If your aim is to buy one of the best designed, best engineered, most fuel-efficient mid-size sedans on the market, then the Honda Accord and Subaru Legacy are two of our top-rated sedans here at The Car Connection.
These are two models you shouldn’t miss as a sedan shopper. Both offer families—and comfort-minded commuters—a spacious interior, comfortable ride, and certainly, far more in-cabin amenities and safety technology than they’ve had in previous years.
Subaru’s Legacy, has undergone quite a remake, and in the not-too-distant past it was far more of a niche model against the Accord. But starting with its upsizing for 2010, then fully realized with its its more detail-minded full redesign this model year, the Legacy is now aimed at the mainstream.
To cast a critical eye on these sedans’ designs: The Legacy is handsome and very well-styled inside, with great attention to materials and trims, although we think that on the outside the Honda Accord’s return to a more upright look and somewhat lowered beltline make it the better-proportioned of the two. It’s mostly a draw in the styling department, although we think the Accord has a slight edge.
Both of these sedans offer a choice between four- or six-cylinder engines, and the most popular powertrains in the lineup include continuously variable automatic transmissions (CVTs). But there are lots of differences. All Legacy models include all-wheel drive, and that can be a big advantage for those in very snowy climates or poor road conditions. On the other hand, the Accord is offered in a high-mileage Accord Hybrid version (or even a Plug-In Hybrid) that achieves 50 mpg city, 45 highway.
Across both of these lineups, we’d characterize performance for the Accord and Legacy as being somewhat sporty in some versions but confidence-inspiring and perky enough in all variants. Base engines are about equivalent—a 175-hp, 2.5-liter horizontally opposed (‘flat’) four in the Legacy, or a 185-hp (or 189-hp) 2.4-liter four in the Accord. Although the Accord offers a somewhat more engaging driving experience in its Sport version, where you can also get a manual gearbox. Accord V-6 versions sub in a smooth 278-hp, 3.5-liter V-6, while the Legacy offers a 256-hp, 3.6-liter six; in both cases, these engines add a bit to perceived refinement and highway-passing ability, but they really aren’t necessary in these sedans. We’d call the Honda Accord out as having a slight edge in performance—because of its somewhat crisper handling and better-weighted steering—although with the Legacy’s excellent AWD system and great control it’s also a tie.
Comfort-wise, these two models are essentially tied as well. The Legacy offers a little more length and wheelbase than last year’s model, and with seating reconfigured it’s really a very roomy cabin now. The interior feels rather American, with its large center console and well-cushioned back seat; trunk space is abundant, and the seatbacks fold easily, too. Better yet, Subaru’s added more sound insulation, new engine mounts, and thicker panels, so the Legacy advanced by leaps and bounds in terms of sophistication and refinement. The Accord accomplishes all of this as well, with a very roomy interior and a nice, upright driving position. Active Noise Control technology helps keep the cabin quiet, although V-6 models especially can be a little harsher-riding. The only odd packaging decision on Honda’s part is that the Accord doesn’t have a split-folding back seat.
If safety is the priority, you’ll be challenged to find anything better than the Legacy in a modestly priced sedan. It’s earned nothing but top results, in every single subcategory. We also appreciate how Subaru’s EyeSight suite of driver-assistance safety technology is available on most of the model line, as a low-cost option. As for the Accord, it gets mostly great safety ratings, although its active-safety package isn’t as widely available. We do see a lot of merit in the Accord’s LaneWatch side-view system, however.
In the past, Subaru and Honda both used to have reputations for stinting on standard features in their base models; but that’s no longer the case. Even in base Accord LX models you get dual-zone climate control, alloy wheels, and enhanced connectivity for Pandora and text messaging; in that and in the base Legacy 2.5i you’ll also find a rearview camera system and full power accessories. Subaru’s infotainment system has been updated this year and is at last reasonably good, wrapping in a recongifurable display as part of the gauge cluster in some models. Top Legacy 3.6R Limited models are plush, with soft leather, an available moonroof, and HID headlamps; it’s a big lower-priced than top Accord EX-L V-6 models, which get LED projector headlamps and upgraded audio.
So which one of these mid-size sedans is the better pick? The Subaru Legacy’s pronounced advantage in safety, combined with its slight edge in features and value, have allowed it to nose ahead of the Accord in our ratings. But with the Accord’s cohesive design, great handling, and available Hybrid powertrain, there are plenty of reasons the Accord could be the stronger pick for you.