2021 Subaru Legacy Review

Christian Wardlaw, Independent Expert | Aug 26, 2020

Introduction - Find the best Subaru deals!

Midsize cars are not as popular as they used to be. Ford Motor Company and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles have stopped selling them, and General Motors has already started its retreat from the segment. Yet, even with these major departures, fewer people are choosing what was once the most popular kind of car in America.

Redesigned just last year, the 2021 Subaru Legacy is particularly challenged. This model has always been a fringe player, its primary calling cards a standard all-wheel-drive system, impressive safety ratings, and a track record for reliability. Some competitors now offer all three of those desirable characteristics, making it harder (but not impossible) for Subaru to capture family sedan buyers seeking a combination of these factors.

Nevertheless, Subaru is now the only game in town if you want a turbocharged AWD powertrain, and it posts flawless safety ratings. All it needs is a killer warranty and it would be an undeniably compelling if conservative choice in the midsize car segment.

2021 Subaru Legacy Limited XT Silver Front Quarter Left

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

When you buy a 2021 Subaru Legacy, you choose between base, Premium, Sport, and Limited trim. The Limited XT adds a turbocharged engine, and the Touring XT is the top-of-the-line version of the Legacy. For this review, J.D. Power evaluated a Legacy Limited XT equipped with standard features. The price came to $35,370, including the $925 destination charge.

What Owners Say… - Find the best Subaru deals!

Before we discuss the results of our evaluation of the 2021 Legacy, it is helpful to understand who buys this midsize car, and what they like most and least about their vehicles.

According to J.D. Power data, 61% of Subaru Legacy owners are Gender (vs. 60% for the segment), and the median age of a Legacy owner is 59 years (vs. 55).

Owners say their favorite things about the Legacy are (in descending order) the feeling of safety, driving feel, exterior styling, interior design, and driving comfort. Specifically, these five things about the vehicle rank highest in comparison to the midsize car segment:

  • Vehicle protection
  • Safety systems
  • Steering and handling in slippery conditions
  • Getting in and out of the front seats
  • Operating the vehicle remotely

Owners indicate their least favorite things about the Legacy are (in descending order) the getting in and out, fuel economy, setting up and starting, powertrain, and infotainment system. Specifically, these five things about the vehicle rank lowest in comparison to the midsize car segment:

  • Exterior styling
  • Fuel economy/driving range
  • Power of engine/motor
  • Sound of engine/motor
  • Smoothness of engine/motor

In the J.D Power 2020 Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study, the Legacy ranked 10th out of 10 midsize cars.

What Our Expert Says… - Find the best Subaru deals!

In the sections that follow, our expert provides his own perceptions about how the 2021 Subaru Legacy measures up in each of the 10 categories that comprise the APEAL Study.

Exterior

In the past, Subarus have been criticized for being either too mild or too wild. The 2021 Legacy errs on the side of simplicity, attractively and inoffensively styled in a way that will allow this Subaru to age gracefully, and without anyone noticing it.

2021 Subaru Legacy Limited XT Silver Rear Quarter Right

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

Interior

Subaru exercises more design flair with the Legacy’s interior, where cabins rendered in Titanium Gray or Warm Ivory display dramatic contrast with the dark upper and lower sections of the dashboard, door panels, console, and carpets. With Slate Black, classy gray contrast stitching matches the metallic accents and plays off the gloss black trim. Materials in the Limited XT met expectations for the class.

2021 Subaru Legacy Limited XT Gray Interior Dashboard

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

Designed around Subaru’s new available portrait-style infotainment screen, the dashboard emphasizes function over form. The exceptions to that rule would be the lack of infotainment system shortcut buttons and a dearth of interior storage areas. The door panel bins are small, the tall center console is dominated by a transmission selector that doesn’t need to take up as much space as it does, and other storage spots aren’t terribly impressive.

Choose the Legacy Touring XT, and the car is equipped with rich Nappa leather in a Sierra Tan color.

Getting In and Out

Wide doors, tall seating, and generous leg room make it easy to get into and out of the Subaru Legacy. You’ve got room to move around in this car, and as long as you’ve selected Limited or Touring trim, the 8-way power front passenger’s seat allows for a higher seating hip-point to make entry and exit more comfortable.

A 15.1 cubic-foot trunk is standard, running small in comparison to most midsize cars. However, because Subaru encloses the trunk lid hinges rather than leaving them exposed, it is easier to pack the trunk full of cargo without concern that you might crush something when you close it.

Setting Up and Starting

Once you’ve made yourself comfortable, it’s time to use the driver information system and the infotainment system to set the Legacy up to your personal preferences.

Thoughtfully, Subaru separates the controls for the driver information system from the stereo and driving assistance technology controls on the front of the steering wheel. Sitting on a pod of their own low and to the left behind the steering wheel rim, the buttons allow you cycle through the different menus and make selections by pulling them toward you from behind.

Embedded into Subaru’s new 11.6-inch touchscreen infotainment display, the Legacy’s other vehicle settings are easy enough to figure out without cracking open the owner’s manual. Later on, however, while you’re driving the car, you may discover things that cause some confusion or consternation, prompting a review of the set-up instructions to ensure you’ve done everything properly.

Infotainment System

Offered in the Legacy and the Outback SUV, Subaru’s new 11.6-inch Starlink infotainment system is a source of frustration. And I held that opinion before learning that Legacy owners ranked it as their least favorite thing about the car.

First, the screen is mounted portrait-style rather than in landscape orientation. This means it bundles the climate controls in addition to the stereo controls, forcing even more interaction with the display than you might otherwise prefer. Thankfully, Subaru includes physical buttons on either side of the screen for changing the temperature and activating the defoggers.

Second, during testing in waning summer sunlight, the screen and its gloss black surround suffered from sun glare, making it impossible to see the information shown on it. 

Third, there is plenty of blank space on either side of the screen that could be used for physical shortcut buttons to main system menus. Subaru provides a power/volume knob and a tuning knob, but to switch from the radio display to the navigation map you need to use the touch-sensitive “Home” button near the bottom of the display, then find the touch-sensitive “Map” button and select it. When you’re driving, this two-step interaction with the screen adds distraction. A “Map” button on the side of the screen would eliminate one of these steps and reduce distraction. You might even be able to execute this task without looking away from the road.

In the test car, with the “Audio” data showing, a separate strip at the top of the display also showed “Audio” information. Since I didn’t need that kind of redundancy, I decided to drive with the “Map” data showing and the “Audio” information in the upper information strip. But when the “Map” loaded, it took over the entire screen, eliminating the slice of information at the top where the “Audio” information had been appearing. That was frustrating.

Furthermore, the voice recognition technology is not up to par for a brand-new infotainment setup. It was able to find examples of my favorite coffee shop, find the nearest hospitals, and change to a specific satellite radio station. I was not able, however, to change the cabin temperature, find my favorite local restaurant, switch to reggae music, or find my home address.

Pairing to Bluetooth was easy, no doubt thanks in part to Near Field Communication technology. But when I asked to “call Liz and Kids” to speak to my family, the Legacy offered to switch to SiriusXM channel 78. I tried again and it wanted to give me directions to somewhere in Kansas.

Ugh. Just use Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, and skip Subaru’s in-house tech. Also, know that the 12-speaker Harman Kardon premium sound system that comes with Limited and Touring trim sounds terrific.

Keeping You Safe

If Subaru’s latest Starlink infotainment system seems to be a work in progress, know that the Legacy’s standard EyeSight collection of advanced driving assistance and collision avoidance systems is quite impressive for a mainstream vehicle.

Using two sophisticated cameras mounted behind the windshield glass, the Legacy’s EyeSight supplies adaptive cruise control with lane-centering assistance, lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assistance, forward collision warning, and automatic emergency braking. For 2021, steering responsive LED headlights are standard to help better see around turns, pairing with the automatic high-beam headlights from last year’s car. Subaru also adds a rear seatbelt reminder to the car.

Additionally, depending on the trim level, the Legacy is available with blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic warning, lane-change assistance, reverse automatic braking, and the company’s DriverFocus driver monitoring system, which uses facial recognition technology to help determine when a driver is drowsy or distracted. 

Most Legacies also have Starlink Safety & Security connected services, which equips the car with automatic collision notification, SOS emergency calling, and several programmable features related to vehicle speed, driver curfew time, and alerts related to geographic boundaries.

In use, EyeSight proves accurate, refined, and sophisticated. The color-coded warning lights that project onto the windshield in the absence of a head-up display are quite helpful, too. If there is room for improvement, EyeSight issued several false alerts related to my grip on the steering wheel, failing several times to recognize that I was holding it.

In addition to offering excellent collision avoidance technology, the Subaru Legacy is ready to protect if a crash occurs. This car earned an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Top Safety Pick+ rating in its first year of the redesign. Additionally, it got 5-star ratings in every single testing assessment from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

When it comes to crash protection, it doesn’t get any better than that.

Powertrain

Legacy owners are not impressed by the car’s powertrain, but I suspect that’s mainly because most of them have the standard 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine. It makes 182 horsepower at 5,800 rpm and 176 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,400 rpm, and is paired to a continuously variable transmission (CVT). With curb weights clustered around the 3,500-pound mark, this is not a recipe for stunning acceleration.

If you want a Legacy that demonstrates genuine energy, get the Limited XT or Touring XT. These versions have a terrific turbocharged 2.4-liter 4-cylinder cranking out 260 horsepower at 5,600 rpm and 277 lb.-ft. of torque between 2,000 rpm and 4,800 rpm. The result is satisfying power and speedy acceleration, especially if you live at elevation in a place like Denver.

This engine also uses a CVT, and while it comes with paddle shifters and programmed ratios that are supposed to make the powertrain sound and feel more like what you’re used to, the ratio changes are slushy and slurred. 

Fuel Economy

According to the EPA, the 2021 Subaru Legacy XT should get 27 mpg in combined driving. On my testing loop, the car returned 24.5 mpg. Based on my result, and given the 18.5-gallon fuel tank, you can expect a maximum range of 453 miles. But since you’re not going to run the tank dry, expect to stop for fuel every 415 miles or so.

Driving Comfort

Thin windshield pillars help to provide a driver with excellent visibility, and comfort levels are high. The front seats feel soft and plush but provide proper support during hours of driving. The test car even had adjustable front thigh supports, which certainly helped.

Rear seat passengers will be happy with their accommodations. This car offers plenty of room in the back, along with a tall seating position for a good view out. The Legacy is also surprisingly quiet on the highway, suffering little in the way of wind and road noise.

Most Legacy models have heated front seats. Starting with Limited trim, heated rear seats are also included. Limited XT adds a heated steering wheel, while Touring XT throws in ventilated front seats. During late-summer testing, the dual-zone automatic climate control system easily kept the cabin cool, but it wasn’t a terribly warm day.

Driving Feel

When you drive the Legacy Limited XT, you can sense the heart of a Subaru WRX deep within the car. Unfortunately, suspension tuning, tire choice, and smothering layers of refinement silence that beat, and much of the time the car feels too soft and squishy to be much fun.

Tuned for maximum comfort during the daily drive, the Legacy Limited XT is compliant over whoops and dips while at the same time firm over smaller bumps, cracks, and holes. It brilliantly soaked up the speed humps on the testing route, and beautifully isolated a pothole that can send reverberations up into the structures of some vehicles. The highway ride quality is outstanding.

Drive the Limited XT with enthusiasm, and the car’s turbocharged engine, AWD, low center of gravity, excellent steering, and flat cornering attitude hint at what could be possible. And then, when you pitch it into a curve, the 225/50R18 all-season tires give up well before the car does. Run hard down a mountain grade, and the brakes heat up and vibrate a bit.

If Subaru offered a sport suspension and some decent rubber on the XT, while also peeling back some of the sophistication to give the car a more visceral character, it would have something for WRX owners to grow into when they grow up, get married, and start families.

Instead, Subaru has been on a mission to refine, hone, and perfect its vehicles, which is what most people apparently want. But in pursuing the strategy, the company also dulls their character.

Final Impressions - Find the best Subaru deals!

The hallmarks of the Subaru Legacy remain safety, reliability, and standard all-wheel drive. To that, you can add comfort and quietness. But personality is missing, and the new Starlink infotainment system needs improvement. 

Overall, there’s nothing here that would prompt me to recommend something else. At the same time there’s nothing here that makes me want to recommend it over several of its competitors.

Christian Wardlaw is a veteran digital automotive journalist with over 25 years of experience test-driving vehicles. In addition to JDPower.com, his work has appeared in numerous new- and used-car buying guides, newspapers, and automotive industry trade journals.

The opinions expressed in this review are the author’s own, not J.D. Power’s.

No portion of these reviews may be reproduced, distributed, publicly displayed, or used for a derivative work without J.D. Power’s written permission. © 2021 J.D. Power

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