In 2009, Americas auto industry took a nosedive that some manufacturers are still recovering from. Subaru, however, continued to grow market share through even the darkest days of the recession, relying on their broad range of all-wheel-drive crossover vehicles, including the popular Outback and Forester models.
But in order to sustain that growth, the company needs to have a strong contender in the midsize sedan market. Until now, the Legacy sedan has been the midsize sedan for people who like Subarus. With the introduction of the sixth-generation 2015 model, the Legacy becomes a valid choice for customers who might never have thought of buying a Subaru.
Its good that Subaru is reaching further into the mainstream market, because other manufacturers are reaching into an area where Subaru has had exclusive reign all-wheel drive. For example, both the Ford Fusion and 2015 Chrysler 200 are available with AWD, although the vast majority of those models will be sold as front-wheel-drive.
All-wheel-drive still gives the Legacy an edge, because Subarus electronically controlled symmetrical AWD comes on every Legacy built, and it is simply a more refined, proven, and all-weather capable system than the others. But thats not all the new sedan has going for it.
The exterior design is a bit less funky than before a bit more buttoned down. Its more coupe-like shape helps to improve the aerodynamics numbers, as do active grille shutters that open and close to manage the airflow into the engine compartment. HID headlights are standard on the 3.6R model, and LED taillights are included on all models.
While the exterior dimensions have changed little, the interior has gained significant size in key dimensions. Even the trunk, which gets squeezed by the independent rear suspension and drivetrain, has grown a bit.
The interior has been improved dramatically with better materials, design, and noise control. Frame members are filled with foam, and the windshield is made of acoustic glass to manage both mechanical resonances and road noise.
There are two powertrains available for the Legacy, and both are largely carryover from the last generation although the 2.5-liter Boxer 4-cylinder has been improved with lighter weight, quieter performance, and better efficiency for 2015. Power has bumped a smidge to 175-horsepower, and peak torque of 174 ft-lbs. covers a broader band.
Fuel efficiency is up a bit as well, putting the 4-cylinder AWD Legacy on par with many front-wheel-drive models. EPA estimated fuel economy is 26 city and 36 on the highway. Much of that top end comes from the use of continuously variable transmissions. There is no traditional automatic or manual transmission available. The Subarus CVT might not be up to the smoothness of the Honda Accords CVT, but it is absolutely better than the majority of CVTs on the market.
Paddle shifters are standard on all Legacy models, allowing rather aggressive clutchless manual shifting to be done for more enthusiastic driving, or to manage speed in the hills.
The 3.6-liter horizontally opposed 6-cylinder produces 256-horsepower and 247 ft-lbs. of torque across a wide power band. Managing the power is a high-torque version of Subarus Lineartronic CVT. EPA estimated mileage is 20 in the city and 27 on the highway.
While the extra power from the 6-cylinder is welcome while passing, Id still opt for the 2.5-liter Boxer-4. It just seems to be more in balance with the car, and the fuel efficiency and value for dollar is impressive for a roomy all-wheel-drive sedan. All Legacys run on regular unleaded fuel.
The new sedan has picked up some handling tricks from the STI performance side of the Subaru. Active torque vectoring slightly brakes the inside front wheel on corners to help the car slice through the twisties with a high degree of confidence, without the tendency to understeer like many in the segment. The Macpherson struts up front and double wishbone suspension in the back have been re-tuned to take advantage of a significantly stiffer body structure.
All Legacys will come equipped with a new type of airbag. The front-seat cushion airbag deploys from under the bottom seat cushion to force your legs up and prevent you from submarining under the dash in case of a major collision. Rear view cameras are standard on all models.
Eyesight, Subarus optional camera-based forward-looking driver assistance system, has been greatly improved for the new models. The third-generation system is smaller and less intrusive, but it covers a wider area under more demanding conditions. It provides adaptive cruise control, pre-collision braking, and lane departure warning. I was not impressed with the first generation of this system, but the third-gen system works much better, and inspires more confidence. Its rated by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety as the best front crash prevention system available.
Eyesight-equipped vehicles will also illuminate a fog light in the direction you intend to turn, heightening safety by illuminating dark corners.
Three trim levels will be available when the car arrives in dealerships in late June or early July. The Legacy 2.5i base model comes well-equipped for a $21,695 sedan with paddle shifters, Bluetooth connectivity, and a 6.2-inch display audio system with apps integration standard.
Subaru expects the 2.5i Premium to be the volume seller. It adds 17-inch alloys, heated front seats, automatic climate control, and an enhanced 7-inch display infotainment system along with other touches to the mix.
The top-end Limited models are equipped with 18-inch wheels, Leather upholstery, rear heated seats, high-end Harman/kardon audio, and a blind spot warning system with cross-traffic warning and lane change assist. The 3.6-liter engine is only available in the Limited trim.
2015 Subaru Legacy
Models: 2.5i, 2.5i Premium, 2.5i Limited, 3.6R Limited
Base prices: Range from 2.5i $21,695 to 3.6R $29,595 (plus $795 destination charge)
Type: 5-passenger 4-door midsize all-wheel-drive sedan
Length: 188.8 inches
Weight: 3,468 lbs. (base vehicle)
EPA Estimated Mileage: 2.5i 26 city/36 highway/30 combined. 3.6R 20/27/22.
Final Assembly: Lafayette, Indiana