen on the 7-inch touchscreen as the Legacy's optional infotainment system booted up, then set the power-adjustable driver's seat and mirrors for comfort and safety. Pull the shifter back to Drive and begin the first 650-mile leg of the journey.
Counting miles by the hundreds, keeping pace with traffic on a 70 mph freeway, the Legacy rode smoothly, the cabin making a fine soundstage for me and my friend's banter and musings. The ride may not have been luxury car soft, but the suspension handled the endless blacktop very competently, soaking up the occasional roughness from road construction through the mountains.
The CVT made for smooth, gearless acceleration whenever I wanted to pass slower traffic, and it kept the 2.5-liter four cylinder engine running at optimal speed, around 1,800 rpm, while cruising at anywhere from 40 to 70 mph. This engine, with Subaru's signature horizontally-opposed cylinders, makes 175 horsepower and 174 pound-feet of torque. Not exactly a monster of power, it was particularly underwhelming during an impromptu zero-to-60 mph run. However, it competently handled all the trials it underwent on this road trip.
The bonus of this engine and the CVT is an impressive 26 mpg city and 36 mpg highway on EPA testing. Over the long freeway miles, it settled in at 32 mpg, according to the trip computer. After filling the 18 gallon tank, I was gratified to see a range reading of about 550 miles. For a more balanced run of city and freeway driving, the Legacy turned in 28.8 mpg.
Also available in the Legacy is a 3.6-liter, flat six-cylinder engine, also with a CVT, that makes 256 horsepower and turns in fuel economy of 20 mpg city and 29 mpg highway.
Impressively, after a good 10 hours in the Legacy, I felt little fatigue, the lumbar support and cushioning of the seats doing an admirable job of keeping me comfortable. The electric power steering system required little effort to turn or maintain a lane spacing.
However, the Legacy's secret weapon was Subaru's high-tech EyeSight system, two cameras mounted at the top of the windshield forming the sensor basis for adaptive cruise control, collision warning, and lane-departure warning. I had been impressed by this system in reviews of other Subaru vehicles, but it really proved itself by letting me drive literally hundreds of miles without touching the brake or accelerator pedals.
EyeSight's programming, governing the Legacy's reaction to vehicles ahead, was superb, always smoothly braking or accelerating, even when another car cut into the lane in front of me. Traffic occasionally slowed to a crawl due to road construction, and EyeSight matched speeds ahead, down to a full stop. A rocker switch on the steering-wheel spoke let me adjust following distance through four settings, and the system seemed to increase that distance depending on speed. Even driving at night, the system accurately recognized other cars and even motorcycles.
EyeSight's cameras also enabled lane departure warning, which sounded an alert when I drifted over a lane line without signaling, and collision warning, causing a more urgent alert when it thought I was about to hit a car ahead. Different sensors enabled a blind-spot monitor, very useful in heavy traffic, and a rear cross-traffic alert system.