First Drive

2020 Subaru Legacy First Drive | Deserving of more attention

Subaru doesn't just sell crossovers. Its redesigned midsize sedan is quite good, too.

subaru-legacy first drive
subaru-legacy first drive
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Subaru's sedan isn't alone with all-wheel drive anymore, but it does impress with a much more premium interior and turbocharged engine option. The exterior styling is ho-hum, and the ride errs on the side of comfort over handling prowess.

  • Trim
  • Engine
    2.4L Turbocharged H-4
  • Power
    260 HP / 277 LB-FT
  • Transmission
  • 0-60 Time
    6.1 Seconds
  • Drivetrain
  • Engine Placement
  • Curb Weight
    3,779 LBS
  • Seating
  • Cargo
    15.1 Cu. Ft.
  • MPG
    24 City / 32 HWY
  • Base Price

OJAI, Calif. — No brand has benefited more from the crossover boom than Subaru. Subaru’s spectacular rise – from fewer than 100,000 sales in 1995, to a record pace of roughly 700,000 this year – was fueled largely by all-wheel-drive crossovers like the Outback and Forester, as the American market basically fell into Subaru’s lap. But unlike some competitors, Subaru is keeping full faith in sedans, as evidenced by the all-new 2020 Legacy. Its impressive redesign underlines the advantages of the humble family sedan, from a more-affordable price to superior fuel economy.

In true Subaru fashion, or perhaps anti-fashion, the Legacy’s self-effacing styling  that's hard to distinguish from its predecessor won’t blow anyone away. But look past the workaday sheetmetal, and you’ll find a decisively improved sedan. It’s roomier than any class rival save the Accord, notably quiet and lavishly appointed, too. Consider the standard Eyesight suite of accident avoidance tech and a driver-monitoring system that’s still AWOL on most luxury cars, including Teslas.

And the 2020 Legacy is a solid value, at $23,645 to start. That undercuts the most-affordable Accord by nearly $1,000, and the Camry by $1,120 – and that’s despite the Legacy’s standard, full-time all-wheel drive, which has few peers in this segment. The 2020 Nissan Altima S AWD starts well north of the base Legacy, at $26,345, and although it’s slightly more powerful than the Subaru, it's not enough to justify the premium. So if you buy a Legacy, it’s like getting AWD for free, if you’d care to look at it that way. (Subaru certainly would).

2020 Subaru Legacy
2020 Subaru Legacy
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The Legacy’s exterior may have people stifling yawns, but the interior will have them catching their breath. Subaru’s new 11.6-inch, tablet-style multimedia touchscreen is a revelation for a brand that’s been notorious for antiquated infotainment. The vertically-oriented infotainment system from automotive supplier Dens) instantly becomes the one to beat among mainstream sedans, featuring a powerful and fast dedicated processor, sharply rendered and ultra-legible navigation mapping, and beautifully intuitive operation for media and apps.  The clean digital presentation still leaves room for key analog controls, including an audio volume knob and climate control temperature buttons — welcome news for those who wear gloves in winter weather. 

Natural-speech voice controls are improved, and Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and satellite radio are standard on all trim levels. WiFi is also aboard. Available apps, through the cloud-based Starlink telematics system, include some naturals for this outdoorsy brand: eBird is a clever, crowd-sourced bird watching app, developed in partnership with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, while Chimani's National Parks app offers detailed information on all 59 national parks, including more than 400 points-of-interest. Uplevel models add a 12-speaker, Harman Kardon audio system with Clari-Fi technology to boost sound from compressed files. A pair of 7-inch screens are stacked atop each other, Infiniti-style, in base versions but all others get the Tesla-like screen.

That striking display unit takes center stage in a Legacy cabin that shows new attention to detail and fit-and-finish, including a leatherette-wrapped dash and door panels in pricier versions. The Touring model’s full-grain Nappa leather is a Subaru first, in a shade called Sienna Tan. Smartly bolstered front seats include a manual thigh extender. Even the base model gets dark metal paddle shifters for the standard continuously variable transmission, which mimic the eight stepped gears of a conventional automatic as well as or better than any CVT I’ve driven.   

Subaru has expanded the Legacy’s storage options, though its cubby-and-console versatility still trails leaders like the Accord. That’s due in part to the Subaru’s traditional console shift lever, which hogs more space than newfangled electronic shifters. The upside is that you don’t have to fiddle with a newfangled electronic shifter like the clumsy button-and-toggle arrangement in certain Accords.

Complaints over cabin real estate end there: Where the Legacy is about 1.5 inches shorter than the Camry or Accord (though about 2 inches taller), its 105.5-cubic-foot passenger volume easily beats the Camry’s 100.4, and essentially matches the Honda’s class-topping 105.6 cubes. Hip and shoulder room feel especially generous, whether in front or in back, and those rear quarters seem born to swallow bulky baby seats.

The Subaru’s 15.1-cubic-foot trunk may sound average in midsize sedan terms – the Accord’s measures 16.7 cubes – but that number is deceptive. The Subaru’s trunk opening is decisively larger than the Accord’s, and quite possibly the largest in its competitive set. Between its low liftover and tall, yawning cavity, we watched the Legacy swallow four full-size rollerbags, versus three for the departing version. Fold the split rear seats, and the Legacy is ready for a serious IKEA run.  

Sedan shoppers should be equally impressed with the Legacy’s comprehensive safety tech, including the Eyesight system’s automated emergency braking, lane centering, pedestrian detection and adaptive cruise control. Subaru proudly notes that the camera-based Eyesight, as deployed on the Outback, reduced rear-end collisions by 85%, with a 35-percent reduction in pedestrian injury claims.

As noted, the Legacy is the most affordable vehicle on the market, of any type, to offer an available driver inattention warning. An infrared camera and facial recognition software monitor eye openings and head position, with audible and visual warnings to ensure the driver is keeping eyes on the road. Subaru says the system’s camera works through most sunglasses, including polarized lenses. The latest Legacy also adds a standard driver’s knee air bag (for a total of eight), larger and faster airbags all around, and seatbelt pretensioners for front and rear rows. Available safety features extend to steering-responsive LED headlamps, blind-spot and rear cross-traffic warning, and reverse automatic emergency braking.


The Legacy’s new Subaru Global Platform, shared with the 2020 Outback, is a solid foundation for this whisper-quiet sedan. Additional high-strength steel and structural adhesives help torsional rigidity jump by 70%, with a 40% gain in crash-impact absorption. The Legacy’s chassis seemed to back that claim, delivering a reassuring sense of solidity over every surface, including Highway 33 that wends its lonely way through the Los Padres National Forest. Between its structure, automated braking and pedestrian-avoidance features, Subaru expects the Legacy to earn the highest Top Safety Pick + rating from the Insurance Institute for HIghway Safety. It also expects the Legacy to pass the more-stringent crash tests of the future, including the oblique overlap test that’s been created by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

This seventh-generation Legacy marks the return of turbocharging to the lineup, with reborn XT models boasting a 260-hp 2.4-liter boxer engine. That turbo-four ably replaces the previous 3.6-liter flat-6, including zippier acceleration (Subaru figures a swift 6.1 seconds from 0-60 mph) and a solid jump in fuel economy, to 24 mpg city and 32 mpg highway. Our drive stop at the cool Turtle Conservancy might have seemed bad karma, but the Legacy didn’t feel remotely tortoise-like with its base engine: a 2.5-liter naturally aspirated boxer-four, first seen on the 2019 Forester, which delivers 182 horsepower and 176 pound-feet of torque. It's good for an 8.4-second sprint to 60 mph. Active grille shutters help lift its fuel economy to 27 mpg city and 35 mpg highway. That’s midpack among midsize sedans, but don’t forget the standard all-wheel drive, a feature that inevitably trades some fuel efficiency for all-weather traction.

On the road, the Legacy’s operative attitude is one of comfort and luxury-level quiet, including a nearly 3-decibel reduction in highway noise. That’s aided by reshaped side mirrors, an acoustic windshield and acoustic side front glass on uplevel models.

The Legacy’s standard adaptive cruise control also performs well, including a lane-centering function that maintained a path on California freeways with very little ping-ponging between markers. Subaru’s system now works at speeds up to 90 mph, and will operate in stop-and-go situations at up to 37 mph.

Between its heavily boosted steering and cushy suspension – and despite the addition of brake-based torque vectoring at the rear – this is more of a coast cruiser, not a canyon carver like the Mazda6 or the ever-nimble Honda Accord. An all-new suspension features MacPherson struts up front, a double wishbone layout at the rear, and hollow stabilizer bars. Yet a simple tire switch would surely do wonders for the Legacy’s grip and performance. The Subie rides on Yokohama Avid tires, on either 17- or 18-inch alloy wheels, that are impeccably quiet and long-lasting, but surrender and squeal a bit too soon when pushed. When asked about the tires, Subaru’s American executives winced and noted that they’ve begged their Japanese counterparts for an optional, more-aggressive tire, to no avail. Still, driven hard through the steep, pockmarked canyons of Los Padres National Forest, the Legacy reached cornering speeds that eventual buyers are likely to attempt.

Starting below $24,000, the Legacy ascends through six trim levels, topping out with the turbocharged XT Touring at $36,795. The lineup’s sweet spot may be the Legacy Limited, at $30,645.

Even in the salad days of sedans, the Legacy was a below-the-radar player. Today, Subaru sells more than four Outbacks for every Legacy, with the latter finding only 40,000 takers last year. Between its comfort, features, leading-edge safety and one-of-a-kind standard AWD, this 2020 Legacy deserves more love from whatever sedan fans are left.

Subaru Legacy Information

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