Review: 2020 Subaru Legacy brings a big game to a dying segment
Just a few years ago in the United States, the midsized sedan outsold everything but pickup trucks. Today? Not so much. The Subaru Legacy has competed in the segment for some time, with limited success, but now it's upped its game in a fading market.
It should be said, though, that these are big ups. The 2020 Legacy is more competitive than ever before on a number of fronts. Once the quiet “not-a-crossover” upscale Suby, the Legacy is now an eye-catcher in its own right. The legendary full-time all-wheel drive and capability that comes with the Subaru name are still there, but the Legacy now looks far more compelling, has more power under its hood, and has a huge amount of tech beneath its premium level interior.
It’s difficult to get started with the array of changes made to the new Legacy. On the outside, the car is now styled on par with many luxury marques – it's sleek, upmarket and has a beautiful appeal to it that can be compared to the German benchmarks.
On the inside, the new Legacy has a simpler, more flowing look to its dashboard and cabin design that works alongside a roomier rear seat and a better ergonomic layout for the controls. Simplicity in materials means a better feel overall and comfort now feels more premium than in previous renditions of this Subaru. Having a tall person in the front seat does not mean a tall person in the rear seat is going to be cramped in the knees, for example. A big leap forward for the sedan.
Subaru has also changed things under the hood. The 2020 Legacy no longer has a six-cylinder engine option. Instead, Subaru turned to turbocharging to improve fuel economy while delivering performance for those who prefer a stronger powerplant. The standard go-to 2.5-liter four-cylinder found in many Suby models is also in the Legacy as its standard option in all trim levels – with one exception. Those getting into the Limited XT and Touring XT packages at the top of the line also get a 2.4-liter turbo-four that adds about 80 horsepower and a lot more torque, making it equivalent to the previous-generation’s V6 upgrade option.
The 2.5L engine outputs 182 horsepower (136 kW) and 176 pound-feet (239 Nm) of torque. The 2.4L turbo outputs 260 hp (194 kW) and 277 lb-ft (375.5 Nm). Both utilize a continuously variable transmission (CVT) with Subaru’s Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive system. That CVT is important, because it marks our largest complaint with the new Legacy.
A CVT should, in theory, smooth the driving experience by removing the need for transmission gears. Some companies, not including Subaru, often override this by faking gear shifts for a “more natural” feel. Others, usually when adding a hybrid system to the mix, go the other way and force the CVT’s natural efficiency to extremes, sucking the life out of the drive appeal in the process.
For the most part, Subaru’s CVT programming has struck one of the better balances between hyper-efficiency and good road feel, generally erring on the side of efficiency rather than holding it as a default position. This makes the Impreza, for example, a largely enjoyable drive and the Outback a solid get-you-there performer. With the Legacy, however, Subaru seems to have pushed towards efficiency in an attempt to remain competitive in MPG ratings. This has made the Subaru Legacy become a far more sluggish drive than its powerful 2.4 turbo would suggest.
It’s not a terrible drive, by any means, with good get-up (especially in that turbo engine) and a very confident feel. The Legacy is also quiet and unobtrusive on the highway. It just hesitates to jump into action when asked, and seems reluctant to push up the RPM rate for stronger acceleration. That’s too bad because with the kind of output the 2.4L turbo is capable of giving, the 2020 Legacy should be a contender against any sport-centric sedan in its segment. Even worse, the model labeled “Sport” in the Legacy’s trim level line has the non-turbo 2.5 as its only engine.
Beyond that performance oversight, though, there’s a lot to love in. Technology now standard in the Legacy includes Subaru’s full EyeSight safety system with crash mitigation, adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, lane centering, and lane departure warning. Also new for the 2020 Legacy is a huge infotainment screen option.
The big 11.6-inch screen enters the mix at only the second trim level in the Premium model. This tablet-sized screen offers crisp output, but you'll need to opt for Subaru’s proprietary app on a smartphone to make the most of it. This adds capabilities such as user personalization and track in the car, which improves facial feature recognition for better drowsy driver predictions, and in-car preferences such as default climate and audio. It also expands what streaming and other services might be available for the car stereo. Some of these capabilities can be utilized through plug-in sync via Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, as well.
Our overall assessment of the new Subaru Legacy is that it’s a much-improved sedan that should be considered if you're looking at a midsized option. Preconceptions about the Legacy based on experience with previous generations should be forgotten, as the 2020 Legacy is far more sophisticated, comfortable, and usable than were its predecessors.
The Subaru Legacy is priced at US$22,745, plus delivery, for its base model.
Product Page: 2020 Subaru Legacy