Subaru Legacy

Debut: 2014
Maker: Subaru
Predecessor: Legacy (2009)

 Published on 1 Aug 2014 All rights reserved. 

3 things have never changed during my 30 years time of observing the automotive world: 1) The engine of Porsche 911 sits at the wrong side; 2) Lotus is losing money; and 3) Subaru employs 4WD and boxer engines on the majority of its cars. The last one is strange. Considering full-time 4WD and boxer engines are not the best configurations for packaging and fuel efficiency, any rational car makers should have switched to other options. Somehow, Fuji Heavy Industry is no ordinary car maker. Sitting at the niche end of the market, it knows it has to offer a unique character and special functions to catch drivers who see themselves unusual. Until now this strategy has been working very well. Although Subaru is not going to challenge giant manufacturers for volume, it managed to increase unit sales by 50 percent over the last decade.

However, as the growth continues it will inevitably hit the bottleneck. Annual volume of Legacy is now well over 200,000 units, with more than half of which sold in the USA. If it wants to sell more, it will have to lure buyers from the mainstream Camry and Accord etc. That means it has to satisfy the needs of mainstream buyers, such as space, comfort, economy, ease of use, features… will this make the car too mainstream?

Yes, it does. This is not because of any changes in mechanical layout – don’t worry, it retains the full-time 4WD system as well as traditional boxer engines. Instead, it is the new packaging around the mechanicals that disappoints me. The last generation might not be a beauty, but at least it looked quite special beside the competition. In contrast, the new car, while styled to be sleeker and sharper, looks too much like what other car makers are doing. I found it appears to be a poor copy of the 8-years-old Volvo S80, with a similar profile but poorer execution in the details. I know Subaru’s designers have never been world-class, but at least they should try their best to give the Legacy a more distinctive character rather than surrender to the mainstream theme!

The interior is disappointing as well, but for very different reasons. It does look unlike all current competitors because its design is so bland and outdated (like one from the 1990s), and the plastics, while improved slightly over the last gen, are still low in quality by today’s standards. The fake wood trim lacks taste, too. Fortunately, beyond style and quality the cabin has many improvements. It is now even roomier than the old car, which means easily more than the class norm. As the car has grown 60 mm wider, its cabin is also benefited with more shoulder room. As before, the instruments are clear and controls are straightforward to use. The center console finally offers a decent infotainment system with vice-free touchscreen and smartphone connectivity.

In my opinion, the biggest problem is the lack of progress for its mechanicals. Retaining boxer engines and 4WD is good, but please improve them rather than transplant them straight from the last generation! Ditto the floorpan with MacPherson struts and double-wishbone suspensions. You don’t need to develop a new platform every generation, but some improvements have to be introduced to keep it up to date. As Subaru has done too little to the Legacy, we can’t feel excited to drive the car.

Take the FB25 engine for example. This 2.5-liter boxer-4 might be only 2 years old (note: it was introduced to the old Legacy in 2012, replacing the old EJ25), but you will be hard pressed to tell what progress it brought – the introduction of DOHC (in place of SOHC) and intake VVT sound nothing when the industrial norm is DVVT, direct injection and small turbo. The fact that its modest output eclipses the old engine by only 5 hp and 4 lbft proves how pointless it is. It would have been better if the new Legacy followed the industrial trend to lose weight, but in fact it has gained 120 kg. Coupling to the Lineartronic CVT, its performance is not going to impress.

Very much the same is the 3.6-liter boxer-6, which is carried over intact from the old car. 256 horsepower pushing 1660 kg means a reasonable rather than spirited turn of speed. Among its Japanese rivals, the Subaru is the slowest. Now you must moan the demise of 2.5 GT turbo.

Neither can its handling could be called sporty. Although the full-time 4WD shows superior traction and roadholding, and the brake-actuated torque vectoring has understeer largely tamed, its body control, agility, steering and braking are more Honda than BMW. It doesn't feel determined to entertain the driver. It doesn't give you the response and communication expected, which is a missed opportunity considering the mechanical layout it has and the brand history it carries. Instead, it seems to have all money and efforts spent to improve ride comfort and refinement. A 43-percent gain in chassis rigidity, new hydraulic engine mounts, acoustic-glass windscreen, thicker steel panels and more sound deadening materials bring Camry's level of ride and calmness. Meanwhile, reduced drag (thanks to the sleeker shape as well as automatic shutter grille) and reduced friction in CVT lift fuel economy figures to competitive level. All signs prove that Subaru wants to target its new Legacy straight to the heartland of mid-size family saloons. In other words, more flavor of Camry/Accord and less Subaru. It might be a more competitive product in the eyes of most family car buyers, but there are also fewer reasons for us to like it, sadly.

Length / width / height
Valve gears
Other engine features
Max power
Max torque
Suspension layout

Suspension features
Kerb weight
Top speed
0-60 mph (sec)
0-100 mph (sec)
Legacy 2.5i
Front-engined, 4WD
Steel monocoque
Mainly steel
4795 / 1840 / 1500 mm
2750 mm
2498 cc
DOHC 16 valves, VVT
175 hp
174 lbft
F: strut
R: double-wishbone
1580 kg
130 mph (c)
Legacy 3.6R
Front-engined, 4WD
Steel monocoque
Mainly steel
4795 / 1840 / 1500 mm
2750 mm
3630 cc
DOHC 24 valves, DVVT
256 hp
247 lbft
F: strut
R: double-wishbone
1660 kg

Performance tested by: *C&D

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