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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.
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.
Driving into unknown regions and cities, the Legacy's optional navigation system offered helpful guidance with its turn-by-turn directions and live traffic received over satellite radio. The colorful maps were clear and distinct, but I always found the car's position on the map just slightly lagging behind the real-world location, forcing me to compensate by looking for streets just ahead of when the map showed them. Graphics for freeway junctions proved explicit, offering a useful image of upcoming maneuvers.
I left traffic avoidance set on manual, so the system offered to reroute instead of doing it automatically. That proved best, because when I previewed some of the proposed detours, both travel time and distance were increased over the standard route. However, I do appreciate that this system was aggressive about offering detours, because sometimes I would rather keep moving than sit in stop-and-go traffic, even if it does add a few minutes.
Destination search was limited while we were underway, although I could enter complete address strings using voice command. The system very accurately interpreted my address requests. It did not have built-in online local search, but its integrated Aha Radio system would have let me look up nearby restaurants and hotels. Unfortunately, I've found the Aha app integration too slow to be really useful.
Subaru also integrates its StarLink app with the Legacy's head unit, offering news, music, and weather. I can't say I made real use of this app. Much of my trip went through areas with little or no data coverage, and the weather feature was redundant, as the Legacy's head unit brought in weather, stock quotes, and fuel prices through satellite radio. StarLink offered a means of playing music from my connected iPhone through the Legacy's stereo, but I found the native iOS integration with the stereo worked better and was more convenient, as it showed up on the audio sources menu.
Driving for five days afforded a lot of time for music, and the Legacy's dashboard interface made it easy to delve deep into my iPhone's music library. The car offered two USB ports, so I could keep a thumbdrive full of music plugged in, and also cable up my iPhone. Audio controls on the steering wheel let me pull up the music library interface on the main touchscreen, then select specific artists, albums, or songs. I could also ask for specific artists or albums using voice command.
Bluetooth streaming was also available, although it had the typical dumb interface, merely showing audio information but requiring me to handle my phone to select music. Satellite and HD radio served as broadcast sources.
The Premium trim Legacy I drove on this trip lacked the Harman Kardon audio system that comes in the Limited trim, so I was not able to enjoy its 12 speakers and powerful amp. However, the base audio system, with six speakers, still sounded pretty good. It produced music with very nice clarity, but the amp obviously lacked power, so the sound didn't come through with much depth. Helping the audio output was a seven-band graphic equalizer built into the head unit, which included presets for various music genres.
The endpoint of my excursion in the Legacy was the rainforested Olympic Peninsula of Washington state, which didn't quite live up to its name given the sun-soaked June weather. As such, the dry roads did not put the standard Subaru all-wheel-drive system to the test. However, at one point I found myself going uphill on a gravel road. While I'm certain that a front-wheel-drive car could have made it up, I could feel the Legacy's rear wheels biting in, letting the car climb more gracefully.
Likewise, most of the miles I covered were on the broad asphalt strip of the freeway, with turns designed for motorhomes and big rigs. On the Olympic Peninsula I found more of the roads I crave, backwoods strips with twists winding through the forests and hills. The Legacy certainly isn't a sports car, and it's far from Subaru's exciting STI, but it remained composed as I let it run through the turns.
The suspension felt a little loose in fast corners, the dampers letting the body lean more than a dedicated sports car would, but the Legacy never wallowed. I felt some understeer when I didn't judge a turn entrance correctly, but mostly that characteristic was mitigated by the corner braking technology, which Subaru calls Active Torque Vectoring. I could feel the corner braking help the car rotate at turn apexes, more so than it could have done without it.
Features like all-wheel-drive, corner braking, and the EyeSight system help set the 2015 Subaru Legacy apart from the fleet of midsize sedans on the market. Otherwise, the Legacy matches the competition well. The design looks good, and the cabin ergonomics are fine. I found no real issues even after many hours in the driver's seat.
Fuel economy comes in at a decent average, and most drivers should expect to get around 30 mpg. The Legacy's CVT gets most of the credit for fuel economy. Subaru hasn't gone to direct injection on this engine, explaining the modest power numbers for the displacement. Given the nature of the car, I can't see a compelling reason to move up to the six-cylinder version.
The connected features integrated with the head unit come off as a bit rudimentary -- Subaru isn't leading the pack here. Navigation is also a good option, despite its slight lag, as the all-wheel-drive system will encourage you to take the Legacy well outside safety of the city.
|Model||2015 Subaru Legacy|
|Powertrain||2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, continuously variable transmission|
|EPA fuel economy||26 mpg city/36 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||28.8 mpg|
|Navigation||Optional flash memory-based with live traffic|
|Bluetooth phone support||Standard|
|Digital audio sources||Internet radio, Bluetooth streaming, iOS integration, USB drive, HD radio, satellite radio|
|Audio system||Six-speaker system|
|Driver aids||Adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning, blind-spot monitor, rear-view camera|
|Base price||$21,695 /AU$43,676|
|Price as tested||$27,480|