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2014 Subaru Legacy Test Drive Review
While the 4-cylinder engine’s horsepower and torque figures might appear unimpressive on paper, out in the real world the CVT proves adept at making the best use of each, and the 2014 Subaru Legacy 2.5i rarely feels underpowered.
The 2014 Subaru Legacy isn’t the prettiest of the 4-door family cars you can buy, but it is an exceptionally talented wallflower when it comes to fuel economy, safety, comfort, quality and battling the worst Mother Nature can throw at it. Plus, it’s lots of fun to drive and represents good value. Sometimes in life, the better choice isn’t always the obvious choice.
Look and Feel
Out of 10
It’s easy to overlook the 2014 Subaru Legacy when you start shopping for a midsize sedan. Almost every car company offers one, and that apparently causes confusion for many people, who evidently throw their hands up into the air and say: “Arrgh! Let’s just get the Camry and be done with it already!”
Don’t give up early. There are lots of tasty alternatives to the family cars that everyone else buys, and the all-wheel-drive Legacy is one of them. Prices start at $21,090 for the base 2.5i model, including the $795 destination charge.
Most people will want to upgrade to the Legacy 2.5i Premium ($24,090), and not just for its standard continuously variable transmission. This model has a 10-way power driver’s seat, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, a reversing camera, Bluetooth and a better stereo with HD Radio, satellite radio, a USB port, an iPod connection and an auxiliary audio input jack. The 2.5i Premium also looks nicer, thanks to body-color exterior mirror caps, a bright-finish exhaust outlet and 17-inch aluminum wheels.
My test car was the Legacy 2.5i Sport ($26,040), a new trim level that Subaru added halfway through last year. It happens to be my favorite, as it is both affordable and, in my opinion, the best looking thanks to its 18-inch aluminum wheels and fog lights. Inside, the Sport model adds fake carbon fiber dashboard trim, a power sunroof and an auto-dimming rear-view mirror with a Homelink universal garage door opener.
Seeking a little bit of luxury? Check out the Legacy 2.5i Limited ($26,690). It’s decked out with leather seats, woodgrain trim, dual-zone automatic climate control, a premium Harman Kardon audio system, fancy gauges and more. And if you want a 6-cylinder engine for extra power and performance, the 3.6R Limited beckons ($29,690).
If you like the way the 2014 Subaru Legacy looks, then you’re going to love this car. From my perspective, the Legacy’s styling is awkwardly detailed, from its oversized fender blisters and undersized wheels to its substantial front overhang, angular grille, stretched-back headlights and pincer-style taillights. Needless to say, I’m not a fan of the Legacy’s design, but the new 2.5i Sport model certainly proves just how far a nice set of wheels and tires can go toward making any vehicle appealing.
Subaru does a better job with the Legacy’s interior, which looks right in a way that the contorted exterior doesn’t. From the tasteful texturing of the low-gloss dashboard and soft-touch door panel materials to the brushed aluminum appearance of the silver plastic trim and the Berber-style floor mats, the Legacy’s cabin looks more expensive than it is. That’s important, because this is where the car’s owner spends all of his or her time.
Out of 10
Most Legacies wear a 2.5i designation, which means they’ve got a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine that makes 173 horsepower at 5,600 rpm and 174 lb-ft of torque at 4,100 rpm. If you decide on the Legacy 3.6R Limited, you’ll get a 6-cylinder engine generating 256 hp at 6,000 rpm and 247 lb-ft of torque at 4,400 rpm.
Each of the Legacy’s engines employs horizontally opposed piston design, in which they jab outward from the crankshaft like a boxer’s fists. Also referred to as a “flat” or a “boxer” style of engine, the benefits are a more compact design and a lower center of gravity. Aside from Subaru, the only other car company currently building these types of engines is Porsche*.
A 6-speed manual gearbox is offered only in the base version of the Legacy 2.5i. All other 2.5i models have a continuously variable transmission (CVT) that improves fuel economy and offers simulated manual shifting through 6 different ratios using paddle shifters mounted to the steering wheel. The Legacy 3.6R is equipped with a 5-speed automatic transmission that includes a downshift rev-matching feature.
All 2014 Subaru Legacy models have standard all-wheel drive. Three different systems are offered, though, depending on the engine and transmission selection. With the manual gearbox, the Legacy 2.5i evenly splits power between the front and rear wheels until one or the other slips, and then the AWD system automatically redistributes power to the wheels with the best grip.
The most popular powertrain, the 4-cylinder engine with the CVT, gets Subaru’s Active Torque Split AWD. In these models, power is delivered primarily to the front wheels and is sent to the rear wheels as driving conditions and traction levels warrant. In several states, this powertrain meets Partial Zero Emission Vehicle (PZEV) standards, though the cleaner-burning hardware adds $300 to the cost of the car.
In the Legacy 3.6R, Subaru’s Variable Torque Distribution AWD system apportions power in a 45:55 front-to-rear split in order to give the car a bit of a sporting personality. The power distribution varies, though, depending on driving style and road conditions.
Now, if you ask me, this is an unnecessarily complex menu of choices. Few Legacies are sold with a manual transmission, and few are sold in 3.6R format. Since the 2.5i model with the CVT is quite satisfying and is the most fuel-efficient variant, my bet is that Subaru could simplify the Legacy lineup and nobody would notice.
Let’s talk about what it’s like to drive the Legacy 2.5i Sport that I borrowed for a week of family-schlepping duty. While the 4-cylinder engine’s horsepower and torque figures might appear unimpressive on paper, out in the real world the CVT proves adept at making the best use of each, and the car rarely feels underpowered as a result. At lower elevations, anyway. And with one person aboard.
Around town, the CVT goes nearly unnoticed, providing plenty of peppy performance. You can’t really detect it when cruising on the highway, either. Accelerate hard, though, such as when entering a freeway, and the CVT holds revs in a steady-state drone that, to the uninitiated, could serve as a source of irritation.
When passing on a two-lane highway, the CVT responds in such a fashion as to eliminate concern about the car’s ability to get around slower traffic. Similarly, when climbing a mountain grade, the Legacy has no trouble maintaining speed and ascending elevation. Also, the CVT offers a manual shift mode with paddles, which causes the transmission to behave more like a traditional automatic with stepped gears. The effect is similar to watching a B-list actor in a low-budget flick, but the experience isn’t entirely unsatisfactory.
I test-drove the Legacy in the dead of winter, but because I live in the Los Angeles area, I didn’t get a chance to sample the car’s effectiveness in lousy weather. My family had planned a Subaru road trip to Yosemite National Park to play in the snow, but the entire state of California is in the grip of drought, and due to a dearth of raging waterfalls and fluffy white stuff, we elected to cancel the trip. Ground clearance measures 5.9 inches, though, which sure ought to help the Legacy plow through snow.
I did get to sample how the Legacy’s boxer-type engine design, and its resulting low center of gravity, contributes to a 5-star rollover resistance rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). You can feel how snugged down the Subaru is when you whip it around a corner, and with 18-inch wheels and lower profile tires, the Legacy 2.5i Sport is great fun to toss into turns. While this is not a family-size substitute for a WRX—you missed your chance by ignoring the now-defunct turbocharged Legacy GT that nobody bought—the Legacy 2.5i Sport is entertaining to drive.
The added entertainment value comes at slight expense to ride quality, and only because of the 2.5i Sport model’s shorter tire sidewalls. Subaru makes no changes to suspension tuning for the 2.5i Sport, which is just as well, because this car’s underpinnings deftly blend connectivity and coddling, making the Legacy feel solid, secure and sensational on a favorite back road.
If the suspension impresses, the Legacy’s steering is outstanding, from the size, diameter and shape of the steering-wheel rim to its heft, feel and precise response. The brakes are effective, too, proving stout and easy to modulate, though I had trouble bringing the Legacy to a perfectly smooth stop without a little grabbing as the car came to a halt.
If there’s anything likely to aggravate a Legacy owner over time, it’s interior noise. This is a loud car, so you’d better like a continual feed of aural status reports regarding the powertrain and road texture. Personally, I rather enjoy the characteristic grumble of the flat-four engine, and how the tires clearly communicate road surface information. I could, however, do without the relentless wind noise at freeway speeds.
* Don’t freak out. The Scion FR-S is rocking a Subaru-sourced flat-four.
Form and Function
Out of 10
For the most part, Subaru gets the Legacy’s interior exactly right. Attention to detail means the cabin is soft where you’re likely to touch it, and all the materials look refined and upscale, and all the storage areas (except the glovebox) include liners designed to quell vibrations. In particular, I enjoyed the simulated carbon fiber trim in my 2.5i Sport test car, which looked terrific with silver trim.
Beyond the quality and design of the materials, the Legacy is comfortable for all occupants. The 10-way power-adjustable driver’s seat provides excellent thigh support, plenty of height, and the ability to dial in a perfect seatback angle. My 2.5i Sport test car had cloth seats and 2-stage seat heaters, a perfect combination for a frosty morning commute. As an added bonus, the Legacy’s leather-wrapped steering wheel is a genuine joy to grip.
Rear seat accommodations are like a limousine. It is very easy to climb into and out of this car, the rear seat cushion sits tall and is both firm and supportive, and the Legacy offers plenty of legroom for people over 6 feet tall. I did, however, think that the seatback angle was reclined a little too much.
Offering a 65/35-split design, the rear seat folds down to expand cargo capacity. I think Subaru has really missed an obvious opportunity with a vehicle so clearly talented at visiting ski resorts, and that’s a pass-through from the trunk to the cabin designed to hold up to four sets of sticks. At 14.7 cubic feet, the Legacy’s trunk is on the small side for the midsize sedan class, but it's usefully shaped and strikes me as adequate for most people. The trunk lid swings down promptly and shuts securely with one sweeping motion.
Not everything inside the Legacy deserves praise. For the most part, the majority of the car’s controls are logically located and easy to find and use. My test car’s infotainment system, however, was a source of aggravation. I can’t figure out why car companies believe there is a better way than to provide a Power/Volume knob on the left side of the stereo, and a Tuning/Source knob on the right side of the stereo. I also accidentally activated the hazard flashers on several occasions when reaching for items stored in the tray located forward of the shifter, indicating to me that this button needs to be relocated.
Out of 10
My Legacy 2.5i Sport test car had Subaru’s Starlink technology, which is included with the optional navigation system. It was very easy for to pair an iPhone 5 to the system, download contacts, make and receive calls, and stream music.
Unfortunately, this simplicity did not make me a fan. The system lacks natural voice recognition technology, and the touchscreen frequently proved unresponsive to my dry, winter-withered fingertips. I also didn’t like the screen’s graphics, or that when the Legacy was parked in my driveway, the onboard altimeter read 814 feet in the morning and then 879 feet in the afternoon. Also, on one stretch of highway, the speed-limit information display showed the 35-mph limit for the immediately adjacent roadway instead of the 65-mph limit for the freeway on which I was actually traveling, so it appears that the Legacy’s GPS system performs with less than pinpoint accuracy.
Out of 10
Inexplicably, Subaru does not offer its EyeSight technology for the Legacy 2.5i Sport. You can get it on the 2.5i Premium. You can get it on the 2.5i Limited. But if you want the best looking and best handling Legacy, you are out of luck.
What is EyeSight? Glad you asked. It’s a package that contains an adaptive cruise control system, a pre-collision braking system and a lane departure warning system. Thanks to this option, the 2014 Legacy scores a “Superior” crash prevention rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), one more laurel to go along with an IIHS Top Safety Pick+ rating and a 5-star overall crash-test rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
Note, however, that the NHTSA also gives the Legacy a disappointing 3-star rating in the individual side-impact pole test. Additionally, I think EyeSight is incomplete. It needs a blind-spot monitoring system, one of the most useful and practical collision-prevention features yet. Plus, there’s no good reason EyeSight can’t be added to the 2.5i Sport model. Therefore, as good as the Legacy looks in terms of ratings, there’s room for improvement.
Out of 10
Thus far, we’ve covered lots of good reasons to consider owning a 2014 Subaru Legacy. With this model, though, the best is saved for last. Buying a Legacy is just plain smart.
Consider that both Consumer Reports and J.D. Power give the Legacy high marks for reliability, and that this Subaru isn’t expected to cost very much to own in the long run. A 5-star depreciation rating from ALG certainly helps in that regard, as do the Legacy 2.5i model’s impressive fuel economy ratings of 24 mpg in the city, 32 mpg on the highway and 27 mpg in combined driving. After a week of driving, my test car had effortlessly averaged 26.4 mpg, so those appear to be realistic numbers.
Additionally, the Legacy’s pricing is well aligned with the competition's, and that’s before considering that it comes with standard AWD. Deals are readily available, including low-rate financing, and you can lease a Legacy for the same price as smaller, less expensive cars thanks to strong residual values and reasonable window stickers. Clearly, this car makes good sense from a value standpoint.
Christian Wardlaw has nearly two decades of experience reviewing cars, and has served in editorial leadership roles with Edmunds, Autobytel, and J.D. Power and Associates. Chris prefers to focus on the cars people actually buy rather than the cars about which people dream, and emphasizes the importance of fuel economy and safety as much as how much fun a car is to drive. Chris is married to an automotive journalist, is the father of four daughters, and lives in Southern California.