Pros: Standard all-wheel drive; Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) Top Safety Pick; reasonable base price; windshield wiper de-icers

Cons: Poor fuel economy on 6-cylinder models; clunky manual transmission; no rear parking sensors or blind spot warning devices

What's New: Slight exterior styling changes and a revised suspension mark the most notable changes to the 2013 Subaru Legacy. Limited models can be equipped with Subaru's EyeSight driver assist system that features Pre-Collision braking assist, Adaptive Cruise Control and Lane Departure Warning. Other changes include the addition of a new navigation radio and the deletion of the turbocharged model.

While there are plenty of reasonably sized, reasonably priced family sedans out there, only one offers the peace of mind afforded by having all-wheel-drive as part of its standard equipment list. It's the 2013 Subaru Legacy, a roomy, fuel-efficient family cruiser that just also happens to be one of the best year-round cars on the road starting right around $21,000.

A slight exterior freshening around the front end and tail lamps brings a sportier look to the Legacy, as does its new wheel design. This sporty look is highlighted by the Legacy low-to-the-ground stance, a feature it has in common with Subaru's other sporty model, the WRX. Although the Legacy doesn't have the ground clearance found on the Forester or Outback, its standard Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive is still more than capable of pulling the sturdy sedan through deep snow berms and icy roadways.

Beyond its AWD, the Legacy stacks up well against such heavyweights as the Honda Accord and the Toyota Camry. It's got a huge back seat and a massive trunk, offers two engine choices and has an excellent safety record.

Comfort & Utility

If your last encounter with a Subaru sedan was more than five years ago, you're going to be in for a big surprise. Gone are the cramped interior, the tiny back seat and the underpowered engine. The newest car to wear the Legacy badge is a large sedan, with an abundance of headroom and rear-seat legroom. The Legacy's interior has a decidedly upscale feel to it, especially when trimmed in the Limited's leather and wood. We are not, however, enamored with the light beige cloth interior, which stains easily and is difficult to clean. And while we appreciate the added room afforded by the folding rear seats, we're puzzled why there is no locking mechanism on the seatbacks.

From the driver's seat, the instrument cluster is large and bright, with a fuel economy meter where the engine temperature gauge usually resides, although the Limited trims have a electroluminescent cluster that does include a temperature gauge. Controls for the radio are easy to reach and are repeated on the steering wheel controls, but the heating and ventilation controls sit a bit low and can be bumped when shifting gears with the manual transmission. Automatic-transmission models include steering wheel paddle shifters for manual gear selection. A nice option is the All-Weather Package, with heated seats and side mirrors plus de-icers for the windshield wiper blades.

Technology

On the lower end of the tech spectrum is Bluetooth hands-free phone connectivity, now standard on the base model along with Bluetooth audio streaming and iPod control. Optional on the Premium and standard on the Limited is the 440-watt Harman Kardon audio system, which has an LCD display, nine speakers and a subwoofer. A rear backup camera is available when ordering the navigation package or on models equipped with the sunroof that include a displays in the rearview mirror.

Exclusive to the Limited model is Subaru's newly improved voice-activated navigation system. Although we love the huge screen, we are not fans of this system. The controls are still not intuitive, the map directions are slow and many of the most basic audio controls are locked out when the vehicle is in motion. Also exclusive to the Limited is the available EyeSight driver assist system. EyeSight includes Adaptive Cruise Control that keeps a safe distance between the Legacy and traffic up ahead. It also features a Lane Departure Warning system and Pre-Collision Braking that, at speeds up to 20 mph, can stop the car in the event a collision is unavoidable. At higher speeds, the system will drastically reduce the speed to lessen the severity of the impact.

Performance & Fuel Economy

The Legacy's two available engines give the car two very distinct personalities. The economy leader is Subaru's 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine that makes 173 horsepower and 174 lb-ft of torque. New this year is the addition of Dual Active Valve Control driven by a timing chain replacing last year's rubber belt. Although you can have a 6-speed manual with this engine, we'd recommend the CVT automatic, which delivers the best fuel economy (21 mpg city/28 mpg hwy vs. 24/32 mpg). Those who require better acceleration and passing power should opt for the 3.6-liter 6-cylinder engine. With 256 hp and 247 lb-ft of torque, this engine provides smooth operation with only a slight decrease in fuel economy (18/25 mpg with the 5-speed automatic).

Safety

Safety has always been a Subaru strong point, and the Legacy excels in both the government's and the nonprofit IIHS's crash tests. IIHS named the Legacy a Top Safety Pick. Standard equipment includes front side-impact airbags and full-length side curtain airbags. In addition to all-wheel drive, Subaru also equips the Legacy with electronic traction and stability control. The Legacy's electronic parking brake has a hill-hold feature that prevents the car from rolling backward on inclines of more than 5 percent.

Driving Impressions

How quickly you can reach 60 mph will depend on the engine powering your Legacy. How quickly you can round corners won't matter as much, as both trims--2.5 and 3.6R--use the same MacPherson strut front and double-wishbone rear suspension setup. On the road, the Legacy's cabin is remarkably quiet, with very little engine, tire or wind noise apparent. The steering feel is nicely weighted, and the AWD system provides excellent traction, even on the most treacherous roads.

We like the way the CVT paddle shifters help the 2.5-liter make the most of its power; the standard 6-speed manual might have been our first choice if it were not so rubbery and vague when looking for the right gear. Although the 2.5-liter surprised us with its acceleration and smooth operations, we still prefer the authoritative power provided by the 3.6-liter engine. If only we could have the 4-cylinder's fuel economy on the 3.6R, it would be a match made in heaven.

Other Cars to Consider

Honda Accord: The Accord is every bit as safe and reliable as the Legacy, and it has better resale value. But the Accord doesn't offer AWD, and the base LX costs about $1,000 more than the entry-level Legacy.

Ford Fusion: The Fusion offers the option of AWD, but not on every model as the Legacy does. The Legacy has more interior room than the Fusion, but Ford's sedan offers much more advanced choices in audio, information and entertainment and electronic safety devices.

Dodge Charger: The Charger can also be equipped with AWD, and its standard V6 is more powerful and gets better fuel economy than the Legacy's 6-cylinder. However, Dodge doesn't offer a fuel-efficient 4-cylinder model, and the Legacy will hold its value better than the Charger.

AutoTrader Recommends

The Legacy model that offers the best value is the 2.5i Premium. Its sticker price remains right around the $26,000 mark, even with the optional Harman Kardon audio, CVT automatic transmission and power sunroof. However, if power is more important to you than price, go for a loaded 3.6R Limited. The leather seating is much nicer than the cloth, and the 3.6-liter engine delivers all the power you'll need without much penalty in fuel economy.

author photo

Joe Tralongo started in the industry writing competitive comparison books for a number of manufacturers, before moving on in 2000 to become a freelance automotive journalist. He's well regarded for his keen eye for detail, as well as his ability to communicate complex mechanical terminology into user-friendly explanations.

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