- Precise steering and nimble handling
- Quiet cabin and refined feel
- All-weather ability, no matter which engine
- Acceleration in 2.5GT and 3.6R
- Roomy backseat
- Bluetooth interface not available in base 2.5i
- CVT aside, unimpressive fuel economy
- Materials in 3.6R
The 2011 Subaru Legacy is one of the best-handling mid-size sedans, and the only mainstream one to offer standard all-wheel drive.
Last year the mid-size Subaru Legacy was completely redesigned. While the core (and somewhat quirky) essentials remain—a horizontally opposed (boxer) engine lineup and standard all-wheel drive—the Legacy has gained a little more mainstream appeal. For one, it's a bit larger and much roomier than before; it has a little more luxury and refinement; and with a new CVT automatic on base four-cylinder models it now has segment-leading fuel economy among all-wheel-drive sedans.
The Legacy remains offered in three different engines, each bringing very different overall personalities to this sedan: Base 2.5i models are perfectly adequate but for the frugal and sensible; turbocharged 2.5GT models appeal to driving enthusiasts; and the six-cylinder 3.6R takes the Legacy into new, more luxurious territory.
With the the redesign, the Legacy grew several inches in most directions, with its proportions and stance becoming much more in line with segment best-sellers like the Honda Accord or Nissan Altima.
Whether you choose the base 2011 Subaru Legacy 2.5i model or the top-of-the-line 3.6R, you won't see much difference from a distance. At first glance, it looks larger and more substantial, and there's noticeably more visual pinache inside and out. At the front, a rakish snout and arched roofline taper down to a short, tall decklid. A thin strip of chrome brightwork accents the arch and tucks down to the back door. Aggressively lipped wheel wells keep the Legacy from appearing too slab-sided, while two character creases help give the design some cohesion: one running from the edge of the winged chrome grille through the hood to the front pillars, the other running from the broad, well-detailed headlamps, skirting the front wheel well, and further defining the beltline. Inside, the Legacy breaks away from the cabin designs of other current Subaru vehicles like the smaller Impreza family, or Forester or Tribeca crossovers. The design includes an upright center stack with a metallic-look finish flanked by vents that almost echo the winged, upward theme of the grille and headlights, with the audio system placed high. At the front, close to the driver's field of vision is a trip computer, and the instruments themselves are simple, with nice, round gauges.
While the Legacy's look changed last year, its driving personality carried through: The 2011 Subaru Legacy still has a quirky powertrain layout, surefooted all-wheel-drive performance, and better handling and roadholding than is typical in the mid-size sedan class. The 2011 Legacy comes with three different engines. The base 2.5i version gets the familiar 170-horsepower, 2.5-liter horizontally opposed "flat" four-cylinder engine, while the 2.5GT upgrades to the 265-horsepower version of the 2.5-liter engine; the new 3.6R model replaces the old 3.0-liter model, moved by the Tribeca's 256-horsepower, 3.6-liter flat-six. If you go with the 2.5i, you have a choice of a new six-speed manual or a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), which Subaru calls Lineartronic. While 2.5GT models come only with the six-speed manual, 3.6R models have a conventional five-speed automatic transmission.
Across the model line, the Legacy feels just a little bit sportier than rival models from most other automakers. Steering is very precise and responsive—if a bit overboosted for some tastes—and the firm yet compliant suspension feels ready for abrupt maneuvers. Each of the models has a slightly different feel: Base models feel light and nimble, as do 2.5GT models, while the 3.6R comes across as a little bit heftier, with a nose-heavy emphasis in sharp corners. Push the Legacy hard into a corner and there's some body lean, yet the suspension maintains grip beyond expectation; it's tough to upset the sedan's poise—especially in inclement weather—and in the best road conditions there's surprisingly little nosedive in hard braking or front-end lift in hard acceleration.
Most of the Legacy's few extra inches of wheelbase it gained last year went to backseat room, so now the 2011 Subaru Legacy is a very roomy sedan, capable of accommodating four adults in comfort—even for an all-day trip. The Legacy's front seats are among the better in this class—even the ones you get in base 2.5i models—and they adjust for loads of legroom and have nice, long cushions. A wide range of driver body types will be able to find a comfortable driving position with the tilt/telescopic wheel adjustment. A 6'6" editor found just enough headroom in back and plenty of legroom. Entry and exit to the back are good, we're impressed with the standard cloth upholstery, and the trunk is very spacious. Overall, ride quality is firm but just supple enough for most surfaces, and the ride is very quiet—especially compared to the last-gen Legacy.
The value factor for the Subaru Legacy got a lot stronger with its redesign last year, as Subaru ramped up standard equipment while actually dropping prices through much of the model line. The 3.6R models dropped the most in price, but our editors' pick for best value is the base 2.5i model, which is an amazing deal at a starting price of around $20k (or a thousand more with the CVT). 2.5GT and 3.6R models can be equipped with items like Harmon Kardon premium audio, Bluetooth connectivity, USB and iPod interfacing, and streaming Bluetooth audio.