The 2012 Subaru Legacy continues Subaru's decades-long tradition of horizontally-opposed "boxer" engines, along with standard (and excellent) all-wheel-drive performance. The result is a mid-size sedan with better handling and grip than almost all other cars in its class.
Three engines give the 2012 Legacy three different levels of power and performance. The base 2.5i model gets the familiar 170-horsepower, 2.5-liter horizontally opposed "flat" four-cylinder engine. That's mated to either a six-speed manual transmission (though few buyers actually order it) or a new continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), that Subaru calls Lineartronic. The mid-level powertrain in the 2.5GT provides an upgrade to a turbocharged, 265-horsepower version of the 2.5-liter engine, available only with the six-speed manual. The top-of-the-line 3.6R model is powered by the 256-horsepower, 3.6-liter flat-six fitted to the seven-seat Tribeca crossover model, offered only with a conventional five-speed automatic transmission.
What engine you should choose depends on your needs. The base 2.5i model performs just fine, but offers 0-to-60-mph acceleration that's close to 10 seconds. In return, you get good fuel economy for an all-wheel drive mid-size sedan (a best-in-class EPA rating of 23 mpg city, 31 highway) if you opt for the CVT (the manual option cuts gas mileage slightly). The CVT also includes paddle shifters that simulate six fixed ratios; the simulated "downshifts" occur in as little as one tenth of a second.
The 2012 Legacy that feels fastest is the turbocharged 2.5GT. It uses the same engine as the pocket-rocket Subaru WRX, with a torque curve that's flatter than previous Subaru turbos and the ability to deliver a smooth flow of power quickly, with little lag from the turbo. The bigger six in the 3.6R offers a completely different character, with relaxed, effortless torque delivered smoothly and quietly. The two larger engines are roughly equivalent on fuel economy. The throttle response on all of the engines is progressive, tipping in gently, so you get a smooth takeoff and quick delivery of power.
Compared to blander mid-size volume sedans from Toyota, Honda, Hyundai, Chevrolet, and Ford, the 2012 Subaru Legacy feels sportier. It really competes with the Mazda Mazda6 and the old Volkswagen Passat, which sell in lower volumes but offer a more engaging experience behind the wheel. The steering is responsive and precise--though some reviewers felt it was a touch too light from overboosting--and the suspension is firm while still offering good ride quality.On the best roads, there's surprisingly little front-end lift in hard acceleration or nosedive in hard braking.
The result is a feeling of security and capability, in a car that can accommodate abrupt maneuvers without breaking stride. The four-cylinder models feel lighter overall, while the 3.6R is heavier and somewhat more nose-heavy in sharp cornering. Body lean is noticeable when pushed hard, but the suspension never loses its composure. And in bad weather, on slippery roads, or in snow or pelting rain, few mid-size sedans can match the Legacy's all-wheel drive surefootedness.