PowerSteering:2018 Subaru Legacy Review
As is true of nearly all midsize sedans, the Subaru Legacy saw a significant drop in sales last year. People simply aren't as attracted to family cars like this one as they used to be. In fact, in 2017, Subaru sold nearly four times the number of Outback crossover wagon models as it did Legacy sedan models and the two are essentially the same except for body style, styling details, and the Outback's raised suspension.
Even among midsize cars, though, the Legacy is a relative wallflower. In 2017, it outsold only the Buick Regal, Mazda 6, Volkswagen CC, and discontinued Chrysler 200. I'd say this performance is testament to the sheer competitiveness amongst high-quality cars in the segment rather than it is a reflection of any deficiencies in the Legacy.
After all, there is much to like about this Subaru. It has standard all-wheel drive, it is exceptionally safe, it is roomy and comfortable, it boasts a long-standing record for reliability, and it represents real value.
For this review, J.D. Power evaluated a Subaru Legacy 2.5i Sport equipped with the EyeSight option package ($2,095 EyeSight driver assistance system, navigation system, automatic high-beam headlights, automatic reverse braking system). The price came to $29,300, including the $860 destination charge.
What Owners Say
Before we discuss the results of our evaluation of the Subaru Legacy, it is helpful to understand who buys this midsize car, and what they like most and least about their Legacies.
According to J.D. Power data, 43% of Legacy owners are female, compared to 39% among all midsize car owners. They're about the same age (57 years vs. 56 years for the segment), but Legacy owners earn substantially more money in terms of median annual household income ($110,638 vs. $88,919).
Naturally, owners of the U.S.-built Subaru Legacy are less likely to agree that they prefer to buy from a domestic company (41% vs. 48%). They're also less likely to agree that their first consideration in choosing a vehicle is miles per gallon (64% vs. 75%); that they like a vehicle that stands out from the crowd (59% vs. 68%); and that their friends and family think of them as someone who knows a great deal about autos (53% vs. 59%).
Legacy owners do, however, more often agree that they are willing to pay more for a vehicle that is environmentally friendly (62% vs. 57%), perhaps reflective of the Legacy 2.5i model's Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle status or the environmental strides achieved by Subaru's Lafayette, Indiana assembly plant.
Legacy owners are also more likely to agree that they're willing to pay extra to ensure that their vehicle has the latest safety features (86% vs. 78%). This sentiment aligns well with what they claim to be their favorite thing about this Subaru.
Owners report that their favorite things about the Legacy are (in descending order) the visibility and safety, driving dynamics, exterior styling, seats, and interior design. Owners indicate that their least favorite things about the Legacy are (in descending order) the storage and space, engine and transmission, climate system, infotainment system, and fuel economy.
What Our Expert Says
In the sections that follow, our expert provides his own perceptions about how the Subaru Legacy measures up in each of the 10 categories that comprise the 2017 APEAL Study.
Legacy buyers are not seeking flashy design, and they like the fairly conservative looks of Subaru's midsize car. They're updated for 2018, with front and rear styling revisions that give the Legacy a sportier appearance.
Choose the Sport trim level, and the Legacy's look suggests performance that the standard 4-cylinder engine cannot deliver. It might be wise for Subaru to offer the more powerful 6-cylinder engine in Sport trim as well as Limited trim.
Sport trim exists because several direct competitors have had success selling affordable and racy-looking versions of their own family sedans.
Personally, when it comes to the Legacy, my preference is one of the other trim levels, which include base, Premium, and Limited. Their added brightwork and body-color mirrors better highlight the styling improvements for 2018.
With the Legacy, form and function are equally compromised. The interior isn't terribly stylish, emphasizing utility over design. And while the controls are logically located, they're often frustrating to reference and use in all but the base model.
Simplicity is what makes the standard Legacy's rather somber cabin appealing, thanks to big knobs, big buttons, and large legible instrumentation.
Upgrade to Premium trim and electroluminescent instrumentation is standard, introducing added color that distracts from the data. The infotainment and climate systems are also more complex, and there isn't as much delineation between functions. And at night, everything is lit up in red, white, and blue, making it look like a July 4th fireworks celebration is happening right on the dashboard.
Sport trim adds to the visual cacophony with carbon fiber-style trim, blue contrast stitching, and additional shiny gloss black accents.
Quality materials are used throughout the cabin, though, imparting a sense of durability. Nevertheless, the overall ambiance is more suitable to the Legacy's platform-mate, the Outback, than it is to a family sedan.
Driver comfort levels are high. My Sport test car had cloth seats with leatherette bolsters, and the driver's seat offered 10-way power adjustment.
In all but Limited trims, the front passenger's seat lacks height adjustment, and while the chair itself is comfortable and offers plenty of seat track travel to accommodate taller passengers, it does sit too close to the floor.
Both front seats are heated in all but the base trim, and Limited trims include heated rear seats. Given the Legacy's suitability for winter-weather climates, it is odd that a heated steering wheel is unavailable. And if you live in a place like Miami or Phoenix, you should know that ventilated front seats are unavailable for the leather-lined Limited trims.
The Legacy's rear seating area supplies plenty of space. The seat cushion sits a bit low for truly easy egress, but this is a minor complaint. Rear air conditioning vents are available only for Limited trim, but Subaru has added rear USB ports for the 2018 model year.
Climate Control System
Subaru makes two important changes to the 2018 Legacy's climate control system. First, the company claims it has upgraded the air conditioning so that it works more effectively. Second, for versions with dual-zone climate control, the temperature setting is moved to within the temperature adjustment knobs.
Seasonal winter weather in Southern California during the testing period meant that the climate control system wasn't taxed in any way, so I cannot comment on the effectiveness of the improved air conditioning. The other change makes sense, making it easier to quickly adjust heating or cooling.
For 2018, the Legacy is equipped with the latest version of the company's infotainment systems. In the base trim, a larger 6.5-inch display is standard, along with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Upgrade to Premium trim for an 8-inch display, an optional Tom Tom navigation system, and new StarLink applications including Glympse, Yelp, Best Parking, Right Track, and a bird-sighting app called eBird.
Improved voice recognition makes it easier to use Siri and Google voice assistant functions, and StarLink subscription service packages provide access to features including automatic collision notification, emergency assistance, a vehicle locator, remote access to specific vehicle functions, and more.
During my week with the car, StarLink worked fine. The exception was during a 3-hour road trip to a place I'd never been before. Somehow, the voice recognition system got stuck in a loop, and every time I pushed the talk button on the steering wheel, it would immediately respond with a cancel confirmation from a previous action. It wasn't until I shut the car off and then restarted it that the system re-set.
Storage and Space
Equipped with sizable glove box, a generous center console storage bin, and a covered bin where the USB port is located, the Legacy offers decent space for your stuff. The door panel pockets, however, are not terribly accommodating.
Trunk room measures 15 cubic feet, which is on the small side for a midsize sedan. Fortunately, the space is nicely configured with a flat trunk floor and plenty of room between the wheel wells. All that's missing is a handle or a slot to allow for trunk closure without putting your hands on the dirty exterior.
Visibility and Safety
From the driver's seat, outward visibility is outstanding. A tall seating position, expansive windshield, narrow windshield pillars, huge side windows, and giant side mirrors all make it incredibly easy to see out. As a result, this car is very easy to park, and to place in a lane. You can even weave through heavy traffic with confidence.
Safety gets an A+ rating. You can't do better than a Subaru Legacy when it comes to crash protection. The federal government gives the car 5-star ratings in every single assessment, including rollover resistance.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gives the Legacy its top ratings in every single evaluation, including for the top-trim headlights, the collision avoidance technologies, the LATCH anchors, and the brand-new, small-overlap, frontal-impact test for the front passenger's side of the car.
Subaru also sees fit to offer its excellent EyeSight driver assistance and collision avoidance technology on every version of the Legacy except for the base trim. As a result, you can drive home in a Legacy 2.5i Premium with all of the important safety features for $28,295.
In summary, it simply does not get better than a 2018 Subaru Legacy when it comes to buying a safe family car.
There are two Legacy models from which to choose. The Legacy 2.5i is equipped with a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine making 175 horsepower at 5,800 rpm and 174 lb.-ft of torque at 4,800 rpm. The Legacy 3.6R is equipped with a 3.6-liter 6-cylinder delivering 256 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 247 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,400 rpm.
Both engines are paired with a continuously variable transmission (CVT). Subaru says that for 2018 the CVT gets revised software for smoother operation and improved acceleration.
Unfortunately, Subaru offers the more powerful drivetrain only with Limited trim. So that means most Legacies on the road have the 2.5-liter 4-cylinder, and that explains why owners rate the car's engine and transmission fairly low in relationship to other of the car's traits.
The 4-cylinder supplies merely adequate power. To Subaru's credit, the CVT does a great job of mimicking a traditional automatic transmission thanks to eight programmed ratios. And, as long as you're not requesting maximum power, the Legacy feels fairly spry and responsive. But when you're trying to merge onto a busy highway, or pass slower traffic, the Legacy 2.5i's dearth of power is plainly evident.
This car, especially in Sport trim, and particularly because the all-wheel-drive Legacy is perfect for high-altitude mountain settings, is simply begging for the Subaru WRX's standard turbocharged drivetrain.
According to the EPA, the Legacy 2.5i is supposed to get 29 mpg in combined driving. On my usual test loop, the car returned 27.1 mpg. That is an unimpressive result, and indicates that the official fuel economy ratings are likely optimistic.
For 2018, Subaru makes several changes to the Legacy that are intended to make the car more enjoyable to drive. The brake pedal is calibrated for improved feel, the steering is re-tuned for better response, the suspension is revised for reduced impact harshness and body roll, and Subaru has tried to reduce wind and powertrain noise.
As a result, yes, the Legacy is more enjoyable to drive. During a 6-hour highway trip, it was indeed quiet and comfortable, the ride providing just enough connection to the road to ensure clear communication about what was happening at the tire contact patches.
Suspension tuning is a mixed bag. You expect a car wearing a Sport badge to be stiffer than this car is, but there is no arguing that ride motions are not expertly attenuated. And when you sling it down a canyon road, the AWD system, active torque vectoring, and improved steering make the car tossable, predictable, and engaging. Unfortunately, this competence also serves to underscore the lack of power from the engine.
Testing conditions were cloudy with temperatures in the mid-50s, so brake fade was not an issue. They proved responsive, easy to modulate, and called no undue attention to themselves regardless of the situation.
The 2018 Subaru Legacy is not the most stylish car in its segment, nor is it the most powerful, nor the most efficient. Instead, the Legacy is a safe, roomy, dependable, no-nonsense car ready for any kind of weather.
Perhaps unfortunately for the Legacy, that perfectly describes its sibling, the Subaru Outback, which adds extra cargo room and ground clearance to the recipe.
Subaru of America supplied the vehicle used for this 2018 Subaru Legacy review.