2015 Subaru Legacy. Interior photos courtesy Ian D. Merritt.

FIRST DRIVE: 2015 Subaru Legacy

Cutting ahead several spots in the mid-size rankings.

By: Andrew Krok

Web2Carz Contributing Writer

Published: May 21st, 2014

Before the 2015 Subaru Legacy media drive, I believed the two best cars in the mid-size class to be the Honda Accord (especially in Sport trim) and the Mazda6. They were the only two cars that elicited a smile from me every time I drove them. Most of the rest were uninspired and just flat-out boring - the Toyota Camry, Nissan Altima, Hyundai Sonata, and the last-gen Subaru Legacy didn't really do much more than drive around without making a big deal of it.

Now, though, the Legacy has leapfrogged almost all of the line, and I think it now belongs in second place, just barely ahead of the Mazda. The improvements were that good. It brought about a whole new liveliness to the Legacy that I haven't seen since the days of the wagon variant. It's fun to drive, it's surprisingly good on gas for having an all-wheel-drive system, and the interior no longer looks like a piece of paper that says "This Page Left Intentionally Blank."

Like its other sedans, Subaru has decided to strengthen the ever-living hell out of the Legacy's unibody structure and suspension. This gives the car a good deal of stiffness that wasn't there previously, and it's just enough to make driving more fun without making you feel like you're driving a Nintendo 64 Rumble Pak.

If you want to scope the specifics of what exactly makes this sedan that good, do the right thing and keep on readin'.

  • Interior

    Like I said, there's plenty more going on with the interior now. There's a soft bulge on the dashboard that leads into the infotainment and cuts down on unused flat space. The trim (on the door panels and underneath the dashboard) is nice in either textured-aluminum or fake-wood finish. The latter isn't that shiny crap you usually find on economical sedans; instead, it takes on more of a matte appearance. The center console is nice, with solid cupholders, ample storage space, and even a dedicated cell-phone slot so that you don't dip your iPhone into a puddle of Red Bull.

    The infotainment and HVAC controls are easy enough to figure out, and it's nice to see that there's still room for switches instead of nothing but touchscreens (I'm looking at you, Honda). The infotainment itself is okay; it's snappy and mostly intuitive, and there are redundant controls on the steering wheel. However, there's no quick shortcut to the audio on the bezel; if you want to switch from the navigation to the audio screen, it requires a few taps. It's nothing big, but it is a little more distracting than it needs to be.

    Otherwise, it's a perfectly reasonable place to be. There are plenty of available views, thanks to a slim A-pillar and mounting the side-view mirrors on the door panels. This is another Subaru staple of late, and it's a great idea.

  • Exterior

    The exterior is now up-to-date with the Impreza and WRX (keeping it "all in the family," so to speak), with slim headlights, a hexagonal grille, and equally slim taillights. There are also a few more angles on the body than there used to be, and I really enjoyed the sharpness of the shoulder line as it progresses the length of the car. With the optional larger wheels, it's a very cohesive package that gives it a hint of anger that's found in my other favorite mid-size sedans. It paves the way for an even meaner-looking Legacy GT (make it happen, Subaru, you have to).

    It does have interesting lines on the sides of the hood, though. Like a Bangle Butt, except up front. A Bangle Front-Butt, perhaps?

  • On the Road

    I was lucky enough to have time with both the 2.5-liter flat four and the 3.6-liter flat six, so I'll discuss both.

    The 2.5 was a bit lighter in the nose given the engine's size, and so turn-in felt a bit lighter, but it was a difference that you couldn't miss. The 2.5's CVT isn't the same one that's found on the 3.6, but its stepped programming kept the motor towards the sweet spot when the time called for a little lead-footed action on California's sinuous Highway 1 outside Big Sur. And the engine needs to be in that sweet spot to have fun; it's not exactly a high-output engine, and so acceleration can feel little beyond lackadaisical when you surprise the car by flooring it. But that's how it goes with all the base-motor offerings in this field.

    The 3.6, on the other hand, had plenty of power in parts of the revband where the 2.5 fell flat. It sounded a little bit nicer, as well. The CVT attached to the 3.6 is the heavy-duty bugger, doing triple duty in this, the WRX, and the Forester Turbo. I loved it in the WRX, and that feeling transfers over to the 3.6 Legacy. Turn-in was heavier, but never to the point where it felt like it was unduly prone to understeer.

    On both cars, Subaru's brake-based torque vectoring did a damn fine job at keeping everything tidy when the going got lateral. At a set cruising speed, the ride was smooth, smooth enough to make you wonder how nautical it would get around corners. But the suspension seemed to magically firm before each corner, communicating the road through the wheel and providing an overall pleasurable driving experience. Throttle tip-in was a little difficult to get perfectly smooth, likely due to overeager programming on the throttle position sensor.

  • Final Thoughts

    So it looks good, feels nice, and drives well. Why, then, didn't I place it ahead of the Accord on my list of favorite family sedans? Simply put, the Accord Sport is just a little more aggressive in its suspension tuning, and it comes with an optional manual transmission. The Legacy is CVT-only, for now.

    However, several executives present for the media drive seemed open to my suggestion about a small-batch Legacy GT release. Drop the WRX (or, heaven forbid, the STI) boxer engine under the hood, connect it to either the heavy-duty CVT or the WRX's six-speed, and there you go. Enthusiast parts, wrapped in a churchgoing skin. Then the Accord Sport would have every reason to feel like its jimmies have been rustled. For now, though, the single model that Honda's doing right will retain the mid-size crown.

  • Specs & Prices

    Engine: 2.5-liter, naturally-aspirated, direct-injected flat-four; 3.6-liter, naturally-aspirated flat six

    Transmission: Continuously variable

    Drivetrain Layout: Front-engine, all-wheel-drive

    Power Output: 175 hp / 174 lb-ft (2.5); 256 hp / 247 lb-ft (3.6)

    Fuel Economy (mpg, est'd): 26 city / 36 highway (2.5); 20 city / 27 highway (3.6)

    Base Price: $21,695 (2.5); $23,495 (2.5 Premium); $26,495 (2.5 Limited); $29,595 (3.6)

    Destination Charge: $795 ($945 in Alaska)

    Available Features:

    Power Moonroof Package: Power tilt-and-slide moonroof, auto-dimming rearview mirror

    EyeSight Package: Front-facing stereoscopic color camera, adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning, pre-collision braking, blind-spot detection, lane-change assist, rear cross-traffic alert

    Keyless Access Package: Keyless access, push-button start, pin-code trunk access

    Navigation Package: 7-inch multi-function touchscreen, navigation, voice-activated controls

    Individual Options: Folding side mirrors with integrated turn signals (2.5 Premium only)

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