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2015 Subaru Legacy: First Drive Review

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author photo by Doug DeMuro May 2014

Midsize sedans are popular, and that means plenty of competition. Subaru knows this better than anyone. Even though the brand's Legacy sedan has been around for 25 years, it's still outsold by nearly every other midsize sedan available to U.S. shoppers. That means cars such as the Buick LaCrosse, Honda Accord, Mazda6 and Toyota Camry outsell the Legacy each year.

Enter the 2015 Subaru Legacy, which is the automaker's latest attempt to bring its oft-forgotten, all-wheel-drive midsize sedan into the mainstream. Subaru has had some success with this strategy in the past, with models such as the Forester and the Outback. So does the Legacy finally have what it takes to bring down some of its midsize-sedan rivals? We spent some time behind the wheel of the all-new 2015 model to find out.

Inside and Out

Let's face it: The outgoing Legacy wasn't the most attractive car in its class. Fortunately, that's changed for the 2015 model year. While we think the latest Legacy's styling could still be a little more exciting, the 2015 Legacy still manages to include a few head-turning details, including LED lighting and cleaner overall lines. Most importantly, it's clearly an improvement over last year's model, and it certainly helps the sedan fit in better among its rivals.

The biggest improvement, however, comes on the inside. While the interior of last year's Legacy was acceptable, the new model boasts a far more linear look. Cabin materials have improved, the seats are comfortable, and the climate control display is larger and easier to read. But our favorite update is that all 2015 Legacy models have a standard touchscreen (6.2 inches to 7 inches, depending on options), replacing the large, silver-painted center storage compartment that was prominently featured in last year's model. Needless to say, we like the touchscreen better.

Under the Hood

Despite big changes to the interior and exterior and a few new features, the 2015 Legacy retains one important aspect of the old model: the engines. We think that's just fine.

Most Legacy models will feature the brand's 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine, which makes 175 horsepower. Now mated to a standard continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) with last year's manual gone, the engine hardly makes the Legacy feel like a sports car, but that isn't Subaru's intent. Instead, this is the powerplant for drivers interested in a smooth, quiet engine designed for city traffic.

That's especially true when you check the Environmental Protection Agency fuel economy ratings: Subaru says the 2.5-liter Legacy will return a stellar 26 miles per gallon in the city and 36 mpg on the highway, even with the added weight and complexity of standard all-wheel drive (a feature not included in competing vehicles such as the Honda Accord and Nissan Altima).

For shoppers interested in extra power, Subaru also offers a 3.6-liter 6-cylinder, which puts out 256 hp and 247 lb-ft of torque. This engine is much more powerful than the 4-cylinder, and it feels muscular at any speed, aided by the sedan's excellent CVT automatic transmission.

The penalty, of course, is cost: Not only do fuel economy numbers drop to 20 mpg city/29 mpg hwy when you choose the 6-cylinder, you also have to spend big money just to get it. The 6-cylinder Legacy is only offered with the Limited trim, which is nearly $8,000 more than a base-level Legacy and $3,000 pricier than a 4-cylinder Legacy 2.5i Limited.

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As for handling, the Legacy certainly has us impressed. We spent several hours behind the wheel of the midsize sedan on some of the most twisty, curvy roads imaginable, and the Legacy handled them with ease. Body roll is composed, steering is predictable, and even on the harshest corners, you can feel Subaru's standard torque vectoring system helping to control understeer so you remain on course.

Features Everywhere

In addition to its class-competitive styling, performance, interior quality and fuel economy, Subaru also provided the Legacy with an exceptionally long list of technology features.

Many of the Legacy's standard or optional tech features are commonplace in the midsize-sedan world. There's an infotainment system, for example, with app capabilities, meaning you can play music using Pandora and other technologies. There's a navigation system with voice control. And there's Bluetooth, a backup camera and a center-mounted LCD screen in the sedan's gauge cluster.

Where the Legacy stands out is its new suite of safety features. Included with the brand's optional EyeSight system is an impressive list of gadgets ranging from adaptive cruise control and a lane-departure warning system to a pre-collision system that will help brake the car if it detects an impending crash.

There's even a system, unique to the Legacy, that will read the traffic in front of you at a stoplight and warn you if other cars are pulling away, just in case you've looked down to check a quick text message or enter a destination in the navigation system. We're not advocating doing any of those things while in traffic, but Subaru clearly knows that people just get distracted no matter what the rules say. At the very least, Subaru is lessening the consequences when drivers do become distracted.

Your Pick

After spending some time in the 2015 Subaru Legacy, we've come away thinking that this is easily one of the best midsize sedans on the market. It's better than the Camry and as good as the Accord, (but the Accord does not offer all-wheel drive). The 2015 Legacy gets serious competition from the Mazda6 and Ford Fusion, but the Mazda doesn't offer a 6-cylidner engine and the Subaru is a better value than the Ford. Plus, the Legacy handles better than the Altima and has more compelling safety features than the Chevy Malibu.

The Legacy's fuel economy is excellent as well. Interior and exterior styling are modern and competitive. Engines are smooth, and technology is abundant. And standard all-wheel drive is a safety feature unique to the Legacy. In the end, then, the only thing stopping the Legacy from mass-market success is you.

That's right: Since shoppers tend to buy what they know, we think the Legacy will continue to be outsold by rivals such as the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord, largely because those models are familiar. Subaru thinks so too, noting that it hopes the latest Legacy finds more buyers than previous models but isn't expecting to attract the most buyers of any midsize sedan.

If that's the goal, we think there's no doubt that the 2015 Legacy will find success, given improvements over the old model. But we also think the latest Legacy is good enough to convince even the most die-hard Camry and Accord shoppers to think twice about sticking with what's most familiar.

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2015 Subaru Legacy: First Drive Review - Autotrader