The trusty midsize sedan segment of the car business has found itself in an unusual spot these days.
SUVs and low gas prices mean the old days where Camrys and Accords sold by the dozen are long gone. They are now fighting to be a purchase not of necessity, but one of desire.
Subaru has stepped up with a serious rival in this high-stakes game. A car that is still easy to buy and own, but with added pizzazz to make it pop versus the onslaught of new, high-riding competition.
The new-for-2017 Subaru Legacy SPORT trimline.
The car is instantly quite sexy in the flesh thanks to a sport-ified exterior treatment.
And what does the Legacy bring to the table no other mid-size sedan can match?
WITH 34-mpg on the highway and standard paddle shifters for its autobox.
How does this new Legacy Sport compare with the Camry SE or Mazda6? And is the Sport upgrade to the 2.5i trim enough to make you forget about compact crossovers?
Let’s find out with an HD drive review, a few dozen photos and headings of Exterior, Interior, Performance and Pricing.
Tasteful, effect design mods never cease to amaze this car reviewer. Just a handful of tweaks turn the Legacy 2.5i from a commodity on wheels to a real passion play.
How did they do it?
The 2.5i Sport wears a uniquely dark-finished front grille, gloss-black foglamp bezels and silver-sheen wind mirrors. A classy set of machine-polished alloy wheels with dark inner spokes complete the very posh revamp.
There is a hint of Audi S4 about those silvery mirrors, while the dark grille recalls the coolest WRXs.
In total, the car seems more confident and worth far more than its $26k price suggests. Ideal for slaying the Camry SE arch-rival, then!
The core proportions of the Legacy are intact but feel much more special in Sport guise. We love the rounded hoodline, but bluff and pretty chopped overhangs all around. The roof is similarly impressive. It has some fastback chic in the way the C-pillars stretch deep into the trunk.
All while keeping the cabin and trunk absolutely gigantic. It is an impressive feat.
And one that is helped by the relative rarity of the Legacy on the road.
We’re huge LED fanatics, so of course were extra charmed by the hawkeye LED outlines above the lowbeam halogen projector beam lights. The LED taillights are also a nice touch that Camry, for one, has dropped in its latest generation.
All was not bliss on the super-cool lighting front, however. What do we mean? There is a big visual contrast between the white of the LED accent light and the yellow-ish hue of the halogen low/high and foglamps. We also were pretty sore about no way to drive around with just the LEDs lit up.
The Subaru always has some form of dimmed-highbeam Daytime Running Light illuminated when on the move. An the fancy-for-this-price electronic parking brake means none of the old-school tricks will extinguish that DRL and let the LEDs glow on their own.
Then again, Subaru likely had driver safety in mind with this decision. The Legacy is ridiculously safe for many reasons – and a real DRL is likely one of them.
For style-conscious shoppers, though, it is still a let-down.
Luckily, that is just about the only one in this review. The car is that good. Let’s hop inside.
The Legacy is HUGE!! When did this car get so big? The sense of cabin width is mighty impressive. And what is this? Huge footwells in front make legroom a non-issue. Same for headroom. Wear your biggest hat --- it will not graze this airy ceiling. Even with the Sport’s moonroof!
The back seat is similarly commodious. There is room for three proper adults in back without much shoulder overlap. The seat in back seems to have a much higher base than the Camry in particular, which scams its way into a few extra inches of legroom via the old Chevy Lumina method: lower and shorten the seat base.
Legacy makes no such excuses. It is just huge. The doors also open extra wide and tall. It just seems like a full-size car in every way.
The seating position up front has a giant range of options, especially when paired with the tilt/telescope of the steering column. A great thing about the Legacy’s seats is how comfortable, spacious and roomy they are at all times. You never feel p-inched in any direction.
Yet huge chairs like these usually do not offer much support. This was a worry with the mixed-materials of the 2.5i Sport, which has leatherette for its bolsters.
Luckily, the worries were unfounded. The Legacy’s thrones have very, very good lateral support from the seatbase and the seatback. Snug as a bug around corners!
The big Subaru nav touchscreen seems like another world of tech versus Spartan Subarus of our memory. And indeed it has pretty good responsiveness and simple operations for entering a destination or changing the map views. One of its best elements is the pure, flat glass surface stretching across the top of the center stack in a classy way. Even if all that black glass is not actual screen… it is still a nice integration that feels posh and modern.
The actual map graphics are fairly underwhelming. The Legacy also misses out on real-time traffic.
A few gripes arose during our time in the car, mind you. For some reason, the SiriusXM at times did not recall what station had been playing before? A bizarre quirk, sure. But why always XM channel 1 on startup? Curious.
We also could live without the EyeSight active safety solutions. While surely a boon for safety on long road trips, the EyeSight system was less helpful around town. Lane-Departure and front-collision warnings seemed a bit heavy-handed. The Active Cruise and Lane-Keep functions seemed nervous too.
Nothing could detract from our single favorite cabin detail, though: the standard shift paddles!
Shift paddles for the Legacy are a godsend for sporty drivers in the 2.5i Sport. And here is some great news: these appear to be standard on all Legacy’s for 2017!
Perhaps not a big deal for normal drivers. But for those craving that low boxer burble on downshifts, or to ring out every last horsepower at the redline??! Heaven.
The Legacy is supremely quiet in normal driving. The engine, road noise and wind noise are all supremely damped. We’re be surprised if any other midsize sedan is this silent. Perhaps the Mazda6? Certainly not the Camry or the Accords we can recall. And a world better in ride quality as well as isolation versus absolutely any compact crossover.
But how to get that boxer growl?!
Just snick that left shift paddle a few times! Suddenly you really know this is a boxer four up front.
Snicking down a ratio or two ahead of an entrance ramp provides double confirmation. You get the classic rumble, and you also get the benefit of flypaper grip around that ramp. With some revs on the engine, the handling of the Legacy really feels world class. The engine’s low center of mass is to thank, but the 50/50 AWD system is a helpful dance partner.
It just feels sublime at the limit of tire adhesion around tight corners. Only happy chirps from the 2.5i Sport’s larger rubber patches, and no howling to ruin the fun.
So, we deliberately said ‘drop down a ratio’ versus drop down a gear. Prizes for knowing why?
The Legacy has infinite gear ratios as a CVT automatic. The letters CVT are hated by enthusiasts, who had a point for a while.
But here’s the thing: not all CVTs are created equal. Subaru’s CVT feels much more precise, direct and playful than Nissan or Honda CVTs. There just isn’t that sense of slop when engaging drive in the Subaru versus an Altima, for example. And no slop on the simulated upshifts either.
The benefits of running the engine just above idle during normal driving? That is a CVT constant – and the Legacy is just as effortless when cruising. And unlike almost all Subaru’s until recently… this Legacy is a mileage champ. Up to the mid 30s in normal cruising as well as official MPG stats!? Incredibly good. A large gas tank and this new-found efficiency in the engine mean 500 miles before the next stop. Impressive.
175 ponies means the Legacy 2.5i Sport is not a rocket to 60-mph. But neither are its rivals. The Legacy is entertaining (and endearing) with the gas pedal floored. It sounds good, has zero torque steer and is always gripping. Try as we might, the Legacy resisted any attempts at breaking traction. It just sticks, rain/snow or shine.
The Legacy 2.5i Sport is smack in the middle of the range. Just below the 2.5i Limited and 3.6R, but above the Legacy 2.5i and 2.5i Premium. The range kicks off its pricing from about $22k, but the Sport stickers from $26k before its delivery charge.
Adding the $2000 EyeSight safety tech brings the Nav system, and was the only option on our test car. Out the door for just under $29k feels like stellar value for this much vehicle.
The gigantic back seat alone would be enough to seal the deal over Camry and any compact crossover!
Speaking of Camry SE… the Legacy Sport is priced within a few dollars of a similarly-equipped Camry, but comes better equipped as standard. Things like the moonroof are individual options on most Camrys, for reference.
Is the Legacy Sport enough to bring excitement to a hard-working and somewhat staid car segment? It is darn close. Just a few twaks to the exterior and interior are enough to bring the Subaru brand passion into play, bigtime.
What the Legacy Sport does best, though, is prove how silly most compact crossovers are. Their claim to fame? All-weather ability. But does even one RAV4/CR-V/Escape type vehicle have standard AWD? Their production mix is about 75-percent front drivers. With all the understeer that comes along for the ride!
And do any of those bite-size SUVs offer a giant and super-comfy back seat, with leg and headroom for days?
Certainly, the Legacy is a shot in the arm for the rockstar sales charts of the Subaru brand. While Outbacks and Foresters have blazed the sales charts, the Legacy has been a bit left behind.
Make sure the Legacy Sport is in the test-drive list for anyone and everyone shopping for a midsize sedan.
The Legacy Sport’s silver mirrors and a dark grille have worked wonders on us. Most of all: they have just enough coolness to hook your attention.
Once behind the wheel, the Legacy’s refinement, handling and comfort seal the deal with a kiss.