Thumbs Up: Value for the money, AWD traction.
Thumbs Down: Marginal fuel economy, fake wood trim.
Buy This Car If: You want a midsize sedan alternative to the usual suspects.
Subaru has always been one of those brands that enjoys tremendous popularity, but only in certain regions. The Northeast, for example, loves its Subarus, as does Colorado. Here in Florida, Subarus aren’t as common, and in California they’re fairly uncommon (since everyone in California drives a BMW or a Prius). If you’re sensing a theme here, you’re correct.
Subarus sell well in places that have winter weather, thanks to their reputation for sure-footed traction, bulletproof reliability and low maintenance. If you live in Vermont (where Subaru has a significant market share), an all-wheel-drive midsize sedan or wagon with sufficient ground clearance makes an attractive alternative to a full-size SUV. If you live in a place where winter means temps in the 50s, though, all-wheel drive can be a tough sell.
Regardless, Subaru has adopted an “AWD only” policy when it comes to its cars. While Subarus used to be offered in both FWD and AWD, the Japanese underdog automaker now uses all-wheel-drive to make its cars, wagons and SUVs stand out from the rest of the Japanese car herd. It goes it’s own direction in styling, too, and the restyled-for-2010 Subaru Legacy doesn’t look like a copy of an Accord or a Camry.
Subaru has gone its own way when it comes to engines, too. For years, the automaker had relied on horizontally opposed four-cylinder engines to powers its wares, but developed a boxer six for the quirky SVX sports coupe of 1992 – 97. Eventually, a derivative of that engine, with a displacement now up to 3.6-liters, made its way into an assortment of Subaru models, including the Legacy sedan.
The result is the car reviewed here, the midsize 2011 Subaru Legacy 3.6R Limited. It’s a tough car to pigeonhole into a single category, since it carries luxury appointments, but at a decidedly common price point. It’s almost got enough grunt to put it into sport sedan territory, but the suspension is tuned more for comfort than for apex-strafing. Finally, it’s not saddled with the baggage that most FWD or RWD sedans carry around; instead, full time AWD means that traction remains plentiful, regardless of what Mother Nature has in store.
Take a look inside, and it’s clear that Subaru is trying to attract buyers who are cross-shopping cars like the Honda Accord EX-L V-6 and the Toyota Camry XLE. Up front, driver and passenger are treated to comfortable and supportive seats, finished in surprisingly high-grade leather. Front seats are heated, and the driver’s chair is power adjustable in ten different ways. Even the passenger gets a power-adjustable seat, but they must make do with only four adjustments.
In the back, there’s seating for three more, although limiting the capacity to two will increase comfort on long trips. There’s a surprising amount of leg room for rear-seaters, and the head room is ample enough to accommodate those over six feet in height. While the Legacy sedan may not be the best platform for hauling three passengers on a cross-country run, it’s about perfect for use as a day-to-day carpool conveyance.
Subaru varies the dash material, textures and colors in an attempt to make the Legacy seem upscale, but the sedan is let down by the automaker’s accountants. Oddly-colored fake wood trim adorns the dash and door panels carrying over into the rear as well. It’s meant to convey an air of luxury, but it doesn’t, and the car would be much better served with brushed aluminum or piano black trim. I’m not as much of a critic of the silver plastic Subaru uses on center stack, but I would like to see them go back to the drawing board on the controls for the navigation and audio systems, which really aren’t that user-friendly.
The instruments are easy to read, but I question why Subaru chooses to include a gauge that measures “MPG,” presumably from engine vacuum. While it’s graded in increments, there aren’t any corresponding numbers, just a “+” symbol and a “-” symbol. Why not put something useful in the instrument cluster instead, like a water temperature gauge or an oil pressure gauge?
Under the hood, my Subaru-supplied tester came with the automaker’s 3.6-liter boxer-six engine, good for 256 horsepower and 247 lb.-ft. of torque. Lesser models, equipped with the 2.5-liter boxer-four, get mated to an unsatisfying CVT, but 3.6-liter models come with a more entertaining five speed automatic. As you’d expect, the AWD extracts a penalty on fuel economy, and 3.6R models are rated by the EPA at 18 mpg city and 25 mpg highway. Despite the flat-six engine’s reasonable power, acceleration is best described as “acceptable,” with the run from zero to sixty taking just over seven seconds.
If you want a faster Subaru Legacy sedan, the Legacy GT comes with a turbocharged 2.5-liter boxer-four, good for 265 horsepower and 258 lb.-ft. of torque. This model is only available with a six speed manual gearbox (which earns Subaru bonus points in my book), and it will do the 0 – 60 sprint in a respectable 5.6 seconds. Fuel economy is identical to the Legacy 3.6R, at 18 mpg city and 25 mpg highway.
If you want a Legacy sedan that delivers the best fuel economy, those with the base 2.5-liter boxer-four are rated at 23 mpg city and 31 mpg highway, but only when equipped with the CVT and not the manual transmission.
On the road, the Legacy 3.6R delivers a comfortable ride that will be a little soft for those who like to drive hard. Steering effort is light, but not objectionably so, and you get reasonably good feedback from the front tires in corners. There’s a predictable amount of body roll when the car is pushed harder than it likes to be, but it’s on par with other midsize sedans. The Legacy 3.6R won’t win you any autocross trophies, and it isn’t likely to take home any stage rally wins (in stock form at least), but it does represent a solid choice of a midsize sedan for those needing to get from point A to point B in any kind of weather.
My 2011 Subaru Legacy 3.6R Limited sedan had a base price of $29,020, including a destination charge of $725. The sole option on my press fleet tester was the $2,995 Option Package 8 (moonroof, navigation system, rear-view camera, XM satellite radio, auto dimming rearview mirror with Homelink, Bluetooth audio streaming), for a total sticker price of $32,015. By comparison, a similar (but FWD) Honda Accord EX-L V-6 would sell for $32,600, while a comparably equipped Ford Fusion SEL AWD would sticker at $33,970.