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2020 Subaru Legacy Test Drive Review
The 2020 Legacy delivers efficiency, safety, and all-wheel-drive capability, but it suffers from overcomplicated technology.
It’s something we’ve said almost exhaustively on this site: Crossovers are king, and the age of sedans owning the road has waned. But you can’t fault us for reporting what’s happening out there, and if you bought your first car more than a decade ago, this may still be news to you. Their combination of cargo space, passenger space, and added ride height—with a seemingly minimal penalty when it comes to fuel economy—contributed largely to the proliferation of SUVs over the past 10 years.
But what of the humble sedan? And what is an automaker to do when one of its best-selling segments becomes passé?
If that automaker is Subaru, the play is to lean into the niche. For the 4-door, 5-passenger Legacy, that means a focus on practicality, efficiency, and safety. The Legacy has long been a pragmatic choice thanks to its standard all-wheel-drive (AWD), fuel-efficient engines, and easy-to-use interiors.
The 2020 Legacy can still boast AWD and strong mileage, but Subaru has made some major changes inside its midsize sedan in an attempt to go more mainstream and grab a larger slice of the shriveling sedan market. Some of the technology Subaru added has been great, but one major change to the dash of the new Legacy makes us ask what Subaru is thinking.
Look and Feel
When your vehicle is all about pragmatic sensibility, it’s kind of hard to be flashy. This is the conundrum of the Legacy’s styling. It’s a handsome car, but at times it also struggles to stand out. That’s not to say its styling is boring. It has plenty of sharp angles and details, but that’s actually the problem. If you look at the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry, you'll notice their rakish styling and accentuated details, but they’re still relatively clean designs. They look large and bold compared to the Legacy, which feels like a smaller car. I honestly had to check the rear badge when I first walked up to the Legacy to make sure it wasn’t a compact Subaru Impreza. That’s how small the front end looks and feels.
If pragmatism is what Subaru wanted, the Legacy’s is a perfectly fine front-end design. But as we’ve mentioned, there are hints that Subaru is attempting to go mainstream with the new Legacy, and so the automaker should have worked harder to present it as more than just a sedan version of the Outback.
Get in the driver’s seat and the first thing you’ll notice is a massive new 11.6-inch touchscreen. But unfortunately, Subaru has buried too many features deep within this digital screen. In general, simple controls, like those for climate and radio, are unnecessarily complicated when relegated to touchscreens. And as we’ll explain later, buyers can’t avoid the tech features by opting for the base trim anymore.
There are six trims for the 2020 Legacy: base, Premium, Sport, Limited, Limited XT, and Touring XT. The base comes pretty well-equipped with remote keyless entry, Bluetooth connectivity, dual 7-inch touchscreens with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and 17-inch steel wheels with plastic covers. The base trim also comes with automatic climate control, voice recognition, and Subaru EyeSight, a comprehensive suite of driver assistance features.
We drove the Premium, which offers 17-inch alloy wheels, power side mirrors, four USB ports (two front and two rear), and the massive 11.6-inch touchscreen. It also adds a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, dual-zone automatic climate control, and a standard power moonroof. CarGurus recommends the Premium trim thanks to a number of these features—including the 10-way power front seats—and the fact it comes with the All-Weather Package, which adds heated seats, heated mirrors, and a windshield wiper de-icer. The latter is pretty clever, as it uses a de-icer element (similar to the one on your rear window) directly under the resting position for the windshield wipers. No more whacking with a scraper required to break the wiper free in winter!
The Sport upgrades the wheels to 18-inch alloys and adds some racier exterior details, such as a trunk spoiler, a more aggressive front fascia, and LED fog lights. Inside, the Sport trim adds red contrast interior stitching, leather cladding for the dash panel, and aluminum alloy pedal covers.
Moving up to the Limited trim adds adaptive LED headlights that bend with the road and auto power up/down for all four windows. Other additions to the Limited include an 8-way power front passenger seat, driver memory settings for the seat and mirrors, perforated leather upholstery, and heated rear seats.
The Limited XT trim is named for its inclusion of the more powerful turbocharged engine. But the XT has a few more features over the non-XT Limited. It adds dual tailpipes, a distracted-driving monitor, and a heated steering wheel.
The range-topping trim is the Touring XT. As the name suggests, it features the upgraded turbocharged engine, but it also adds power-folding exterior mirrors with integrated turn signals, full Nappa leather upholstery, and heated and ventilated front seats.
The base, Premium, Sport, and Limited trims get Subaru’s venerable 2.5-liter boxer 4-cylinder engine, making 182 horsepower and 176 pound-feet of torque. Power gets routed to standard AWD through a continuously variable transmission (CVT) that has a manual mode and paddle shifters to operate simulated “gears.” This is so you can induce a “downshift” to get the powertrain into a sportier gear ratio for passing on the highway. Frankly, the transmission is responsive enough that the manual mode might not get a lot of use.
In fact, the Legacy tends to jump off the line, which makes it a great car for the city or suburbs. Getting up to highway speed reveals some weaknesses in the powertrain. It’ll get there, but you really have to push it, and it makes a heck of a lot of noise along the way.
If you do need more power, a new turbocharged engine is available. It’s a 2.4-liter turbocharged boxer 4-cylinder found in the Limited XT and Touring XT, and it makes 260 horsepower and 270 pound-feet of torque. It also routes power through a CVT with a manual mode and paddle shifters.
Subaru fans will recall the high-power engine in past versions of the Legacy and Outback was a 3.6-liter 6-cylinder. But that engine has been phased out in favor of a turbocharged four. We would have liked to test the Legacy with this new turbo engine. That’s not because the base engine is underpowered, but because the chassis of the Legacy is surprisingly good. Cornering is precise, and ride quality is refined. It would have been nice to experience an engine that was commensurate with the car's impressive handling setup.
Like most cars these days, the Legacy employs an auto stop-start system, which shuts off the engine at stoplights and other moments when the engine is idling. In the Legacy, this system is pretty jarring, as the boxer four roars to life at every green light. Often, the solution to this is to simply shut off the stop-start system, which is nearly always accomplished via a button in the center console. Unfortunately, this is another feature that is hidden in a sub-menu of the car’s complicated infotainment system, and it’s quite frustrating that it now requires multiple steps to do something that previously took a simple keystroke.
The stop-start system is not there to drive users mad. It’s meant to conserve fuel, and with the base engine, it contributes to fuel economy of 27 mpg city, 35 highway, 30 combined. In a week of combined city and highway driving, we observed an even 29 mpg. That’s impressive, especially when you consider rival sedans like the Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima, and Ford Fusion all struggle to get that with front-wheel drive. Moving to the turbocharged engine drops fuel economy to 24 city, 32 highway, 27 combined.
Form and Function
One of the reasons crossovers have been displacing sedans is their cargo space. Even within the Subaru lineup, the Legacy can’t compete on cargo with a Forester or even an Impreza hatchback. Still, the Legacy has solid trunk space for the class at 15.1 cubic feet. That’s a bit better than the 2019 model, but even the smallest crossovers and hatchbacks have more.
A real surprise in the Legacy is its backseat head- and legroom. This is something I assumed automakers had given up on, choosing instead to focus on cabin space in crossovers. But I was able to slide the driver’s seat back far enough to accommodate my 6'3" frame behind the wheel, and there was still enough room behind that seat for another person my size to sit. The backseat also has some niceties such as in-door cupholders, a fold-down center armrest with two more cupholders, and, in the case of our test model, the helpful rear USB ports.
The front seats are supportive, and there are deep pockets in the doors for water bottles and other items. I wish the little tray in the center stack was a bit larger, as I had to squeeze my hand in to plug a cable into the USB port, but as you’ll read ahead, that’s the least of the Legacy’s technical woes.
First, let me start by stating that I’m in favor of most in-car tech advancements. I’ve been very surprised by America’s Big Three automakers and their native infotainment systems. Ford Sync, GM’s MyLink/Intellilink, and FCA’s Uconnect are actually all quite good because they don’t overstuff the digital systems. Keeping climate controls available as hard buttons and dials leaves more room for whatever other apps are on the digital screen.
Unfortunately, that’s not Subaru’s approach with its massive 11.6-inch screen and the Starlink infotainment system. Let’s take something as simple as adjusting the heated seats or even the climate controls. Even these basic changes require clicking an icon, making adjustments to that feature’s settings, and then closing out of that menu. That’s three steps where it used to take one.
What can I say about the new systems that’s positive? Well, the icons are large and easy to read. Starlink also doesn’t seem to have any lag-time or bugs. Perhaps the best thing I can say about it is that Subaru left real dials for the volume and tuning knobs. These are all nice, but they are overshadowed by the negative.
Another big misstep with this system is its portrait orientation. As a result, it scrunches Apple CarPlay down into a third of the screen. In 2019, most drivers are more loyal to the company that makes their phone than they are to the one that builds their car. This seems like a mistake.
It should be pointed out that after we filmed the Legacy, Apple provided an over-the-air update for CarPlay that changed a lot of its functionality. It’s possible some of these “scrunching” elements may have been alleviated by this update. We recommend that anyone test-driving this car should also test-drive the tech. Plug in your phone, use the touchscreen, and see if it is as frustrating for you as it was for us. Your results may vary.
In past years, high-tech systems like this were found only in top-tier trims. That meant if I didn’t like how a system worked, I could avoid it by choosing a non-range-topping trim. But this system is found in every single trim of the Legacy other than the base. And the base has a cobbled-together dual-screen setup that has all the same problems, meaning there’s no escaping the Legacy’s poor system.
The Legacy comes standard with Subaru’s EyeSight suite of driver-assistance features. This includes forward-collision warning, lane-departure warning, and adaptive cruise control. Many of this system’s alerts are signaled using a head-up light system: a Christmas tree of lights on the dash that present on the windshield. There are a number of different light combinations for various alerts, but it’s pretty intuitive.
EyeSight includes another fantastic feature: an alert that's triggered when you’re stopped and the car in front of you starts moving forward. Perhaps you’re stopped at a light and distracted from the line of vehicles in front of you; this alert will help you avoid causing a backup. CarGurus does not condone distracted driving, but there are occasions when we might not be looking directly at the car in front of us.
Other standard safety features include a full array of front- and side-impact airbags, traction control, a reversing camera, and a tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS).
The 2020 Subaru Legacy has a base MSRP of $22,745, which is a great price for an AWD sedan. A 2020 Nissan Altima with AWD, for comparison, starts at $25,450. The Legacy Premium starts at $24,995. With some tech features and its $900 destination fee, our test car came in at $26,895.
The Sport trim starts at $26,945, and the Limited trim starts at $29,745. If you want turbocharged power, the Limited XT starts at $34,195, while the range-topping Touring XT starts at $35,895. For the sake of comparison, the 2019 Honda Accord (without AWD) starts at $23,720, and a range-topping Touring 2.0T trim starts at $35,950.
Looking across its lineup of SUVs, wagons, and crossovers, Subaru tends to march to its own beat. Its vehicles are function-focused, and the brand has carved out quite a niche this way. For years, the Legacy was no different, but Subaru seems to be pushing to go mainstream. The Legacy’s massive touchscreen is a sign of this.
There’s nothing wrong with selling cars. But there’s a lesson here about not forgetting what got you where you are and not giving up on your base. I’m not sure how many diehard Subaru owners will be in love with an 11.6-inch touchscreen. Subaru should have read its American shoppers a little better than that.
From open-wheel racecars to specialty off-road vehicles, George Kennedy has driven it all. A career automotive journalist, George has been a contributor, editor, and/or producer at some of the most respected publications and outlets, including Consumer Reports, the Boston Globe, Boston Magazine, Autoblog.com, Hemmings Classic Wheels, BoldRide.com, the Providence Journal, and WheelsTV.
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Subaru Legacy Questions
My Screen Is Now Blank
I have a new car and all of a sudden the screen went blank but the radio is still playing
4 Key Turns. Thx SGB!
Had 2020 legacy die in parking lot after about 1300 miles... Red immobilizer light flashing. Found this thread and wife got it started on 2nd attempt of the 4 key turns....thanks for the amazing in...
Center Display Panel Turned Off; How To Get It Back On?
On my new 2020 Subaru Legacy I accidentally turned the center display panel off and I can't get it to turn back on. I have turned the car off but still no display in center panel when it restarts.
Steering Wheel Symbols
Hello, do you know if the symbols (controls) such as cruise, command button etc on the steering wheel illuminate at night.When driving at night very distracting as one has to feel around.
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