This week’s Meh Car is a little more poignant than normal, perhaps even tragic, since the meh car involved wasn’t always meh. Not by a long shot. The current-gen Subaru Legacy, the sixth-generation of that car, is an example of a car that’s been forced, brutally and needlessly, into a cage made of tempered mehdonium, and will likely die in there. It’s a sad story, but I’m afraid one that must be told.
The slide of the Legacy from its original, exciting, capable, notable, and interesting car roots is a story that feels unsettlingly familiar. It’s sort of like having a best friend from high school that you have many vivid memories with—memories of crazy adventures, madness, raw, unhinged fun. There was probably danger and nudity and drugs involved.
Then you find him on Facebook and learn that he’s a manager of a long-term records storage facility and has taken to wearing a bike helmet any time he thinks he may encounter more than four stairs in a row.
That’s how the sixth-generation of Subaru Legacy feels.
Of course, this wasn’t always like this. The Legacy used to be an amazing, fierce little machine. Back in the early ‘90s, the Legacy was a rallying powerhouse, an all-wheel drive little brute with a flat-four engine. The Legacy was the first Subaru that wasn’t just for oddball iconoclasts in funny sweaters who didn’t want a Saab; it was a more premium car, a well-designed, confident thing, and you could get it as a wagon or a sedan.
The RS version turbocharged the two-liter boxer motor to make about 220 horsepower, and this was the version that was a rally master. You could own one, too, with a five-speed manual and as a wagon, even.
The Legacy continued its, uh, legacy down through the years, but somewhere around the fifth generation, things started to get a little, um, tepid. The wagon ceased to be an option, and a continuously variable transmission was offered, giving drivers the continuously variable sensations of dissatisfaction and annoyance.
By the sixth generation, starting in 2014 and continuing on until this ever-fleeting present, it feels like every bit of charm, character, and joy has been squeezed from the Legacy. There’s no more wagon option, there’s no manual transmission, just that CVT on everything.
Sure, it still stands out a bit by having the only flat-four or flat-six engines you can buy outside of a Porsche, but the rest of the car has gotten so generic and bland that even that detail only serves as a sad reminder of what once was, and, even worse, I bet most of the buyers of new Subarus wouldn’t know a boxer engine from a boxer dog.
The styling of the latest Legacy appears to be inspired by looking at all the faked cars in insurance company ads and then filtering out the pizzaz. The cars aren’t bad at all, to be honest, but they’ve become competent options for people who would normally buy an Accord, but their fear of driving in bad weather is pushing them to something with AWD.
When was the last time you noticed a new Subaru Legacy? Are you sure that wasn’t a Hyundai? Of course you’re not sure; no one is. Maybe if one actually ran into you, and that Subaru Pleiades badge came into direct contact with your face you’d remember, but only long enough to be reminded of those Subaru badges that flipped up to reveal an extra center light and then you’d have forgotten about the boring-ass compromisemobile that hit you.
The Legacy is a special kind of meh car: it’s rendered more meh by comparison with its own past. It’s the flabby, middle-aged, slightly bitter version of itself that’s given up on its dreams, traded everything for comfort and a basic, middling level of reasonable success.
Subaru’s ad agency is so inspired by the latest legacy that they made a long, wordless ad that could literally copy/paste any other mid-size sedan in the footage and be exactly the same:
It’s meh because it’s an automotive realization of the fundamental fears of us all, that we’ll lose our youth and passion and joy and turn into a soulless cog in a useless machine. For this reason, the Subaru Legacy may be the most existentially terrifying meh car ever.
A Dodge Dynasty or a Chevy Venture was born into meh, and was doomed from the start. The Legacy is a reminder that meh can find any one of us, if we’re not careful.
Beware the meh.