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2015 Subaru Legacy Test Drive Review
The all-new 2015 Legacy, with its vanilla-flavored styling, bigger interior and nicer accommodations, is proof that the American driving public has spoken, and Subaru has listened.
Subaru’s redesigned 2015 Legacy is bigger, better looking and impressively dressed. But has something been lost in the translation? For this driving enthusiast, yes.
Look and Feel
The 2015 Legacy wears the oldest nameplate in the Subaru lineup, but is no longer illustrative of what, as the line goes, makes a Subaru a Subaru. That’s quirkiness, and quirkiness is mostly missing from this new 5-passenger sedan that competes with the likes of the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry.
It’s true that the new Legacy retains one of its chief selling points, a feature that has distinguished Subarus for decades, and that’s all-wheel drive (AWD). That’s still a little bit quirky, but with AWD going mainstream in models like the Chrysler 200 and Ford Fusion, the Legacy is no longer the only game in town.
One thing the Legacy has that nobody else installs in a family sedan is a boxer-style engine, a Subaru tradition that has both fans and detractors. That approach is plenty quirky, but in this latest Legacy the power plant’s characteristic thrum and grumble is toned down to the point that the design makes a difference only to engineering geeks.
Esoteric design has also lent Subarus a quirky personality, but it's clear with this latest Legacy that Subaru is tiring of that label. The company just wants be more popular and to sell more cars. The all-new 2015 Legacy, with its vanilla-flavored styling, bigger interior and nicer accommodations, is proof that the American driving public has spoken, and Subaru has listened.
Subaru offers the Legacy in four trim levels. Base 2.5i models have a full suite of power accessories, as well as features like a 60/40-split folding rear seat, a rear-view camera, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, and smartphone integration. The 17-inch steelies and plastic wheel covers give this one away as the cheapest Legacy, though.
For aluminum wheels, move up to the 2.5i Premium model. This version also has dual-zone automatic climate control, an 8-way power driver’s seat with heated front seats, and the ability to control some features via voice commands.
Step up to the Legacy 2.5i Limited to add 18-inch alloy wheels, leather upholstery, heated rear seats, a blind-spot warning system with rear cross-traffic alert, and a 12-speaker Harman Kardon sound system. If you’d rather not live with a 4-cylinder engine, the Legacy 3.6R Limited is equipped with a more powerful 6-cylinder engine and Xenon headlamps.
Among the features that can be added to the Legacy are a navigation system, keyless entry and engine start, a power sunroof and Subaru's EyeSight system, which shall be discussed later. My test vehicle for the week was a Legacy 2.5i Limited with all of those upgrades, which brought the sticker price to $30,580.
I’ll say this about that. The level of equipment combined with a pretty Twilight Blue paint job and lovely Warm Ivory leather interior gave my Legacy test car an upscale look and feel and made its price tag seem like a genuine bargain.
A 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine making 175 hp is charged with motivating every Legacy 2.5i. Boxer engines, those equipped with horizontally opposed pistons that jab out to the sides of the engine bay rather than upward toward the hood, are used exclusively by Subaru and Porsche, and have the advantage of lowering a vehicle’s center of gravity for greater handling and stability. In Subarus, this compact, relatively flat engine design also allows the automaker to maximize ground clearance in vehicles like the Forester, Outback and XV Crosstrek.
Frankly, as applied to the latest Legacy, I’m not a fan. First, Subaru has filtered its trademark grumble to eradicate quirkiness. Second, this engine’s lack of overall swiftness makes me wish that Subaru would slap a turbocharger on the mill. In exchange for its pokey performance, this engine is supposed to return 30 mpg in combined driving, according to the EPA. I averaged a paltry 23.4 mpg.
The Legacy’s standard Lineartronic continuously variable transmission (CVT) attempts to make the best of the situation, and even supplies a 6-speed manual mode and paddle shifters. They don’t transform this sedate sedan into a sporting machine, though.
Subaru’s Active Torque Split AWD system, which now includes Active Torque Vectoring technology (like there’s enough of it to vector), is standard, another trademark Subaru attribute to set it apart from many competitors. AWD systems are increasingly valued by residents of foul-weathered areas of the country, but Sunbelt dwellers don’t necessarily realize that AWD can also help improve a vehicle’s stability on dry roads. See, the only parts of the car that are in contact with the road are those four little patches of rubber, and a car can maneuver only as long as they grip the road. Lose traction, you lose control. AWD helps keep that from happening.
The Legacy’s suspension setup is sportier than your typical sedan’s, but we wouldn’t characterize this Subaru as engaging to drive. In keeping with the preferences of the vast majority of drivers who prefer a comfortable and quiet ride, the suspension is tuned in softer and suppler fashion than the previous Legacy. You might like that. I don’t.
Still, thanks to excellent brakes and precise steering, the Legacy remains a car that’s pleasurable to drive on longer, more scenic routes; it just doesn’t arouse any desire to drive it fast. And if you do, you’ll find that the tires make lots of racket while cornering, effectively advertising your hooliganism.
Form and Function
Family sedans are often the biggest moneymakers for any manufacturer, so car companies typically invest the necessary development dollars to do it right.
In the past, Subaru has struggled in terms of crafting an interior that exhibits high quality materials and simple, intuitive controls. With the 2015 Legacy, however, the company has obviously put a lot more thought into the interior, installing pleasing materials throughout, logically locating most controls and making them easy to reference and use, and creating a cabin exuding refinement.
Additionally, Subaru has improved passenger space to the point where the EPA technically classifies the new Legacy as a full-size car. From the outside, it might not look larger, but thanks to a 1.6-cubic-foot increase in space, there’s plenty of room for a family of 4, or even 5 if you don’t need to haul kids in child-safety seats like I do.
Subaru improved trunk space, too—a challenge due to the AWD system. This year, the Legacy offers 15 cubic feet of space, still on the small side for the midsize sedan class, but the trunk is usefully shaped. Plus, a 65/35-split rear seat helps to increase cargo-carrying flexibility.
Apparently people love doing things in cars other than, let’s say, driving them. Subaru obliges the perpetually distracted and technology addled with a plethora of entertainment options that work in conjunction with a paired smartphone.
Subaru calls its infotainment interface Starlink, and through it occupants can enjoy Bluetooth hands-free calling and music-streaming capability, HD Radio and satellite radio, and a selection of Internet radio applications including Pandora, Stitcher and iHeart Radio. You can even break out your old CD collection and slot discs into the system. Everything sounds better, too, when you’ve installed the available Harman Kardon premium audio system.
The Starlink setup also offers an Aha Radio app that connects the Legacy to your Facebook and Twitter accounts, provides access to a world of audio books and podcasts, and delivers news feeds, weather reports and local gas prices.
Unlike recent Subaru models, the latest version of Starlink employs a terrific user interface. Debuting in the new Legacy, this 7-inch color touchscreen looks elegant and sophisticated, rendering information with pleasing graphics on a screen that responds to finger swipes, pinches and spreads just like an iPad. Separate power, tuning and volume knobs provide traditional access to commonly used stereo adjustments, and the navigation system’s maps are displayed with a surprising level of detail.
Now all Subaru needs to do is add something similar to Hyundai’s Blue Link services technology, and Starlink will be in the running for best infotainment system of the year.
At the core of every Subaru, a ring-shaped reinforcement frame is designed to deflect crash energy away from the passenger cabin and protect passengers from serious injury in a collision. As a result of this engineering approach, Subaru has consistently ranked highly in terms of crash safety according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).
The redesigned 2015 Legacy should be no different, though as this review is written, the NHTSA has yet to perform tests on the 2015 model. The IIHS gave the Legacy top marks in all crash tests, and the car easily meets Top Safety Pick requirements. Bottom line: Subaru really cares about safety. And it puts its money where its mouth is when it comes to avoiding an accident and/or surviving one.
That’s why, for 2015, the Legacy is now offered with a blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert system, two features I think should be standard equipment on every new vehicle. Subaru includes these features for the Limited models and makes them optional for the Premium model.
My test vehicle was also equipped with Subaru's EyeSight system, including adaptive cruise control, a pre-collision braking system and a lane-departure warning system. This year, EyeSight is upgraded with new cameras and more refined operation.
It works like this. Two cameras mounted inside the windshield monitor what’s going on up ahead and, when the adaptive cruise control system is engaged, the Legacy follows traffic while automatically maintaining a safe distance. It can even bring the car to a full stop, as I discovered in heavy Los Angeles traffic. The cameras can also identify situations that could result in a collision, sounding warnings and automatically braking the car if necessary. Finally, the cameras monitor lane markings and alert the driver if the Legacy is unintentionally drifting out of its lane.
Overall, EyeSight is a handy, useful feature, and for 2015 it engages with much greater smoothness and refinement.
I was disappointed by my Legacy’s fuel economy. The EPA says this particular powertrain should return 26 mpg in the city, 36 mpg on the highway, and 30 mpg in combined driving. My as-tested 23.4-mpg average was shockingly low in comparison to expectations.
Beyond this, though, the 2015 Legacy appears to be a cost-effective choice in the family sedan segment. As I mentioned previously, my loaded test car’s sticker price sure is appealing, and with an impressive 4-star depreciation rating from ALG and a historically favorable cost of ownership rating from Intellichoice, it seems like it won’t cost much money to own a Legacy. And while Consumer Reports and J.D. Power disagree about the Legacy’s historical dependability, both organizations predict that this new model will serve its owners well over time.
Unfortunately, as the summer of 2014 draws to a close, Subaru is having a tough time competing against the heavy hitters in the segment. For example, while Subaru is offering low-rate financing and low-payment leases on the 2015 Legacy, when you consider what’s available from other automakers, it can’t compete with zero-interest long-term loans, zero-down leases and big cash rebates.
Liz Kim has worked within the world of cars for 15 years, at various points reviewing and writing about, or analyzing and marketing, everything automotive. It’s no wonder that she married a fellow automotive journalist. Liz can be found examining and assessing the latest vehicles when she’s not busy keeping the peace between, and the schedule for, her two young daughters.
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