Subaru plant in Lafayette, Indiana; 1989 Subaru Legacy & engine bay. Click image to enlarge
Review and Photos by Jeff Wilson
Lafayette, IN – Whenever a manufacturer sends a group of journalists on a new car launch event, the marketing and PR folks always put on a decent show. There’s a lot of fanfare and bragging about how improved the new machine is over its former self, and often how the new vehicle bests its competitors even if it is in trivialities like highest thread count in the floor mats.
With the new Legacy however, one gets the sense that the entire Subaru team truly is proud of their latest achievement, and that they really mean business in this mid-sized sedan class.
At the Lafayette, Indiana plant where the Legacy has been made for the past 25 years (along with the Toyota Camry for the last five, but only until 2016 when they’ll be replaced by Impreza production) Subaru had a host of high-level folks flown in from the Japanese headquarters for the launch event. They were on hand to answer any questions we journalists might have, yet they seemed to be more keen on hearing what we had to say after driving their new pride and joy.
The Legacy has almost become a forgotten child within the Subaru lineup in recent years. The Outback has proven to be the more popular choice than its less rugged sedan sibling, and Subaru’s mid-sizer reaches about 1/10th as many driveways as each of the Accord, Camry or Fusion.
Subaru’s market research identified a few problem areas with past Legacy models, namely exterior styling, interior quality and a confounding infotainment system. These significant items – which can dramatically affect the emotional appeal with potential customers – certainly speak to the disappointing sales figures.
What’s more, consumer perception of the Subaru brand is that the cars are expensive to purchase and operate thanks to the all-wheel-drive systems.
Subaru has taken great strides in alleviating any cause for these concerns with the new Legacy.
For those familiar with the current-generation Legacy, the interior and exterior styling are likely to be the greatest surprise in the new car. Happily, subtle character lines and smoother styling replace the slab-sided doors and awkwardly oversized fender arches of the old car. The rear end features a more stylish taillight treatment and a small, integrated ducktail spoiler, and six-cylinder cars receive dual exhaust outlets versus the four-banger’s single outlet.
The overall look moves upmarket, but the styling is contemporary and conservative at best – bland and derivative at worst, especially the front end, which will surely be mistaken by many as a Ford Taurus given the remarkably similar grilles and blue-oval logos.
1989 & 2015 Subaru Legacy. Click image to enlarge
Inside all trim levels one finds handsome and functional designs with dials and switches exactly where they ought to be. Here again, the styling is anything but revolutionary in the class, but it surely won’t offend anyone either.
Comfort was clearly made a priority by the Legacy’s interior design team. Even in base-model trim, the seats may not look elaborate, but they’re simple and comfortable – with just the right amount of suppleness and support to prove comfortable for long trips. After a full day of driving, I polled several of my peers of varying sizes and shapes for their opinions on the seats and all agreed that they are well executed.
Interior volume is increased by 45L and trunk space by 8L (to 425L) thanks to 50 mm greater width and 40 mm greater length (wheelbase remains unchanged).
Other details – like comfortable armrests, available rear heated seats and even a premium-feeling key fob – speak to a more luxurious Legacy than before. The cars available to us with beige leather looked particularly fetching to my eye.
2015 Subaru Legacy seating & trunk. Click image to enlarge
Best of all, Subaru has finally figured out how to do an infotainment system suitable for the times. The basic system includes a 6.2-inch LCD screen with back-up camera, satellite radio, media hub and Bluetooth. Limited trim cars get a 7-inch touchscreen display with navigation and Harman/Kardon sound. This system features crisp graphics, responsive GPS and excellent sound – none of which has been found on any previous Subaru infotainment system. Plus, it integrates smoothly into the dash and does not replace traditional controls for the climate system, just the way common sense dictates it should be.
Despite both the 2.5L horizontally opposed four-cylinder and 3.6L H-6 engines being largely carryover from last year’s Legacy, the big change comes in the six-cylinder now being mounted to a CVT instead of a five-speed automatic. It’s no secret that the primary motivator for this switch is greater efficiency and here again Subaru has delivered. Under the new five-cycle measurement, Subaru claims the four-cylinder Legacy will achieve a 9.0 L/100 km city and 6.5 L/100 km highway rating (7.9 combined). The six cylinder consumes at 11.9 city and 8.2 highway (10.2 combined). These figures are all highly competitive within the class and best of class for all-wheel-drive mid-size sedans.
(Update: Article revised with corrected five-cycle testing results. Previous figures were for two-cycle testing: 2.5L H4 7.7/5.4/6.7, 3.5L H6 10.5/6.9/8.9.)
Motoring enthusiasts will likely presume the mandated CVT transmissions are a death knell for any sort of driving fun. The reality is that Subaru is currently producing the least offensive CVTs on the market. The 2015 Legacy’s transmission will step through virtual gears to eliminate the annoying “moo” that most CVTs cause from the engine. When driven aggressively there are eight steps; under moderate acceleration, six steps are provided. Paddle shifters help do a pretty convincing job of mimicking a modern auto-box too. This is the transmission that will convince drivers that CVTs aren’t all bad, but it hasn’t stopped me from wishing for a six-speed manual with the six-cylinder.
2015 Subaru Legacy steering wheel, 2015 Subaru Legacy gauges, 2015 Subaru Legacy centre stack. Click image to enlarge
On the road, the four-cylinder provides adequate thrust for most situations (175 hp, 174 lb-ft) but surely won’t pin drivers to their comfortable seatbacks. The boxer six (256 hp, 246 lb-ft) is a smooth and refined engine, and the power increase over the four cylinder will be appreciated by enthusiasts or anyone else who doesn’t want to raise their heart rate too much every time they need to pass slower traffic on a two-lane road.
With either engine, Subaru suggests the new Legacy is quicker than the model it replaces.
Subaru’s presentation featured a lot of excitement around the car’s improved handling as well. Utilizing the torque-vectoring system found on the new WRX and STI sport models, the all-wheel-drive sedan manages its power delivery to the pavement well. And although body roll is quite pronounced, neither mid-corner steering adjustments nor frost-beaten pavement will upset the Legacy’s composure. Plus, the relatively soft springs allowing all that body roll contribute to the new car’s excellent ride. This, along with a notable reduction of noise, vibration and harshness, reinforces a greater level of luxury for the new car versus the old.
Aiming for a record tenth consecutive year as an IIHS Top Pick (and following up its 2014 “Superior Rating” for safety, Subaru has elevated its game for the 2015 Legacy. In addition to extensive use of high-strength steel and excellent “Eyesight” stereoscopic camera system linked in with adaptive cruise control and pre-collision warning and braking systems, the new car will also feature a revolutionary Lane Departure Warning and Blind-spot Assist system. This system gauges both the distance and closing speed of cars approaching from the rear flanks and will provide a warning accordingly.
Lastly, in terms of pricing, the new and better-equipped Legacy shall hold the line in Canada with a starting price of $23,495 for the entry-level trim with a six-speed manual transmission (a drivetrain configuration not offered in the CVT-only US market). This makes the Legacy not only the most affordable mid-sized sedan in Canada with all-wheel-drive by more than five grand, but also places it right in the middle of FWD competitors from Honda, Toyota, Nissan, Hyundai and Mazda. More impressive is that fifteen years ago, the cheapest Legacy started at nearly $27,000.
A very well equipped four-cylinder CVT model with the optional Tech Package (including EyeSight) still rings in under $29,000. A fully loaded six-cylinder is only $35,395 – again pricing it right in the mix against its competitors.
While consumer tastes continue to drive sales of crossovers (helping Subaru Canada reach new sales records for 2013 with the likes of the Forester, XV Crosstrek and Outback), Fuji Heavy Industries’ Canadian arm is hoping to increase Legacy sales here by 50 percent. For a market segment that is fairly flat, that means pulling sales away from other excellent competitors in the class.
2015 Subaru Legacy. Click image to enlarge
Fortunately for Subaru Canada, the considerable pride in the new Legacy conveyed by project leaders at the launch event is well placed. By the end of July this year when cars start reaching dealerships, Subaru will find out if Canadian consumers agree.
Pricing: 2015 Subaru Legacy
2.5i Base 6MT: $23,495
2.5i Base CVT: $24,795
2.5i Touring 6MT: $26,495 (Touring trim key additional features include: Blind Spot detection system, Alloy wheels, Dual-zone automatic climate control, Moon roof, Fog lamps, wiper de-icer, auto-dimming mirrors int. and ext.)
2.5i Touring CVT: $27,795
2.5i Touring CVT with Tech Package (includes: EyeSight, Smart key, Steering responsive fog lights): $28,995
2.5i Limited CVT: $31,195 (Limited trim key additional features include: 18” wheels, power driver’s seat, Harman Kardon sound, Leather seating, Rear seat heaters, HID head lamps, 7” touch screen display with Navigation).
2.5i Limited CVT with Tech Package: $32,395
3.6R Touring CVT: $30,795
3.6R Limited CVT: $34,195
3.6R Limited CVT with Tech Package: $35,395