While some automakers like Ford are all but giving up on slow-selling sedans, Subaru is coming out swinging with the 2020 Subaru Legacy. It carries on the, um, legacy of the Legacy as a competent and comfortable all-wheel drive mid-size sedan with a modicum of performance and some impressive tech. It does what the Subaru Legacy has always done well, but adds a bit more room for rear-seat passengers—which has been a common gripe for previous generations.
If you need a commuter, a family hauler, decent fuel mileage, and an occasionally fun drive with plenty of standard safety features, perhaps consider the Legacy. It remains an excellent jack of-all-trades sedan.
Question is, with a growing lineup of big wagons and crossovers, will anyone go for a Subaru sedan that isn’t bright blue with screaming rally performance?
(Full Disclosure: Subaru flew me to Southern California to drive the new Legacy and Legacy XT on some of my favorite roads, put me up in a nice hotel room, and fed me a few nice meals.)
What I do know is there’s a lot to like about this car. The seats are fantastic with just the right amount of bolster to keep my hind-side firmly planted, but not too firm to be comfortable for long drives. Everything is pretty easily within reach of driver, either through the buttons on the steering wheel, or the hard function buttons and knobs (a volume knob is always welcome these day) in the center stack. And the XT’s 260 horsepower is the perfect amount to have a little fun.
Plus, we should talk about the giant tablet-like center touch screen, and what that adds to a previously pretty anodyne car like this one. It may look impressive, but in terms of functionality it can leave a lot to be desired.
Specs That Matter
The 2020 Subaru Legacy is an all-new car, riding on a new stiffer and lighter Subaru Global Platform that will underpin all of the automaker’s future models.
Amazingly, the wheelbase is exactly the same, but the car’s overall length has increased 1.5 inches versus the 2019 model, and rear seat legroom has also gone up by the same amount.
Just look at all that rear seat leg room! That’s often hard to come by on sedans, except the most gigantic ones.
The use of high strength steel in the rear structure means the new Legacy has a much larger trunk opening and a lower load height, allegedly without compromising crash structures. Subaru seems quite proud of the fact that the trunk can now accommodate four roller suitcases versus the 2019 model’s three.
The standard Legacy (available in base, Premium, Sport, and Limited trims) is powered by the same 182 horsepower 2.5-liter naturally aspirated flat-four you’ll find in the Forester.
And, taking over the top Legacy spot from the now-dead flat-six model is a new XT (available in upper Limited and Touring trims) powered by the 260 horsepower 2.4-liter turbo flat-four which made its debut in the Ascent SUV.
As you’d expect with Subaru, all-wheel drive is standard on all Legacy models. In the segment, you can find AWD as an option on just the Ford Fusion and the Nissan Altima, and all others make do with front-driven wheels. Subaru touts this as a safety feature, and the big push toward safety in the 2020 model year also includes making its EyeSight adaptive cruise control system standard on all Legacy models. That includes active lane-centering tech for the first time.
“The infotainment system is the star of the movie,” I was told of the new 11.6-inch portrait layout tablet-style Starlink system. The most base examples of Legacy get a pair of split 7-inch screens, but everything else gets this gargantuan touchscreen tablet. It’s powered by a pair of CPUs, one for entertainment and the other for vehicle operation controls, like the HVAC.
On this test, I got to drive the mid-range Sport model and the range-topping Touring XT. I suspect most folks will get the former, but I was eager to see what happens when you load the new car up with features.
Driving The Legacy Sport
Honestly, there isn’t anything here that should surprise anyone. The naturally aspirated engine is more than capable of hauling around the Sport’s 3,523 pounds.
It doesn’t go anywhere particularly quickly but is adequate to keep up with traffic and accelerate freely. If you’re more interested in MPGs and safety than 0-60 times, the Sport will treat you just fine.
While Sport is in the name, it is little more than a visual package. On the outside, you’ll get some blacked-out trim, some 18-inch grey wheels, and body-colored door handles, though the side window surround is still bright chrome. Inside the car, you get red stitching on the seats, and floor mats that say “SPORT.” There are no suspension or tuning changes, though the Sport model comes with a button to mildly sharpen your throttle pedal’s sensitivity.
This car is certainly more capable than most drivers will ever push to find out. That said, the Yokohama Avid tires chosen for all trims are clearly a compromise for fuel economy over outright grip, and the suspension is just too soft for anything with Sport in its name. I could feel the rear end of the car floating around with mid-corner bumps, and following other Legacy models it was visibly bouncy back there.
It’s worth noting that, believe it or not, I was impressed by this car’s CVT. I’ve never been a fan of transmissions of the continuously variable variety, but this one was un-intrusive, acted predictably, and helped the car return astounding real-world fuel economy (The 2.5 non-turbo cars are rated at 27 mpg city and 35 highway.)
There were a few moments, particularly when the car was cold, that I could hear the transmission whirring along. That, mixed with low-speed high-RPM engine racket, made for a somewhat noisy drive, what you might call a slightly NVH-heavy experience, but only in certain rare circumstances, like full-throttle acceleration.
Driving the Legacy XT Touring
“Oh, this is good,” I said to myself as soon as I stepped aboard the XT Touring.
While nearly ten grand more expensive than the Sport I’d driven a couple of hours earlier, it was also instantly obvious that it was crafted with better materials. With gorgeous terra cotta Nappa leather coating most of the interior, a thicker and better-padded steering wheel, and nicer carpets, the XT Touring really put emphasis on the Touring. It’s actually really nice in there.
And just look at how great that curvy road looks! And look how shiny and reflective the center screen is!
From the outset, the additional 78 HP of the turbocharged engine was both welcome and enjoyable. Instead of having to hammer down to get away from every stop sign, the XT rides on waves of torque to cruising speed. It’s possible 260 HP might be the perfect amount for a standard daily driver. It’s not so fast that you’ll get in trouble too often, but it’s just enough to make acceleration not an issue.
The turbocharged cars weigh about 250 pounds more than the non-turbo version does, and according to the Subaru engineers on hand, the only thing changed to compensate for that is a slightly stiffer spring rate. Noise, vibration and harshness is also improved, as the cars with boost feature acoustic damping glass fitted to both front side windows.
The old flat-six-cylinder Legacy was somewhat peaky in its power delivery, and not great on fuel economy either. With a twin-scroll turbocharger, the new Legacy XT has a very low torque curve that will make you forget all about the old six. You’ve got a peak torque of 277 lb-ft from 2,000 RPM, which just shoves brilliantly. For a workaday type of vehicle, this little baby can scoot.
In the afternoon, Subaru pointed us toward the incredible Highway 33 which writhes up a mountain and down the other side on the route from Ojai to Ventucopa. It’s a not oft traveled road, but it’s some of the most gorgeous vistas in the country, and even better curves. Even mated to a CVT, the 2.4-liter turbo engine just begs to be wrung out. And it delivers when you do.
The simple change of spring rates for the XT is all it needed to be converted from frenetic and bouncy to solid and predictable. Even rolling on the same lackluster tires, the XT feels like a completely different beast entirely when you turn up the wick. Combine the nice lux interior with some pretty damn good handling, and you’ve got something that would compare quite favorably to the rest of the segment.
One little detail that I thought was pretty cool is the routing for the top-mount intercooler under the hood (above). Obviously, this isn’t the kind of car Subaru wants to go putting a big ol’ hood scoop on, even if some of us miss it.
At one point on this phenomenal road, I caught up to the back of an first-generation Miata that was absolutely hustling. It’s perhaps a sign of just how good we have it as enthusiasts that a mid-sized sedan is capable of reeling in a legit sports car on one of the most technical roads I’ve ever driven.
With more power, AWD grip, and surprisingly good suspension, it’s no surprise that the Legacy could hassle an old sports car, but it’s nice to know that you can hustle your daily driver when you want to have some fun.
The XT model makes for a pretty great all-rounder. Try not to push it into canyon carving duty too often, however, as I was seeing fuel economy in the low teens when the boost got breathing. When you can stay out of the psi, the 2.4-liter turbo is rated at 24 mpg city and 32 highway.
While the CVT is fine enough for most, I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t gripe about the lack of a manual transmission. The 2.4-liter turbo, in particular, is just begging for a row-your-own option. If I were in the market for a mid-size, this single factor would have me seeking the Honda Accord instead.
I don’t like tablet touch screens, and this one is no exception. You have to take your eyes off the road to find where the button you seek to push is located. And some of the car’s normal functions, like engine temp, have been moved from the gauge cluster to the center stack, which I guess is a six-one, half dozen the other situation.
Further, Apple Car Play still displays in landscape, despite the portrait-mode screen. As a result, Subaru simply puts a blank block under the Car Play display. This makes the UI look unfinished and not well integrated.
While the overall design is a bit on the bland side, there are some details that look pretty good. When viewed head-on at the front, the Legacy has got some attractive lines. I like the light eyeshadow that the headlights have received.
But the corresponding blackout treatment on the tail lights looks a bit haphazard to my eye. It’s not bad from 10 feet, but it looks wonky when you get up close.
And my final point about trim, which I’ve made a hundred times before, I hate chrome. This shiny side window trim surround looks bad, but the chrome door handles look worse. Everyone is doing it these days, and they are all just awful to look at. That said, I like how the character line extends out into the door mirror. It’s shaped fine, I just wish it wasn’t chrome.
The tiny little window just ahead of the mirror, however, is a huge boon for visibility and keeping an airy cabin. Nice touch.
Overall, I found the lower-end Sport left me wanting. It’s a decent car with a few good things going for it at the price point, but the suspension and engine sound turned me off. But really, this is just a good jumping off point for the XT to come in and impress.
While the XT starts at $34,195, it seems like a good car at that price, comparing pretty favorably against the more powerful versions of cars like the Accord and Camry. When you consider the fact that it also has AWD and some tech that the competition can’t touch, it might be a fair ask.
These days Subaru has a pretty strong lineup of crossovers (some more wagon-ish than others) like the Forester, Outback and Ascent. And for sedan fans who probably have a few points on their license, there’s the WRX and WRX STI. The Legacy may have a tough fight as sedan sales fall off, but it could also be a happy medium between the rest of those cars.