It’s peak practical. But like all sedans, sales are falling.
If you live in more temperate climes, it may surprise you to see how quickly and dramatically the proportion of Subarus on the roads increases as you travel further north.
For those who do annual battle with snow and ice, standard all-wheel drive has a natural appeal. It’s a feature that winter warriors are likely to want to invest in anyway, and people love it when they don’t feel like they’re paying extra for stuff.
Through that lens, though, the Subaru Legacy presents a conundrum. Four-season practicality goes beyond making all four wheels work, after all; a higher position for the driver’s seat and better ground clearance are attributes that carry serious advantages, too. This is part of why SUV popularity is skyrocketing and sedans are being left on dealership lots – to the point where, as you’ve no doubt heard, some .
As one of the rare mid-size sedans that offers all-wheel drive at all, let alone as standard equipment, the Legacy continues to offer a practical alternative to those who need that level of capability but don’t especially care for SUVs. If the sales figures are any indication, though, those people are growing ever fewer and farther between.
If you’re among that increasingly exclusive group of people holding out for cars but looking for winter weather functionality, then there’s a good chance you already know that the Legacy is a solid contender.
No one has ever looked at a Subaru Legacy and fought off heart palpitations. But that’s not what it’s for, and there’s nothing at all wrong with that. For the sorts of people who would seek this car out, blending in is a positive trait. It excels in understated, quality conservatism.
Some quote-unquote foreign automakers hang their hats very heavily on the fact that key products in their portfolios are built in the United States. Subaru doesn’t tend to go around shouting it from the rooftops, but a decent percentage of its line-up is built at its assembly facility in Lafayette, Indiana, including the 2019 Legacy. So, if buying American-built is important to you, you can keep this on your mid-size sedan shopping list.
There are still two engines offered with the Subaru Legacy, and while the higher-powered 3.6-liter six-cylinder is tucked away as an option only on the most expensive Limited trim, at an MSRP of $31,545, getting into it costs less than the equivalent in, say, a Toyota Camry, where an XLE V6 will run you $34,050 and all-wheel drive isn’t available, full stop.
The Legacy tester in question here is a Premium trim, though, which means that it’s sporting the powertrain that graces most of the Legacy line-up, a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine laid out in the Subaru-traditional horizontally opposed orientation. Relative to the competition, its on-paper power figures of 175 hp and 174 lb-ft of torque that hits peak at 4,000 rpm are, frankly, not at the same level – the base Camry comes in at 203 hp and 184 lb-ft, the Honda Accord at 192 hp and 192 lb-ft, and the new Nissan Altima at 182 hp and 178 lb-ft.
While most people will buy this for its full-time symmetrical all-wheel-drive system, which gives the Legacy a clear advantage in its segment among those buyers who need this feature, there is the unavoidable consequence of higher-than-average fuel costs that go along with it. The official rating for the Legacy is 25 mpg in city driving and 34 on the highway. Over my week of mostly fair-weather city driving with, admittedly, a slightly heavy foot, my average was a fair bit below that at just under 20 mpg.
Although the Premium trim is one step up from the entry model, there's a baseline level of quality to be found here. The cloth on the seats feels better than most, there’s some attractive detail in the stitching and metal inserts, and the piano black finish looks sharp around the 8-inch infotainment screen that’s included in the $24,695 MSRP. It does unpretentious very well.
Subaru’s latest infotainment system is an improvement in many ways over the previous version, not the least of the reasons being that it comes with standard Android Auto and Apple CarPlay integration. It’s still a little on the slow side, and the fact that a slight change in the volume takes over the entire screen for a second is mildly annoying. But the screen is nicer to look at and the type is larger and easier to parse at a glance while driving, and those were much-needed upgrades.
In this Premium trim, heated front seats are included, which is a nice bonus for the cold-climate buyers who will gravitate toward it.
That said, it’s worth noting that there are premium features that are missing from the Legacy entirely but are available from some competitors at similar price points, such as ventilated front seats, a heated steering wheel, and a panoramic sunroof.
Where safety is concerned, the Legacy has a lot to offer. The 2019 model is the 14th in a row to earn a Top Safety Pick+ rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a fact that Subaru touts as making it the longest-running award winner in its class.
On top of that, the EyeSight package of safety technologies – which includes pre-collision braking and throttle management, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, lane sway warning, lane keep assist, and lead vehicle start alert – is standard equipment across the board. At this Premium level, blind spot detection and rear cross-traffic alert are optional and cost either $850 in a package that also includes high beam assist, fog lights, and turn signal mirrors, or $2,595 in the package that has all of these features plus a power moonroof and on-board navigation.
The Legacy's 15 cubic feet of cargo space is average for its segment -- the Toyota Camry has 14.1 in some trims and 15.1 in others, while the Nissan Altima comes in at 15.4 and the Honda Accord has a fair bit more space at 16.7 cu. ft. What space the Legacy does have is made more practical through the inclusion of standard 60/40-split folding rear seats.
There are some nice storage details scattered around the interior such as a phone-sized cubby underneath the infotainment screen. It's probably too small for most modern phones, but mine stays in it well enough at an angle; too bad it can't be converted into a wireless charging pad. Good-sized cup holders can be found on both the front and back doors. The two cup holders on the center console are offset to the right, well out of the driver's way.
While the raw power figures might be below average, the benefit that leads people most often to buy Subaru is still there: the flat cylinder layout of its longitudinally mounted engine gives it a low center of gravity, which translates to a handling advantage that makes the Legacy behave like a much smaller car than it is.
The steering is on point and the pedal feel is smooth and responsive. As mid-size sedans go, it’s one of the more pleasant ones to drive. The continuously variable transmission doesn’t feel as intrusively droning here as it does in some other Subaru vehicles, a fact that might be aided by the well-insulated and therefore quiet nature of the interior.
Excessive oil burning has been reported with the generation of engines still in use in current Legacy models. There are also well-known issues with head gaskets deteriorating early, and some owners in this generation report having to replace wheel bearings sooner than average.
The base Legacy ($22,545) comes with the 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine, continuously variable transmission (the only transmission available), and standard all-wheel drive and EyeSight. At this price point, a 6.5-inch infotainment screen is included and has standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration. Upgrading from 17-inch steel wheels to alloys is optional.
At Premium ($24,695), blind spot detection, rear cross-traffic alert, and high beam assist become optional, and 17-inch alloy wheels are standard. Heated front seats and side mirrors and a wiper de-icer are included, as is a 10-way power driver's seat (upgraded from 6-way at base), dual-zone climate control, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter handle, and an auto-dimming rear-view mirror. The infotainment screen is upgraded to the 8-inch version.
The Sport trim ($26,795) includes blind spot detection and rear cross-traffic alert as standard (high beam assist remains an option), and upgrades the wheels to 18-inch alloys. Fog lights and turn signals integrated in the side mirrors are included and a trunk spoiler is added (this is available for other trims as an option), as are carbon fiber-patterned and gloss black interior accents. Keyless entry is standard.
In the Limited trim ($29,245), leather upholstery is standard and steering-responsive headlights are optional. Heated rear seats are included, as are wood grain patterned accents and a 12-speaker Harman Kardon audio system. For $31,545, buyers at this trim level can upgrade to the 3.6-liter six-cylinder engine.