2010 Subaru Legacy 2.5i Premium Review
By Kevin Miller
Twenty years ago the world was a different place. GM was the world’s largest automaker, the Berlin Wall had just fallen, and Subaru was known for making angular, offbeat small cars available with four-wheel drive and boxer engines. Subaru broke their mold, however, when they introduced their new Legacy in 1989; it was their first car that was large enough and well-enough equipped to compete in the mainstream family sedan segment.
Fast forward to 2009. Subaru showed the new fifth-generation 2010 Legacy in a chrome finish at the Detroit auto show, and they showed a very original 1990 Legacy right along side it. The original Legacy sedan has a place close to my heart, as my identical twin brother owned one in the late 1990s, in which he and I crossed the northern US from Seattle to New Jersey between Christmas and New Year one snowy winter, which cemented in my mind just how capable and robust the Legacy is. With the side-by-side comparison, it was easy to see how far Subaru has come with the Legacy over the course of twenty years in terms of comfort, safety, and appearance.
Earlier this month, I had the chance to spend a week in a 2010 Legacy 2.5i Premium. The Legacy is available with three different engine choices in the US (170 HP, 2.5 liter horizontally-opposed four cylinder in 2.5i models, a 265 HP turbocharged version of that motor in 2.5 GT models, and a 256 HP, 3.6 liter horizontally-opposed six in 3.6R versions.). Each of the powertrains is available in base, Premium, or Limited trim, so my 2.5i Premium tester had the base engine (with a six-speed manual transmission) and the mid-level trim package. That trim package adds a10-way power driver’s seat, 16-in. alloy wheels, chrome exhaust tip, driver’s window with auto up/down, and leather-wrapped steering wheel to the Legacy’s list of standard equipment. The car I tested also had the optional All-Weather Package and power moonroof. The car I tested has an MSRP of $20,95, the All-Weather package and moonroof for $1,495 and $695 destination fee, for a very reasonable grand total of $23,185.
All 2010 Legacy sedans have standard all-wheel drive, though Subaru offers three different AWD systems depending on the powertrain and transmission you choose. The 2.5i and 2.5GT models with 6-speed manual transmission use Continuous AWD with a viscous-coupling locking center differential to distribute power 50:50 front to rear; Legacy 2.5i models with continuously variable transmission (CVT) use Active Torque Split AWD with an electronically managed continuously variable transfer clutch to actively control power distribution in response to driving and road conditions; and Legacy 3.6R models use Variable Torque Distribution (VTD), which normally sends more power to the rear wheels (45/55% front/rear power distribution) to enhance handling agility and continuously adjusts power distribution in response to driving and road conditions.
This year’s new Legacy has notable increases in legroom and hip room- rear seat legroom has increased by a whopping four inches (though overall length doesn’t grow as much due to shortened front and rear overhangs). Combined with the height of the back seat’s bottom cushion and the shape of the front seat, the Legacy is the first sedan I’ve ever reviewed that didn’t require any compromise of front seat passenger legroom to fit a rear-facing child seat behind it. That is significant, and instantly earns my recommendation as a great car for young families.
The spacious and stylish interior of the Legacy I tested had a somber appearance, with black or charcoal dash, seats, door upholstery, and carpet, accented by a brushed aluminum looking control panel on the dashboard. Instruments are very legible and nicely illuminated at night; instead of a temperature gauge there is an ambiguous “MPG” gauge which points to (+) or (-) depending on whether you’re stomping the throttle or just feathering it. The interior was nicely assembled, and the dash materials were nice-looking but rock-hard low-gloss grained plastic. Thanks to a very tall greenhouse (a rarity given current styling trends), plenty of light enters the cabin and visibility is outstanding. Minor complaints include sun visors that are too fat for a garage door opener to clip on to them, and no standard Bluetooth phone connectivity (it’s a $400 option).
The car I tested had charcoal-colored cloth upholstery, which was nice looking and plenty grippy for aggressive driving. The perfectly comfortable ten-way power driver’s seat features electric lumbar support, which was an unexpectedly nice feature. The seat upholstery did have the unfortunate ability to grab lint and other fuzz like a lint brush (especially from my kids’ blankets and fleece coats), causing the seats to look very “pilled” in the week I spent with the car, though the lint does come off easily when vacuumed or brushed.
Though the seats are grippy enough to hold you in place during spirited driving, the suspension and tires don’t encourage it. With plenty of suspension travel, the Legacy’s body rolls fairly substantially in corners, and uneven pavement can cause a very unsettled ride (though on smoother pavement the well-damped suspension does a great job). Too, the 205/60R16 tires have a relatively tall sidewall, providing isolation from both road imperfections and road feel, lending to the pervasive understeer the Legacy exhibited as it approached its handling limits.
The 2.5 liter four-cylinder’s 170 HP are perfectly adequate for everyday driving, and the six-speed manual transmission helps to make the most of the power it is given. That being said, the Legacy isn’t going to win any drag races, as the powerband drops off quickly at higher revs. The engine management system holds revs momentarily when the clutch is pressed and gas is released, which initially makes you think the throttle is sticking (though it is actually a feature of the engine software to reduce emissions and increase efficiency). The transmission was fairly notchy going into gears, and I had a bit of difficulty engaging gears on my preproduction test car before the car warmed up on frosty mornings. Clutch actuation was not particularly smooth; I was still lurching away from stops after a week in the car. I found myself really rowing the gearbox to keep up in mixed traffic conditions, which led to plenty of lurching. The Legacy can use its electric parking brake as a hill-holder; I found it to work very well on the steep grades downtown Seattle.
The base Legacy’s 16” wheels with tall sidewalls eschew the current trend of fitting large wheels with low profile tires at each corner, which lends the otherwise-sporty looking body a somewhat wimpy look, as the wheels don’t visually fill the wheelarches. The car also features blacked-out openings in the front fascia where fog lights are located on more expensive models, and a noticeably-blocked opening in the rear bumper fascia where a second tailpipe would exit on sportier models with dual exhaust. The Legacy also has fairly aggressive rocker panel/sill extensions, which are exposed to the elements and are prone to dirtying pant legs when getting in and out of the car in the wintertime- the sills extend far enough that I nearly tripped twice when I was getting out of the car early in my weeklong test.
The Legacy’s trunk is plenty deep though not particularly tall; the opening is large enough to make the most of the trunk’s size. The back seats fold forward to extend cargo length. Unfortunately the trunklid on its space-saver hinges opens barely 90 degrees, meaning that the part of the trunk where the license plate mounts protrudes toward the back of the car; when leaning down to empty the trunk I hit my head on that part more than once (I’m a slow learner). A hinge design that opens farther would put this part farther from potential head impacts by tall people trying to unload the trunk.
Fuel economy is impressive for an AWD sedan, with an EPA rating of 19/27 MPG with the 6-speed manual (and an even more impressive 23/31 MPG with the CVT). Over my week, which consisted of 225 miles mostly around town, I saw 23.4 MPG indicated on the Legacy’s fuel economy display, which holds its own against other family sedans which are not equipped with all-wheel drive.
With all of the fifth-generation Legacy’s improvements, I was surprised to find that the sounds of the four-cylinder boxer engine and manual transmission were remarkably unchanged from my brother’s first-generation Legacy in which I spent so much time; the slightly agricultural offbeat thrum of the horizontally opposed mill and its standard AWD system are very similar to the sounds of the original Legacy, and are evidently a part of the Subaru Legacy’s heritage.
A final note about the 2010 Legacy is that Subaru only sells the Legacy as a sedan in North America. Similar to Accord, Camry, or Malibu, Subaru has decided that wagon versions of their family sedans aren’t a big enough market to warrant selling them here. If you want a wagon you have to step up to the Subaru Outback, which is essentially a Legacy with a taller suspension and an SUV persona. We’ve recently tested a 2010 Outback as well, the review will be posted soon.
While the Legacy doesn’t sell in the large numbers that similarly-sized sedans from Toyota or Honda do, the car has a huge following in areas like the Northwest, Northeast, and Rocky Mountain regions of the USA. The improvements to the fifth-generation Legacy keep it competitive in its class, especially given the fuel economy and price of the version reviewed here. As the gold standard of all-wheel drive vehicles, the comfortable and capable new Legacy carries on the nameplate’s “legacy” to the sedan’s next generation.
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