All-wheel drive makes the Subaru Legacy an excellent choice for anyone who wants a midsize sedan capable of handling the worst weather. These cars are particularly enjoyable to drive through the mountains where winding roads may be dry, wet, icy or covered with snow. However, responsive handling, respectable performance and handsome styling make the Legacy enjoyable to own even when the sun is shining and the roads are dry.
All Legacy models are sedans. If you want a wagon, check out the Outback. Among midsize sedans, the Legacy doesn't seem overly large, thanks to relatively short overhangs front and rear and a coupe-like roofline. Distinctive styling helps the Legacy stand apart from other midsize sedans. Aggressive wheel arches are complemented with edged flares.
The 2012 Legacy offers a choice of three powertrains: Legacy 2.5i comes with a 2.5-liter single-overhead cam four-cylinder, Legacy 2.5GT features a turbocharged double overhead-cam four-cylinder, while the Legacy 3.6R has a 3.6-liter six-cylinder engine. All are Subaru's signature horizontally opposed engines, two flat-4s and a flat-6, which keep the center of gravity low for improved handling.
The Subaru Legacy 2.5i gets good fuel economy and we found it effortless to drive, especially with the optional continuously variable transmission: put it in Drive and go. The Legacy 2.5GT is sporty and fun to drive with its turbocharged engine and manual gearbox. The Legacy 3.6R has strong low-rpm power from its big six-cylinder engine for excellent drivability; it's powerful and luxurious. All of them are enjoyable to drive and offer good handling, the benefits of all-wheel drive, a low center of gravity and nicely tuned suspensions.
Inside, the Legacy is wonderfully comfortable, with high-quality interior trim. We particularly liked the perforated leather on the Limited models. These aren't luxury cars, but they are premium cars in terms of the quality of materials and the engineering that goes into them. Front- and rear-seat legroom is adequate. Trunk space measures 14.7 cubic feet, average for the segment.
The 2012 Legacy represents the fifth generation of the model, which was completely redesigned for 2010. Only minor changes have made their way into the lineup since then. Changes for 2012 have consisted almost entirely of new standard equipment and option packages. Among them:
2012 Subaru Legacy models offer a new Alloy Wheel Package that includes fog lights and cold-weather equipment. Audio systems have been upgraded on 2012 Legacy Premium and 2012 Legacy Limited models. Fog lights are now standard on 2012 Legacy Limited models.
The Subaru Legacy looks sleek with its coupe-like roofline. However, the Legacy looks a bit odd in profile when you study it, slightly platypus-like, with its long rounded nose. Aggressive wheel arches and edged flares are enhanced by handsome alloy wheels.
In front, Subaru's badge (the Pleiades constellation, a.k.a. the Seven Sisters) is set within a bright flying wing that spans the chrome-outlined grille. Character lines arc from the grille to form power bulges on the hood as they taper upward to the A-pillar.
There's a short rear deck with squared-off rear valances (smooth and not boxy), part of the standard aero package, giving an impression of size.
On the Legacy 2.5GT, a prominent hood scoop sucks in air and tunnels it to the turbocharger intercooler. Along with the 18-inch wheels with wide-profile tires and twin-tip exhaust, it's clear that the GT means business.
The rigid Legacy chassis uses a fully reinforced cage of high-strength steel. Fluid engine mounts help reduce noise.
The Subaru Legacy cabin is nice, with quality interior materials all around. We found the front bucket seats wonderfully comfortable. The three-spoke steering wheel isn't as handsome as the rest of the interior, although the optional leather wrap is nice. Visibility in all directions is good.
The rear seats, especially in perforated leather, fit as nicely as the fronts, with a scalloped seatback that gives more knee room. The rear doors allow for easy entry and exit.
Trunk space measures 14.7 cubic feet, which is large enough for four sets of golf clubs. Gas strut supports, no intrusion into trunk space: quality detail, for such an affordable midsize car. Typical for Subaru.
The center console offers plenty of space and features a standard electric parking brake, which includes the Hill Holder system that lasts until the car accelerates (not just a couple seconds as in the previous generation). The four-gauge instrument panel is clean and stylish, with a multi-information display standard. The controls on the center stack are all well done. The electronically controlled HVAC system offers powerful and quiet air conditioning and optional dual zone control. The ambient lighting for the console is pleasant.
Underway, the Legacy is very quiet inside, both four-cylinder and six-cylinder but especially the six-cylinder. That's thanks to a number of things, such as framed door glass and double sealing of all four doors.
We've driven all versions. We tested both transmissions in the base Subaru Legacy 2.5i and recommend the optional Continuously Variable Transmission. The CVT makes driving effortless and gets significantly better fuel economy than the standard 6-speed manual gearbox. The CVT works like a regular automatic transmission: Just shift it into Drive and go. It comes with paddle shifters on the steering wheel allowing the driver to shift into different ratios when preferred. Subaru was an early leader in CVT technology and has been making CVTs some 20 years.
The Legacy 2.5i model uses a 2.5-liter four-cylinder boxer engine rated at 170 horsepower and 170 pound-feet of torque, with torque peaking at 4000 rpm. We challenged the engine and CVT during a day of driving in the Pacific Northwest, and only hot rodders will need more acceleration than this 30-mpg sophisticated midsize sedan offers.
The Legacy 2.5GT comes with a 6-speed manual gearbox. The 265-hp turbocharged engine, with its large turbocharger that sits low and near to the exhaust, is capable of pulling 258 pound-feet of torque, available from 2000 to 5200 rpm. And there's no lag. The Subaru Legacy 2.5GT pulls off a 0-to-60 acceleration time of 5.9 seconds, much better than the 3.6R's pokey 7.1 seconds. The Legacy 2.5GT is good fun and an excellent choice for driving enthusiasts who want all-weather capability in a four-door sedan.
The Legacy 3.6R feels like a more expensive car, thanks to its smooth power train, lovely perforated leather and the standard nine-speaker, harman-kardon sound system. The 3.6R offers the same 265 horsepower as the hot-rod 2.5GT, delivered more smoothly with a sweet 5-speed automatic transmission, while getting an EPA-estimated 18/25 mpg on regular fuel. But as we mentioned before, it's not going to beat the competition in a drag race. It shines when driving around town or in traffic on the freeway when frequent speed changes are needed.
All three models have Subaru's Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive, but they are different systems. The manual transmission uses continuous AWD with a viscous-coupling locking center differential to distribute power 50-50 at all times; the 2.5i with CVT uses Active Torque Split AWD that electronically varies the front-rear distribution; and the 3.6R model uses Variable Torque Distribution which sends more power to the rear wheels but adjusts to the front when it senses the need. Subaru has been a leader in all-wheel drive engineering for a long time and they all work well.
The chassis features a front subframe with a cradle that allows the engine to sit relatively low. Subarus handle well because of the inherent excellent weight distribution offered by the front-mounted boxer engine. Combined with standard all-wheel drive, there isn't a better design for stability on the road in the midsize sedan segment.
Other technical features contribute to the Legacy's comfortable driving dynamics, including a suspension system that uses MacPherson struts in front with double wishbones in rear, and a responsive steering ratio that put a smile on our faces, even with the base 2.5i model. The brakes feel good and inspire confidence.
The Subaru Legacy is a premium product in terms of its engineering. All-wheel drive and a low center of gravity gives the Legacy a unique advantage over the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Mazda6, Nissan Altima, and Volkswagen Passat. The Legacy 2.5i offers plenty of power and adequate space, with luxury and comfort exceeding its class, while getting an EPA-rated 26 mpg in Combined city and highway driving with the CVT transmission. The Legacy 2.5GT is an enjoyable sports sedan with all-weather capability. The Legacy 3.6R is a midsize luxury car. Each model has class-leading virtues.
Sam Moses contributed to this NewCarTestDrive.com report after his test drive of Subaru Legacy models in the Pacific Northwest.