Thumbs Up: It’s comfortable, it sips fuel and the Harman Kardon audio system rocks.
Thumbs Down: It doesn’t have much of a personality
Buy This Car If: You want a sensible all weather sedan for commuting
The Subaru Legacy was introduced to the U.S. market as a 1990 model, in order to give Subaru a viable mid-size sedan and wagon product. Subaru had long been seen as that “other” Japanese automaker, who built quirky, reliable and cheap automobiles, most of which could be purchased in either front wheel drive versions or rear wheel drive versions. The brand had a loyal following in states such as Vermont and Colorado, where harsh winters made all wheel drive a necessity, not just a luxury. Could the Legacy models, with their roomy interiors, upscale features and standard all wheel drive bring Subaru to the masses? Could they compete effectively against the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry? The answer, it turned out, was “yes”, and Subaru sold over 3,000,000 Legacy models worldwide in the first 15 years of production.
Which brings us to the 2011 Subaru Legacy Limited sedan. Redesigned for the 2010 model year, changes to 2011 versions are minor and mostly related to package content. Overall, the exterior styling is conservative, with the exception of the body side moldings which don’t look right on a otherwise utilitarian sedan. The Legacy Limited has no sporting intentions, so why dress it up like a tuner car? That aside, the Legacy Limited goes out of its way to not offend anyone with its looks; perhaps Subaru is still concerned about the original Tribeca, and its “angry badger” grille. In any event, the styling of the Legacy couldn’t be more middle of the road, but that’s a selling point to a lot of buyers.
From a functional perspective, you can’t argue with the Legacy Limited sedan. It seats four adults comfortably (five for short trips), gets admirable fuel mileage (I saw 33.3 mpg on the highway, significantly better than the EPA’s projection of 31 mpg) and has a superb Harman Kardon audio system if you opt for the nav system. It has AWD, ensuring that you’ll get from point A to point B in all conditions with as little drama as possible. Even the CVT isn’t half bad (and I can’t believe I just typed that), especially if you use the manual shift option. As long as you’re not looking for a sporty ride (and that’s why Subaru offers the Legacy GT), the Legacy Limited may be just the right combination of practicality and luxury you’re looking for in a mid size sedan.
Inside, Limited trim level cars get leather seats. Wide and reasonably bolstered, they’re not a bad place to spend time. The drivers seat is power adjustable and features an inflatable lumbar pillow, just the thing for long commutes. There’s ample head room, even for those over six feet, and the optional moonroof doesn’t intrude on cabin height.
Rear seat passengers get comfortable, semi-reclined leather seats, which also ensure enough headroom for your tall friends. Rear legroom is surprising, especially since the Legacy is only a mid-size car. The only thing missing is a rear vent for the HVAC system, but that’s really more of a luxury item than a necessity.
The three spoke steering wheel gives you controls for the audio system, Bluetooth phone integration and cruise control. The center console, trimmed in brushed aluminum plastic, houses the HVAC controls, some audio controls and the nav / entertainment system. Above the touch screen nav display is an information panel that displays time, temperature and range (or fuel economy) data. The dash is topped in a non-glare matte black vinyl, which is split at the dash midline by woodgrain plastic trim. The dash lower face corresponds to the car’s interior color, and this theme is carried over to the doors.
The Harman Kardon audio system, included with the nav system, sounds great but isn’t exactly intuitive or easy to operate. Neither is the nav system, which requires data entry in a very specific format and doesn’t display audio and nav data on a split screen. To change the radio station, you need to press the radio’s “Tune” knob, which calls up the radio screen. You can then select a new station, but you need to hit the “Map” button to return to the nav screen. If you try to tune a radio station from the steering wheel control, it seeks the next radio station broadcast, not the next station in memory. There may be ways around this (resetting user preferences, perhaps) but I couldn’t figure out the sequence during my time behind the wheel. If you’re thinking about the nav option, be sure to have a salesman take you through the functionality before you decide to buy.
The backlit instruments are easy enough to read and feature a conventional left tachometer, right speedometer layout and fuel gauge layout. Splitting the gauges is an LCD gear indicator, odometer and trip odometer. On the left of the tachometer is an MPG gauge, which presumably measures engine vacuum but doesn’t provide any usable data. I’d rather see a conventional coolant temperature gauge here, especially since the mpg data can be displayed on the dash in digital form.
My tester was powered by Subaru’s 2.5 liter, boxer four cylinder motor, mated to a continuously variable transmission (CVT). The motor’s good for 170 horsepower and 170 ft lb of torque, which makes acceleration of the 3,451 pound AWD sedan leisurely. Zero to sixty comes up in about nine and a half seconds, and shifting the CVT via the steering wheel mounted paddle shifters doesn’t improve things any. Fuel economy is better than you’d expect: on the highway, I saw 33.3 mpg, better than the EPA rating of 31 mpg.
On the road, the Legacy Limited drives like you’d expect it to. The CVT ensures smooth acceleration, and isn’t nearly as whiny as CVTs from other makers. I’m still not sold on them as a viable alternative to automatic transmissions, but Subaru’s CVT is at least as good as those used by Nissan. As you’d expect, the AWD provide excellent traction, even on wet or slippery roads, and the steering gives you enough feedback to know what the front wheels are doing. The Legacy Limited won’t be much fun running twisty backroads, but it eats up the highway miles without complaint. Besides, Subaru has plenty of entertaining sedans in their product mix if your tastes run more to sporty than practical.
My 2011 Legacy Limited tester had a base price of $26,020, including destination charge. Options on my tester included the $2,995 Power Moonroof and Nav System (Power Moonroof, Touchscreen Navigation System, Harman Kardon Audio System, XM Satellite Radio, Back Up Camera, Bluetooth Phone Integration), the $240 Side Molding Kit and the $186 Auto Dimming Mirror and Compass, for a total sticker price of $29,441. By comparison, a comparably equipped Honda Accord would cost $29,555 and a comparably equipped Toyota Camry would run $29,498. An important distinction is that neither of these cars offers an AWD layout, which plays strongly in the Legacy’s favor if you live in the snow belt. Ford does offer an AWD version of its midsize Fusion, but it’s only available with a V6 motor; comparably equipped to the Legacy Limited, it would sticker for $33,690.
The Legacy Limited isn’t for everyone. Younger buyers will be put off by its lack of performance and handling, while older buyers probably aren’t shopping for Subarus. That still leaves a whole generation of folks that need a reliable and comfortable family sedan, that will get them where they need to be regardless of the time of the year. If you fit into this category, take a look at the Subaru Legacy; it’s come a long way since its humble beginnings 20 years ago.