Mountain Wheels: Subaru’s Legacy gets a sophisticated upgrade; Ascent looms a bit too large
Given that this week is turning out to be the strangest time in America since 9/11, the notion of a fun-filled automobile review about Subarus in Summit County seems just a bit counterproductive. But you might be locked in your house for a few weeks, so let me try to offer some light entertainment and some good choices for predictably reliable transportation, “Mad Max”-styled pandemic or not.
I have not yet addressed the pleasant charms of the 2020 Subaru Legacy, the most recent model to get a full-scale do-over, so let me get you up to speed. Legacy’s updates take it from the slightly anonymous midsize sedan style of its most previous model to a more powerful and pleasantly stylish all-wheel drive machine. Those refinements are clearly designed to help it enter a competitive market outside of ski country — someone is still buying midsized sedans, and this is a pretty cool example.
It’s available with either an updated version of the 2.5-liter Boxer engine or, more interestingly, a 2.4-liter turbocharged Boxer that pushes output up to 260 horsepower. That’s maybe the biggest change, allowing Legacy to hustle with an almost WRX-styled swagger. You’ll jolt away from intersections, have loads of power on the passes or be able to do some curvy-roaded cruising with more space and comfort than the smaller Impreza family. While the platform has been stiffened and refined, it’s not brittle, and steering is more responsive, as well.
In its most basic description, think of an un-wagoned version of the new Outback, following the decades of Legacy/Outback interplay. Outback also got a significant makeover last fall, and much of the updated interior, controls and systems are repeated here, minus that extra upright cargo room. Rear passengers will appreciate 1.4 inches of additional legroom and a generally larger seating area; the addition of in-car Wi-Fi also will appeal to those in the back seat.
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I had a Touring XT model, priced at about $36,795, and the interior finishings were pretty spiffy, including a generous and cabinwide sweep of pillowy brown leather — giving the entire car a much more upscale feel. There’s a knee-level padded shelf and glossy black highlights, and most surfaces are soft to the touch.
The pioneering and oversized vertically oriented touchscreen here seems just a little large, with a mix of fully digitized controls and hard buttons — like some other brands, you occasionally wish fan controls were not digitized.
Most interestingly, the new facial recognition technology can be just a little invasive, recognizing who you are or beeping at you when your eyes are literally not on the road. It’s defeatable but probably an early sign of what to expect in cars in the near future.
I also should mention a follow-up drive in the Ascent, Subaru’s entry in the three-row SUV world (minus my friend in Silverthorne whose ancient and still very odd Tribeca is still running).
I had some more existential questions on my third real time behind the wheel: Is the Ascent simply too big for its own good, and does it blur the core values of Subaru-ness as a result?
The controls, design and interior details are consistent with the rest of the family — hence the changes I’ve just described with Legacy and Outback — but I found some unpredictability with the one-speed continuously variable transmission.
The 2.4-liter turbo that made Legacy and, to some degree, Outback fly along, feels like it’s only just enough to power the larger vehicle.
I just found it a little funny to have to think about squeezing into parking spots, handling oversized doors or coping with actual visibility issues, as comes with the increased real estate.
The Ascent Limited I drove, priced at $43,305, of course came with the entire pile of Subaru traditions – X-Mode offroad control, the EyeSight safety system and even some familiar Boxer engine rattle at startup, plus all of those leather surfaces.
But it does indeed begin to stray into territory just beyond the realm of Subaru tradition, which again was part of the idea for building the car in the first place. Given that you can, if you wish, safely fill the entire rear two rows with child seats and its dozens and dozens of cupholders and USB outlets, also maybe talks about Ascent’s … well, ascent into bigness.
Andy Stonehouse’s column “Mountain Wheels” publishes Saturdays in the Summit Daily News. Stonehouse has worked as an editor and writer in Colorado since 1998, focusing on automotive coverage since 2004. He lives in Greeley. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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