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2021 Subaru Legacy Test Drive Review
Standard all-wheel drive and budget-friendly pricing make the Subaru Legacy a winner.
The Subaru Legacy delivers a lot of what the typical Subaru customer is looking for, including standard all-wheel drive (AWD)—it's the only vehicle in its class to offer that. It is also fuel-efficient, has comfortable seats, and ranks as one of the safest vehicles on the market today. But, fit-and-finish questions linger, and the EyeSight safety technology can prove annoying, with frequent beeps and chimes.
Look and Feel
The Subaru Legacy is an oft-forgotten member of the midsize-sedan club. It competes with perennial favorites like the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Hyundai Sonata, Mazda6, and Nissan Altima.
The 2021 Legacy is available in six trim levels: Base, Premium, Sport, Limited, Limited XT, and Touring XT. A few packages are available that bring desirable premium features to lower grade models as well as some equipment add-ons.
The current-generation Legacy debuted as a 2020 model. Following the same styling and equipment formula that has worked for Subaru in the past, it carries over much of the body and mechanics of the Subaru Outback wagon into sedan form.
From the B-pillar forward, the Outback and Legacy are essentially the same vehicle. This means that they have a matching fascia, headlight design, windscreen angle, and dashboard setup. For 2021, Subaru gave the Legacy standard low-beam and high-beam steering-responsive LED headlights. Previously they were only available on Premium and Limited grades. High-beam assist is standard as well.
Its looks aren’t particularly stylish or eye-catching, but they do hold true to Subaru branding and buyer desires for a vehicle that is safe and assuring. Subaru gave the Legacy high-gloss stainless steel side-window and shoulder-line moldings, which add a bit of flash. This version of the Legacy is far sleeker than the last generation, but not as eye-catching as some of the others in the class, like the Mazda6.
Seventeen-inch steel wheels are standard. Buyers can upgrade to 17-inch alloy, or 18-inch black- (a Legacy Sport exclusive) or machine-finished wheels. Exterior trim elements are changed out according to vehicle grade and can include chrome and black-chrome finishes. All wheels are wrapped in standard all-season tires.
Power-folding outside mirrors, front-door courtesy lights, a power moonroof, and an All-Weather Package (heated seats, heated mirrors, and a windshield wiper de-icer) are available.
Perhaps more important for Subaru brand enthusiasts is that the Legacy has roof mounting points for Subaru genuine-accessory crossbars. This allows for easy cargo basket, cargo box, or athletic equipment mounting.
The Legacy has a subdued interior with a blend of high-quality materials and piano black plastic that is both on-trend and appropriate for its price point. The tester that Subaru sent for review, a Legacy Limited XT, had a few fit-and-finish issues, namely with the tightness of leather in the corners of the doors.
Cloth upholstery is standard, but leather is available at extra cost. The style of the cabin is exactly what buyers expect from Subaru, a blend of form and function that is nice but doesn’t have flashy extras like open-pore wood or specialty metal accents that can be found in more premium vehicles. Nappa leather upholstery, contrasting stitching, perforated leather upholstery, a gloss black center dashboard panel, a leather-wrapped shifter, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, and chrome interior door handles are all options.
Subaru breaks down its trim levels into two groups: those with the base engine and those with the optional turbocharged engine. Models with the upgraded power plant feature an "XT" after their trim-level name.
The 2021 Subaru Legacy Base, Premium, Sport, and Limited are all powered by a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that achieves 182 horsepower and 176 pound-feet of torque. That engine gets drivers around down just fine, but for buyers looking to tow, climb hills, or frequently merge and pass on the highway at speed, the upgraded turbocharged 2.4-liter engine in the Limited XT and Touring XT grades is the way to go. It achieves 260 hp and 277 lb-ft of torque with some turbo lag, but nothing extraordinary. Both engines are paired with a continuously variable transmission (CVT).
AWD is standard on the Legacy, a feature that no other midsize sedan can claim. Some competitors, like the Toyota Camry are offered with AWD, but not as standard equipment. The all-wheel drive system keeps the car planted over rough terrain and absorbs many of the bumps along the way.
Steering on the Legacy is well-balanced and it is easy to direct around parking lots. However, hit the highway and without the lane-centering technology activated, the Subaru becomes very hard to keep between the lanes. In the tester, this seemed to be less about wheel alignment and more about mechanics because at low speed there was no pull to either side of the lane or any additional tire wear on one side of the car versus the other.
The 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine gets an EPA-estimated 27 mpg in the city, 35 mpg on the highway, and 30 mpg combined. The turbo does slightly worse in terms of fuel economy earning 24 mpg in the city, 32 mpg on the highway, and 27 mpg combined. These numbers are excellent for a non-hybrid AWD sedan.
Form and Function
In this new-gen Subaru, the automaker has taken comfort up a notch. It was much needed, not just to respond to consumer complaints but also to make the Legacy more competitive in its class. That starts at the front where a sound-insulation windshield works to block out a fair amount of wind and engine noise. It’s a massive improvement but the Legacy isn’t the quietest car in its class.
The car’s seat positioning has also been improved, with the seats providing a more natural sitting position that doesn’t put weight on the hips. While the Legacy Base model gets manually adjustable front seats, a 10-way power-adjustable driver’s seat is standard on every other trim level. In upgraded models, passengers either get a four-way manually-adjustable front passenger seat or an eight-way power-adjustable front passenger seat. In its most premium variety, the seats are comfortable, even for day-long road trips.
The five-seater delivers plenty of back seat room for adults. Two can easily fit and will be comfortable for extended periods thanks to additional legroom afforded by the 2020 redesign.
Subaru excels in giving the cabin of the Legacy a sense of spaciousness that makes it feel more like what you’ll find in a full-size car. Forward visibility is good for the driver.
Heated and ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, and a heated steering wheel are available. Each model has two sets of LATCH connections.
What the Subaru has in passenger space it lacks in cargo space. This is a typical “rob Peter to pay Paul” scenario that automakers walk. Extra legroom in the second row comes at the cost of trunk space with the Legacy, which has 15.1 cubic feet of room to put groceries, luggage, and the spare blanket that families always seem to have on hand. The trunk has a wide opening.
Like the Outback, the base model Legacy is equipped with dual 7-inch infotainment and climate/vehicle system/safety feature control displays. Upgrade to the Legacy Premium or any other Legacy model and get a standard 11.6-inch infotainment screen that features on-screen buttons for audio, climate controls, automatic stop/start, traction control, and other typical menu functionality.
Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard on all models as is a 12-volt power outlet in the glove box, two USB ports, a 3.5-millimeter auxiliary jack, automatic climate control, and a 4.2-inch meter display. The display shows what is necessary, displayed as part of the instrument cluster, but crowds some information together.
Upmarket trim levels of the Legacy get an additional 12-volt power outlet and two more USB ports in the rear center console, Subaru Starlink Connected Services, navigation, 180-degree front-view monitor, Sirius XM Traffic, keyless entry, a Harman Kardon premium audio system, automatic up/down front windows, and an auto-dimming rearview compass mirror with Homelink. Buyers can add a dealer-installed CD player. Nothing about that standard features and equipment list is revolutionary, but it is a solid roster of features.
The car’s 11.6-inch infotainment touch screen has an unsophisticated appearance. Its multicolored background is juvenile and the overall aesthetic doesn’t match the elegance of the vehicle itself. To Subaru’s credit, menus are fairly easy to navigate and having the button for automatic start/stop prominently featured near the climate controls at all times is a major plus. The housing for the screens, which includes some duplicative buttons, easily attracts fingerprints.
Subarus are noted for their safety and the 2021 Legacy is no exception. The 2021 Legacy earned the top scores in every category from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), including crashworthiness, crash-avoidance tech, and LATCH system ease of use. The 2021 Legacy was also named a Top Safety Pick by the IIHS. The National Highway Traffic Administration (NHTSA) gave the Legacy a five-star overall rating.
The Subaru Legacy comes standard with Subaru EyeSight technology. The suite of safety and driver-assist tech includes adaptive cruise control with lane centering, pre-collision automatic emergency braking and throttle management, and vehicle lane departure and sway warning. There’s also EyeSight Assist Monitor, a head-up display (HUD) that features EyeSight warnings and system status on the windshield. Buyers can add on reverse automatic braking and blind-spot monitoring.
Subaru's seat-belt monitoring system is very sensitive and very loud, alerting passengers that someone isn't buckled in nearly from the word "go."
The new car's EyeSight safety system is relatively easy to use but can grow annoying with all its beeps and flashing, even when something isn't wrong. Thankfully, using the infotainment system it’s easy to find where to shut those alerts off or tone them down. Still, the system’s insistence that eyes must be on the road at all times really ruins the excitement of looking at roadside attractions.
Every Subaru Legacy comes standard with a three-year/36,000-mile new car limited warranty, and a five-year/60,000-mile powertrain limited warranty.
Pricing for the 2021 Subaru Legacy starts at $22,895 (including a mandatory $925 destination charge). The cheapest 2021 Toyota Camry with available AWD starts at $29,945 and the lowest priced 2021 Nissan Altima with AWD starts at $26,850. The redesigned 2021 Kia K5 is available with AWD in certain trim levels with the lowest priced at $24,590. No other mass-market midsize cars are offered with the drivetrain.
If you’re a buyer who doesn’t need AWD, there are plenty of sedan options for you and many are better overall than the Subaru Legacy. While many have more pleasing tech and better fit and finish, the combination of AWD, fuel efficiency, safety features, and a low starting MSRP is attractive for buyers, especially those in the Northeast, Midwest, and Northwest where snow, slush, rain, and ice are common driving obstacles.
Buyers who like the Legacy and have a larger budget may want to consider the Subaru Outback. The models are nearly identical up front but the Outback is a wagon that delivers far more cargo space. Buyers who want to upgrade from the Outback might want to look at an Audi A4 Allroad or Audi A6 Allroad.
The Volvo S60 and V60 sedan and wagon, which are well-priced premium vehicles, offer tremendous winter weather prowess and have plush, luxe interiors.
AWD vehicle buyers who like the wagon and car setup but don't want to shell out on a new vehicle may want to look at used versions of the Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen or Golf Alltrack. The AWD models left the VW lineup a few years ago but are well-regarded.
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