Subaru has just introduced a redesigned 2020 Legacy mid-size sedan with new styling, updated engines, and a revised interior, but outward changes are so subtle you’d be forgiven for mixing up the new 2020 with this 2019 model. So why write about a 2019 Legacy when the 2020 is already on the way? Subaru retailers still have new 2019 models available, and these can be had for very good deals.
According to CarCostCanada at the time of writing, you can save up to $3,000 in additional incentives on a 2019 Legacy, and that’s over and above any further discount you manage to personally procure. A first step would be to visit CarCostCanada where you can learn about pricing details, including trims, packages and individual options, while you can also find out about rebates and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands.
Subaru refreshed its Legacy mid-size sedan for the 2018 model year, and therefore this 2019 version remains unchanged. The model tested for this review was in mid-range $31,695 Sport trim, which sits above the base $24,995 2.5i CVT, $28,295 Touring, and $29,795 Touring with Subaru’s EyeSight package of advanced driver assistive systems, which includes automatic high beams, adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, rear proximity warning with reverse automatic braking, blind spot detection, lane departure warning and lane keeping assist, but Sport trim (that comes standard with EyeSight) is still more affordable than the $33,795 Limited 2.5i and $36,795 Limited 3.6R (also standard with the EyeSight package).
The “2.5i” and “3.6R” designations refer to standard and optional engines respectively, with the latter having been discontinued for the 2020 Legacy and Outback crossover wagon, incidentally, replaced by the more potent 2.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder introduced in last year’s Ascent mid-size SUV. Compared to this year’s 3.6-litre horizontally-opposed six-cylinder, which is good for 256 horsepower and 247 lb-ft of torque, the new four makes 260 horsepower and 277 lb-ft of torque, while the base 2.5-litre four-cylinder found in this Legacy Sport and all other Legacy trims, which produces 175 horsepower and 174 lb-ft of torque, gets 90 percent of its components replaced for 2020 resulting in an additional 6 horsepower (for 182) and 2 lb-ft of torque (for 176), a nominal difference off the line yet noticeable at the pump.
The 2019 Legacy 2.5i achieves a claimed 9.3 L/100km on the highway, 7.0 in the city and 8.2 combined compared to 8.8 city, 6.7 highway and 7.7 combined for the new 2020 base engine. Comparing 2019 Legacy 3.6R fuel economy to the new 2020 2.4i is even more dramatic, with the outgoing engine managing an estimated 11.9 L/100km city, 8.3 highway and 10.3 combined rating and the new version achieving 9.9 city, 7.3 highway and 8.5 combined. The Legacy’s standard all-wheel drive means its base powertrain isn’t quite as thrifty as its mostly front-wheel drive competitors, but the differences are nominal, while both its old 3.6R and new 2.4i are much more efficient than the Camry’s available V6, for example.
Rather than delve too deeply into the differences between the new 2020 Legacy and this current 2019 model, I’ll touch on a few key issues as part of this road test review and keep some of the other details for a future review of the redesigned car. As noted in the beginning of this review, styling updates are so minor I’d hesitate calling it a refresh. In fact, Subaru Canada doesn’t mention anything about styling in its 2020 Legacy press release, an unusual tack, but I imagine this is good news for those who liked the previous design, and should help this current sixth-generation model maintain its resale/residual values. I find both models handsome enough and sportier looking than some rivals, while Subaru clearly isn’t trying to woo would-be buyers with anything too extroverted, like Toyota is with its new Camry XSE.
The Legacy’s wallflower appearance may be one reason its sales are so low, the 1,298 units Subaru sold after Q3 2019 just a hair over 11-percent of the 11,579 Camrys delivered during the same nine months. Still, it’s not last, the Legacy outselling Kia’s Stinger, Mazda’s 6, Honda’s Clarity plug-in, Buick’s Regal, Volkswagen’s Passat, and the same German brand’s new Arteon four-door coupe, while coming very close to Kia’s Optima. This leaves it eighth out of 14 challengers, which really isn’t too shabby. Then again, the Legacy’s numbers pale in comparison to Subaru’s own Outback that sold 7,756 units over the same three quarters, the tall crossover wagon basically the same car under the skin.
Fortunately, sales success doesn’t necessarily reflect how good or bad a given vehicle is, and other than being slightly smaller than most of its mid-size sedan rivals, it shows no disadvantages. Subaru has an enviable record, achieving “Best Overall” brand status in Consumer Reports’ latest 2019 Annual Report on Car Performance, Reliability, Satisfaction and Safety, not to mention tied in the “Best Road Test Score Mainstream” category with Chrysler. Subaru was above average in J.D. Power’s latest 2019 Vehicle Dependability Study too, albeit below average in the same organization’s 2019 Initial Quality Study. This said the 2019 Legacy was rated best for “Mid-Size” sedan consumers in Vincentric’s latest “Best Value In Canada” awards, as did the Outback in its segment.
No doubt interior quality gave the Legacy a leg up with the various third-party analytical firms’ rating programs, its premium-like padded composite dash top and instrument panel stitched across its lower edge with a classic Subaru blue thread, while that blue stitching also trims the inside rim of the leather-clad sport steering wheel, all the armrests, and the leather-like bolsters of the otherwise light grey textured fabric seats. Additionally, some very authentic-looking glossy carbon-fibre inlays accent the instrument panel and door uppers, butting up against some attractive satin-silver metallic trim, while gloss-black and matte-finish black composites join yet more satin-finish and chromed metal accents. Subaru details out both front and rear door uppers in the same luxurious padded composite as the dash, and wraps each A-pillar in fabric for an extra level of pampering and sound deadening.
Despite the new 2020 model providing a fresh new interior highlighted by a massive 11.6-inch vertical display that looks like it’s been pulled right out of a Tesla (other than the new base model that makes do with a 7.0-inch touchscreen), this 2019 version still looks up to date. In fact, its 8.0-inch touchscreen (uprated from the 6.5-inch screen in the 2019 base model) looks pretty state of the art when compared to most competitors thanks to a large glossy black surrounding panel that juts out of the central dash as if it’s one big screen. The display itself provides a rich blue background complete with graphical stars, overlaid by colourful tablet-style tiles for each function. The backup camera is excellent, and includes dynamic guidelines, while on top of standard infotainment features like Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Subaru’s proprietary StarLink smartphone integration, other features include AM/FM/CD/MP3/WMA plus satellite and Aha radio, a USB and aux port, SiriusXM advanced audio services, SiriusXM Travel Link, Bluetooth with audio streaming, and four-speaker audio, while Touring and above trims include the larger display plus another USB port and two more speakers.
If you want navigation, a better 576-watt, 12-speaker Harmon/Kardon audio system, as well as a heatable steering wheel rim, heated rear seats, leather upholstery, 18-inch alloy wheels and more you’ll need to move up to the aforementioned Limited model, while features pulled up to my Sport tester from lesser trims include a 10-way power-adjustable driver’s seat with two-way powered lumbar support (that did a pretty good job of lining up with the small of my back), cruise control, and heated front seats from the base model, dual-zone automatic climate control, a power glass sunroof, and fog lights from Touring trim, plus proximity-sensing keyless entry with pushbutton ignition and a 5.0-inch LCD multi-information display (within the gauge cluster) from the Touring model with EyeSight.
Special Legacy Sport features include 18-inch machine-finish alloys with black-painted pockets, steering-responsive LED headlights, a glossy black grille surround, satin-silver side mirror housings, side sill extensions with chrome mouldings, and a diffuser-style rear bumper cap with big chrome-tipped tailpipes at each corner, but take note this value priced Sport model won’t be available with the 2020 redesign. The new car’s sportiest trim pulls its GT designation from the past, and suitably comes standard with the quicker 2.4i engine in a new Premier trim as well as a renewed Limited model.
Once again Subaru’s renowned symmetrical full-time all-wheel drive with active torque vectoring comes standard, and makes a big difference to how this car drives in slippery and even dry conditions. Let’s not forget Subaru honed its symmetrical AWD system through decades of World Rally Championship contention and still produces the legendary WRX that brought home so many titles. The Legacy was rallied too, by the way, in Group A from 1989 through 1993, although its single race win during its final year was nowhere near as glorious as the Impreza’s three championships, yet how many other mid-size sedan nameplates even have one WRC win to their credit? To save you time looking it up, exactly none.
As you might expect, the Legacy Sport is amongst the mid-size sedan segment’s more enjoyable cars to drive, not specifically for its straight-line speed, which would really benefit from the WRX STI’s 310-horsepower mill, but it gets up and goes quickly enough for most peoples’ needs and similarly to other base drivetrains in this class, while its Lineartronic CVT makes for smooth sailing all the way from standstill to highway speeds and beyond. Subaru includes a set of paddle shifters to enhance the process, and while allowing for hands-on engagement via six preset ratios that feel fairly close to the stepped gears in a conventional automatic when not pushing too hard, the transmission doesn’t provide the type of snappy gear changes found in most conventional automatics. I used them more for downshifting, the process giving this CVT a sportier feel and the benefit of engine braking, while upshifting early can save fuel in a regular automatic, but I doubt it makes much if any difference with a continuously variable transmission.
A CVT’s design can help smooth out a vehicle’s ride as well, and it may very well do so for the Legacy Sport that provides comfort first and foremost. Its ride quality is truly superb, yet the car holds its own through the corners as well thanks to a well-sorted fully independent MacPherson strut front and unequal length (short/long arm) double wishbone rear suspension setup, not to mention 225/50R18 Goodyear Eagle LS all-seasons connecting car to pavement. It really feels confidence inspiring when pushed through tight, fast-paced curves, while it’s just as adept at darting in and out of congested traffic or widening its gait on an open freeway.
The comfortable driver’s seat should provide ample adjustability for most body types, my short-torso five-foot-eight frame having no problem reaching the top of steering wheel when its tilt and telescopic column was extended all the way rearward. This means my seat was set farther back than most people my height would, but this didn’t hamper rear seat legroom enough to cause any problem.
Sitting directly behind, I had nearly 12 inches between my knees and the backside of the front seat, plus room enough to completely stretch out my legs when my winter boot-shod feet were positioned underneath. Likewise, I had plenty of space to each side, allowing a comfortably wide armrest with dual integrated cupholders to be folded down in between, while about three inches was left over above my head, which means a six-foot-plus rear passenger should fit quite comfortably in back. As far as rear seat amenities go, two USB charging points are offered, but only the centre dome lamp provided light for those wanting to read a conventional book.
The trunk is quite spacious at 425 litres (15 cu ft), and features the usual 60/40-split rear seatbacks that can be released by pull-handles under the bulkhead. I’ll make my usual plea for a centre pass-through or better yet, a three-way 40/20/40 rear seatback split, so skis can be placed down the middle while both (potentially heated) rear window seats can be put into use, because this would make the Legacy an even better snow shuttle than it already is. This said, not many challengers in this class offer the rear-row flexibility I’m looking for, so it will hardly be a deal-breaker, other than causing yet more buyers to look to the mid-size crossover SUV sector for their next ride.
So there you have it. Even the outgoing 2019 Legacy is well worth your attention, especially for those needing or wanting four-wheel traction as winter approaches, the only other cars in this class to offer standard all-wheel drive being the new Altima, Stinger and Arteon, but the latter two are actually four-door coupes targeting a near-luxury demographic, with the Optima and Passat serving the convention mid-size sedan buyer. Buick’s Regal makes AWD optional, but it’s a much pricier alternative too. There’s a good argument for Subaru’s rally-proven Symmetrical AWD over any others, and many of its additional attributes, including all the industry accolades noted earlier, make the Legacy an intelligent alternative in a Canadian market that’s preparing for a snowier than normal 2019/2020 winter, or so says The Old Farmer’s Almanac. Not being forced to chain up mid-winter is reason enough to choose AWD, and the Legacy is a smart choice.