Subaru has established itself as a leader in all-wheel-drive technology. Its wagons and SUVs have a cult-like following that is every manufacturer's dream. But its mainstream sedan, the Legacy, has not caught on in the same way. Competing against such heavy hitters as the Accord, Camry, Malibu and Fusion, the 2009 Legacy suffered from a case of the "too littles." Unable to compete in the areas of interior room, cargo volume, fuel economy and competitive pricing, the Legacy was overdue for a complete makeover and that's just what Subaru has given the 2010 model. Although roughly the same length as the outgoing car, the new Legacy is wider, taller and has considerably more interior room than its predecessor; it also offers a marked improvement in power and fuel economy, as well as its standard content level. Best of all, consumers can now pick up an all-wheel-drive sedan for less money than a comparably-equipped front-drive competitor.
YOU'LL LIKE THIS CAR IF...
If you need a roomy, comfortable sedan with the best possible ability to navigate through winter's worst, the new Legacy is well worth a look. Wide front seats, incredibly useful lumbar support and a cavernous trunk mark the big changes for 2010, as does a long list of standard creature comforts.
YOU MAY NOT LIKE THIS CAR IF...
If you're looking for a smooth-as-silk six-cylinder sedan, the Legacy's boxer engine is nowhere near as refined as the traditional engines found in the Accord or Camry. Four-cylinder models feel a bit sluggish under hard acceleration and fans of the turbocharged GT will have to be happy with a manual transmission, because that's the only choice.
WHAT'S SIGNIFICANT ABOUT THIS CAR
New from the ground up, the 2010 Subaru Legacy gains more than three inches in width and height but only one inch in length. Subaru adds a new six-speed manual to four-cylinder models with a new CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission) as an option. New features include a navigation system with rear backup camera and streaming Bluetooth capability, an electronic parking brake with a hill-holder feature and standard stability and traction control.
Although choosing from among three engines will change the rate at which you can reach 60 miles per hour, the 2010 Subaru Legacy 2.5i, GT and R all share the same suspension set-up, so ride, handling and interior noise levels are pretty consistent across the board. Ride quality is greatly improved, with a quieter cabin, better steering and brake feel and minimal body roll and lean. The 2.5-liter engine gets a bump in horsepower to 170 and provides adequate acceleration and passing power, but nothing spectacular. The optional Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) works well and features a set of paddle shifters that allow for manual gear changes. Fuel economy with the CVT is actually better than with the six-speed manual, estimated at 23 city and 31 highway. The 3.6R is much better at moving the heavy Legacy, and while its performance feels fine in motion, we did observe an unusual amount of vibration at idle. The real meat and potatoes for the Legacy are found in the GT trims, which are powered by a 265-horsepower turbocharged engine. Improvements to the turbo eliminate lag and provide a nice flat torque curve conducive to performance driving. Unfortunately, there is no automatic transmission option for the GT, a strange decision that will force many buyers into the 3.6R or off to look elsewhere.
OUR FAVORITE FEATURES
Voice-Activated Navigation System
Available only on Limited trims, Subaru's new voice-activated navigation system offers a big eight-inch view screen, a rear backup camera and Bluetooth hands-free phone and streaming music capability. The system also includes a harman-kardon 440-watt sound system, single-disc CD/DVD player, USB auxiliary audio input and iPod control capability.
Electronic Parking Brake with Hill-Holder Function
The traditional parking brake handle is replaced by a push/pull switch mounted on the dash. The electronic brake system includes a hill-hold feature that keeps the car from rolling forward or backward on inclines greater than five degrees.
The new Legacy touts an interior superior to its predecessor in every way. The front seats are supremely comfortable, with the driver's-side lumbar support among the best we've tested. There's plenty of legroom for tall passengers both front and rear, and the front passenger now enjoys the same length foot well as the driver. A new three-spoke steering wheel has controls for the cruise/audio features as well as a nice, thick rim. Instruments are larger, and the new electronic parking brake placed on the dash frees up additional storage space in the center console area. The rear seats are divided into a 60/40-split configuration and fold flat to create an enormous cargo area. Of special note is the optional navigation system which offers a large screen, voice activation and the ability to stream music through a Bluetooth-enabled device. Other nice touches include sun-visor extensions for both driver and passenger and a remote trunk release cutoff switch in the lockable glove box.
The 2010 Subaru Legacy's exterior is stylish and sleek, but breaks no new ground in areas of excitement or innovation. Aside from its larger wheels and subtle hood scoop, there isn't much to distinguish the hot-rod GT model from the 2.5i Limited, a bit of a mystery from the company that knows how to turn a boring Impreza into a stunning WRX STI. Still, looks aside, the Legacy has much to offer. Larger rear doors provide improved ease of entry, and the previous model's frameless windows are now a thing of the past, a change that contributes to the new car's low interior noise levels. The wheelbase is up three inches from last year's version but, with shorter overhangs, the car gains only 1.4 inches in length. All but the base models feature handsome alloy wheels and a new double-wishbone rear suspension helps improve ride quality and create more trunk capacity.
NOTABLE STANDARD EQUIPMENT
The 2010 Legacy 2.5i Sedan features a six-speed manual transmission, 16-inch wheels, four-wheel ABS disc brakes, steering wheel-mounted audio and cruise controls, AM/FM stereo with auxiliary-input jack and single CD player, manual air conditioning, power windows and locks, height-adjustable driver's seat, front side and side-curtain airbags, keyless entry, tilt/telescoping steering wheel and Vehicle Dynamic Control with traction control. The Premium trim adds a 10-way power driver's seat, 16-inch alloy wheels, driver's auto up/down power window and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. Limited trims gain a four-way power passenger seat, wood trim, 17-inch wheels, the All-Weather Package (heated mirrors, seats and windshield wiper de-icers), Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT), dual-zone automatic climate control, harman-kardon 440-watt premium sound system with six-disc CD changer and leather seating. The GT adds 18-inch wheels, a 265-horsepower turbocharged engine, hood scoop and dual chrome exhaust tips.
Options are clustered according to trim. Base models offer only the Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT), while Premium trims offer the harman-kardon 440-watt audio system, the All Weather Package and a power moonroof. Limited trims offer voice-activated GPS navigation with backup camera and Bluetooth capability for both phone and streaming music.
UNDER THE HOOD
Subaru offers three horizontally-opposed boxer engines in the 2010 Legacy. The new 2.5-liter four-cylinder delivers 170 horsepower, which may not be best in class but does generate enough muscle to provide satisfactory performance. Equipping this engine with the Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) will produce the best fuel economy, but the six-speed manual is a better choice from a performance standpoint. A turbocharged version of the same engine bumps output to 265 horsepower and is recommended for enthusiast drivers. The best choice for the Legacy is the six-cylinder, which offers much better acceleration and passing power than the four while delivering slightly worse fuel economy (18/25 vs. 23/31).
2.5-liter Boxer four
170 horsepower @ 5600 rpm
170 lb.-ft. of torque @ 4000 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 19/27 (manual), 23/31 (automatic)
2.5-liter Boxer four turbocharged
265 horsepower @ 6000 rpm
258 lb.-ft. of torque @ 2000-5200 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 18/25
3.6-liter Boxer six
256 horsepower @ 6000 rpm
247 lb.-ft. of torque @ 4400 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 18/25
The 2010 Subaru Legacy has a Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) starting around $20,500 for the 2.5i, with the Premium model adding about $1,000 to that. The 2.5 Limited starts around $25,500, as does the base 3.6 R, while the GT and 3.6R Limited start around $28,500 and top out around $30,000 fully loaded. Across the range, pricing is down considerably from last year, even though the base cars now offer much more in the way of standard content. A similarly-priced Honda Accord or Toyota Camry can't match the Legacy's standard content list nor do they even offer the option of all-wheel drive. Best of all, the Legacy enjoys a strong resale record, which we expect to carry over to the new model.