Subaru’s new Legacy big on power, light on design originality
May 21, 2010
Ask anyone why they feel it’s important to buy a Subaru and you’ll get a few different answers. Some might say it’s the novelty of having a vehicle that their Uncle Leo in Akron, Ohio will never ever see on the road, yet you might find six of them on your block here in Colorado.
Others will swear that Subaru’s nearly bulletproof symmetrical all-wheel-drive system makes the automobiles seemingly impervious to weather, especially in years where winter looks like it will last until July.
Whatever the reason, this past year has produced a bumper crop of new Subaru choices, with a significant redo of both the painfully ubiquitous Outback (the official vehicle of the High Country) and the Legacy.
The four-door Legacy sedan, while a rare sight in ski towns, shows up in good numbers in the Front Range, probably at the behest of those who want a sporty sedan but are looking for the aforementioned security of AWD.
I recently had a chance to drive the new Legacy, powered by a 170-horsepower, 2.5-liter, four-cylinder Boxer engine and … well, I didn’t drink the Kool-Aid. The engine seemed rough and loud and the new five-speed manual was sticky and hard to operate. I whined so much I got dissed online.
My opinion on the 2010 Legacy line completely changed when I upgraded to the new 3.6R Premium model, packing a significantly more solid 265-horsepower, 3.6-liter six-cylinder borrowed from that Tribeca SUV/crossover thing Subaru also makes (but no longer features the Electrolux vacuum cleaner nose).
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Physically, both Legacy models are taller, wider and sport a longer wheelbase than the older model, plus a much larger rear seat than the old days (new, curved backs on the front seats add extra leg room); with the larger engine in place, Legacy also turns into quite the nimble performer.
Acceleration borders on pleasantly neck-snapping, something I hadn’t experienced in the same way since the debut of the disgustingly speedy 3.0-liter turbocharged engine in the old Outback and other models. The smooth-shifting five-speed automatic guarantees you hustle through the gears, with steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters for faster changes, should you wish.
Given an isolated stretch of mountain road and the right mood, the Legacy is downright sporty, the all-wheel-drive adding poise and balance to what is already a great handling, smooth riding machine.
And as I careened through kiddie-pool-depth troughs of water on Hwy. 36 heading back from Boulder to Denver a week back, the Legacy didn’t hesitate for a minute – it just remained rock-solid and straight, even with some pretty wimpy Turanza tires in place.
Still, the 2010 model’s most outstanding shortfall is (besides that anemic smaller powerplant) a design that, while still fully Subaru in its smaller details, looks an awful lot like its competitors.
Subaru has rather forcefully and consciously de-weirded its fleet, but the result is a Legacy that can only be fully differentiated from the Accord, Mazda6, Camry, Altima or even the Ford Fusion.
Legacy’s sharply contoured edges give it a little distinction, but the nose and headlamps, plus the hang of the cabin and even the flat shelf of a trunk are pretty common details in the entire class.
I’d say the biggest identifying feature is a set of nearly ground effects-styled air dams below the car’s doors and frame; otherwise, good luck picking the car out of a lineup.
Inside, things are more Subaru-specific and actually much classier and interesting than most of the competition, with an angular mix of silver plastic surfaces on the console and a sporty, short and stubby gear selector, plus a leather-wrapped steering wheel and sorta-Honda-styled blue-and-white instruments. A new, optional remote starter can also get the Legacy cooking on those cold winter mornings.
High atop the center stack and behind a spot big enough to carry a pizza is the electronic MPG monitor, which suggested I was getting about 21.6 combined mileage during lots of freeway and city driving; the old-fashioned mileage gauge on the instrument panel, as always, suggests that you get the best mileage when you’re not driving like Mario Andretti.
Fabric seating (in the Premium model) was comfortably supportive, with gigantic all-weather floormats to swallow up the worst of the Winter that Would Not End (especially for our mountain friends).
Upgrade to the optional nine-speaker, 440-watt harmon-kardon stereo and you can initiate hearing loss. In a Subaru. Who knew?