New & Used Subaru Legacy: In Depth
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The Subaru Legacy is a mid-size, four-door family sedan. Over six generations, it's established a following as a reliable entry in a crowded segment filled with best-selling nameplates. But the Legacy ultimately is more popular when it's given a wagon body and more ride height--when it becomes the Subaru Outback.
Although available as a wagon in the past, the Legacy is now sold only as a sedan. It continues to offer a choice between a four- or six-cylinder engine. In its latest iteration, the Legacy is both more fuel-efficient and refined than its forebears and builds on the solid reputation with standard all-wheel drive.
All Legacys and Outbacks sold in the U.S. are built in Lafayette, Indiana.
The Subaru Legacy is increasingly seen as a strong competitor to better-known and more mainstream models--the Ford Fusion, Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, and Nissan Altima--especially in snowier climates where its all-wheel drive gives it excellent ability to cope with extreme weather.
The new Subaru Legacy
The latest Legacy sedan makes a serious effort to establish itself in the family-sedan mainstream--and it succeeds. It's more conventionally handsome than a Camry, and more spacious than a Malibu or a 200; in fact, the Legacy now is more spacious than the Accord, Altima, and Fusion. Add in good gas mileage and a recent run of great crash-test scores, and the Legacy now throws a few elbows of its own in the mid-size segment.
Two powertrains are available. Legacy 2.5i sedans get a 175-horsepower, 2.5-liter four with acceptable power and fuel economy of up to 30 mpg combined. Legacy 3.6R sedans come with a 256-hp, 3.6-liter flat-six engine, which doesn't feel quite as strong as it might.
MORE: Read our 2016 Subaru Legacy review
Helping it appeal to families, the latest Legacy offers more room than its predecessor. Like some other cars in the mid-size class, the interior volume is just under the limit for categorization as a Large Car by the EPA. The trunk is similarly roomy. The only real detractor is a lack of seat support, which has been common among Subarus recently.
The latest Legacy is rated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) at five stars overall and in every crash-test category, a perfect score from the government. It also receives top 'good' results in every category from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), earning it the agency's Top Safety Pick+ award. The Legacy offers a forward-collision system dubbed EyeSight, which uses stereo cameras to help safety systems intercede before accidents happen and also provides adaptive cruise control functionality.
The new Legacy marks the debut of a new Subaru infotainment system with a pretty 6.2-inch multi-function touchscreen, one that's controlled via big tiles and icons, with swipe and tap gesture control. The Legacy also comes with standard Bluetooth and USB connectivity.
For the 2016 model year, the Legacy gets retuned steering and suspension feel, and a lane-keeping system is added to the excellent EyeSight forward-collision prevention package.
Previous Subaru Legacy models
Going back a few generations, the 1995 model was a refresh of the original 1989; the Legacy generations introduced in 2000 and 2005 rode on a newer platform.
Initially, the Legacy was powered by a 2.2-liter flat-four engine. For 2000, the engine grew in size to 2.5 liters. Over the years, Subaru has offered turbocharged versions of its flat-four engine in Legacy sedans and wagons, including the sporty Legacy GT model. For 2008, a 3.0-liter flat-six finally migrated from the Outback wagon and into the Legacy sedan. That engine also grew eventually, with a 3.6-liter version coming online for 2010.
Legacy GT models--including rare Legacy GT wagons through 2009--used an intercooled and turbocharged performance version of the flat-four engine. In 2008, a limited-edition 'Spec B' model was offered. It was the first Subaru to offer SI-Drive, which allows the driver to select among three software profiles for throttle response and shift points: Normal, Sport, and Sport Sharp. The system would later be found on the STI.
The fifth-generation Legacy sedan launched in 2010 with the carryover 2.5-liter engine from previous sedans. Also in 2010, the wagon was finally dropped from the Legacy line. Since then, all sedans on the platform have worn Legacy badges, while all wagons carry the renowned Outback nameplate.
For 2013, Subaru installed an all-new 2.5-liter flat four, which produced 173 hp across a broader, flatter torque curve and offered better fuel efficiency. With the company's own continuously variable transmission (CVT), it was rated at 27 mpg combined--quite respectable for a car that came with standard all-wheel drive, Subaru's hallmark since 1997. If you ordered the six-speed manual transmission (a rarity itself among mid-size sedans), the combined rating fell to 24 mpg. High-end Legacy models continued unchanged with the 3.6-liter engine, delivering an unimpressive 20 mpg combined.