2015 Subaru Legacy First Drive

May 21, 2014

Suddenly, Subaru?

It's taken a decade of rescaling and repositioning its cars, ditching some upmarket dreams in the process. And it hasn't happened overnight--just at an enviably steady clip.

Today, the company that once brought you alien outliers like the SVX and the Baja, has found its way into the deepest part of the mainstream, where even the world's biggest car companies get bruised by all the flying elbows.

With the 2015 Legacy, Subaru has engineered a mid-size family sedan that's more relentlessly, conventionally appealing than what Toyota or Chevy or Chrysler or VW currently has on tap.

There's a reason for the more conventional route. Subaru already retails a lot of crossover utilities, as many as it can import and build. Now, it wants to move more sedans as it moves closer to selling 500,000 cars a year in the U.S.

The current Legacy dribbles out of dealers at a measured pace--at a slower rate than such well-loved lights as the Dodge Avenger. Volkswagen's Passat, for all the chatter that it's an underperformer, has twice the market share of the Subaru.

With a little stretch here and a reimagined bit there, the Legacy feels primed for the big time. It's a bit larger where it needs to be, a lot more muted where it has to be, and it's full of features in a way Subaru is really just getting the hang of.

The Legacy's a legitimate Honda Accord alternative, a Nissan Altima equivalent, a sublime counterpoint to the engaging but jiggly Ford Fusion. And we like those cars a lot.

Flagship, of a kind

The  Legacy is Subaru's flagship car, and that speaks to the pragmatic core of the brand...said someone in a PowerPoint at some point, I'm sure. It's not too large, not too frilly, not at all pretentious.

In styling, the Legacy is empty of empty-headed details, pointedly flared instead of pointlessly flaired. Everything just falls into line here, from the raked windshield to the mildly sculpted fenders and lower bodywork. The logo lies inside a six-sided grille--you've seen it everywhere from the Hyundai Sonata to the Ford Fusion. Apparently, if you don't have six sides, you're nowheresville, population one. The side view is as rational as the one on a Hyundai Genesis, without reaching for some elusive upscale look.

From the decklid, you'll have to hunt for the badges before you can definitively name what you're seeing--though to be fair, that's the case with a half-dozen cars in the same class.

Where the details reveal themselves to be Subaru in origin, they're pretty purposeful. The best example: The sideview mirrors are set back behind a small triangle of glass, for better aerodynamics and better visibility.

The Legacy's cabin shifts in lockstep with the sheetmetal toward a handsome, functional median. It's a clean, easily readable design with a band of metallic or woodgrain trim that distinguishes upper-trim levels from base versions. Gauges are lit in blue, with a small LCD display wedged between the dials for a quick read of directions or audio status. The vents are stacked higher on the dash, to make room for a touchscreen interface that sits above a panel of knobs and switches rendered in old-school-Japanese metallic plastic. It's buttoned-down, and you have to look--really look--inside the Legacy for the inexpensive bits of trim.

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