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.
If you don't carry a full load all the time, or you aren't the type to be bothered by 0-60 times that approach ten seconds, the base 2010 Subaru Legacy 2.5i models perform just fine, with adequate acceleration for most needs whether you choose the six-speed manual or the CVT. The new Lineartronic transmission actually gets better fuel economy than the manual transmission (with a best-in-class EPA rating of 23 mpg city, 31 highway), and it includes paddle shifters that simulate six ratios; downshifts occur in as little as a tenth of a second. Just as with the outgoing Legacy, the turbocharged 2.5GT feels the fastest; the model inherits the WRX's new engine, with a greatly flattened torque curve, and it delivers power quickly, smoothly, and with very little turbo lag. The 3.6R engine brings a completely different character—it's confident, torquey, and relaxed, and its fuel efficiency is about the same as the turbo engine. Whether with the naturally aspirated engine in the base 2.5i or the turbo engine in the 2.5GT, the clutch pedal is light and engages smoothly and precisely; it combines with a throttle that's progressive, with a gentle tip-in, so almost right away you'll be taking off smoothly. Yet throttle response is quick with either engine; rev-matching for quick downshifts is also easily done.
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.