Consumer Reports rates the Subaru Legacy
So while you were right to say that the 2004 Subaru Legacy engine ratings are far inferior to the high marks given to the 2005 Subaru Legacy engine, that comparison does not do justice to what CR is trying to convey. Among all 2004 vehicles, after they've approached or arrived at their sixth year of existence since leaving the new car dealership the Legacy's four-cylinder engine's reliability is not just inferior to the 2005 Legacy engine; compared to all 2004 model year vehicles rated in the Reliability section, few cars received as negative owner feedback for reliability after six years of use.
The radical transition that caught your attention and prompted your question is not merely a matter of "This one is better and that one is worse"; CR provides statistical measurements, substantiated by actual owners, in which owners of 2004 Subaru Legacys show great dissatisfaction with engine reliability by comparison to what owners or all 2004 cars, trucks and vans said about their vehicles' engines' reliability, while the 2005 Subaru Legacy engine ranks among the most reliable by comparison what owners of all 2005 cars, trucks and vans said about their own vehicles' engines after five years of wear and tear.
THE ANSWER TO YOUR SECOND QUESTION: Should you avoid buying a 2004 Legacy given CR's terrible engine rating? My answer might surprise you. However once I've explained the reason for my answer, I think you'll agree that my opinion makes perfect sense.
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Doug Ehrlich is the owner of Auto Buyer's Pro, the first licensed Buyer's Agent in the country, who has spent the last 24 years assisting over 20,000 individuals make good decisions and then negotiating better car deals for clients than they could likely do on their own, working exclusively for the buyer as a Buyer's Agent.