Warren Clarke, Automotive Content Editor
In the grand tradition of one-hit wonders like Right Said Fred and A Flock of Seagulls, the Subaru Legacy was, for years, memorable for just one thing: its standard all-wheel drive. This made the family sedan a smash hit in regions with lots of white stuff on the ground, but a rare bird everywhere else. The 2010 Subaru Legacy gets a makeover that should go a long way toward broadening its appeal.
Longer and wider than its predecessor, the new Legacy is also bigger where it matters most. Passenger volume rises to 103 cubic feet from 2009's 93.5 cubic feet, and there's an additional 3.3 cubic feet of trunk space. Changes also take place under the hood -- the 2.5i benefits from new manual and continuously variable transmissions (CVTs), while 3.6R and 2.5GT models get more powerful engines. Pricing has been slashed (2.5i models are almost $1,000 cheaper than they were last year, with even bigger savings for higher trim levels), and the Legacy has been cloaked in assertive new sheet metal that is, if nothing else, distinctive.
Competition in the family-sedan segment is hot enough to make a ring of fire feel like an ice floe, and there are many worthy picks to consider. The Mazda 6 and Ford Fusion are better choices for those seeking the sportiest alternatives in this segment, and the Honda Accord offers a slightly wider backseat and redoubtable resale value. However, with roominess, nimble handling and a more accessible price, the Legacy now has the repertoire to sing with the big boys. This 2010 Subaru Legacy should strike a chord with shoppers interested in all-around value and competence.
Like all Subarus, the Legacy is motivated by a "boxer" engine -- a horizontally opposed four-cylinder, in the case of the 2.5i. This power plant gins up 170 horsepower and 170 pound-feet of torque, and in our test car, the engine tangoed with a smooth CVT. While its power output was far from prodigious, the 2.5i had enough usable grunt down low to allow us to comfortably thread openings in the rush-hour slog and confidently merge with fast-moving freeway traffic. Still, uphill gradients were taxing, and elicited a reedy whine from the mill.
Perhaps the most sterling attribute of this Subie's flat-4 is its fuel economy. At 23 mpg city/31 mpg highway and 26 mpg combined, it's one of the more frugal choices in the segment -- more economical than the Accord and the Mazda 6.
Track testing found the 2010 Subaru Legacy clocking 9.4 seconds in the 0-60-mph dash -- a decent showing for a four-cylinder in this segment. Its stopping power was just as solid as its acceleration. The Legacy came to a standstill from 60 mph in 121 feet -- bettering rivals like the aforementioned Mazda 6 (126 feet) and class-lagging Accord (137 feet).
Steering feel is enjoyably direct, and handling is surprisingly nimble -- the Subaru feels a lot smaller on the road than similarly sized sedans like the Honda Accord. Both these traits come together to make the Legacy one of the more fun-to-drive choices in the family-car segment.
"Pleasantly firm" are the words that best describe the Legacy's suspension tuning. The feel of the road is acknowledged and embraced, but not to the point of introducing undue vibration or noise into the cabin. The driver seat is just as accommodating. The Legacy has one of the most height-adjustable driver seats that our editors have ever encountered, with a range of adjustment that's almost comically vast -- the seat goes from being as low as that in a sports car to as high as that in an SUV.
This, plus the tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, makes it easy for even the most finicky driver to find an amenable seating position. The seats themselves are more adequate than exceptional -- they're a bit on the soft side, and could use more thigh support. Front headroom and legroom are among the best in this segment, and large door openings -- wider for 2010 -- make ingress and egress a no-hassle affair.
Those who have driven previous-generation models of the Legacy will recall that the car's frameless windows tended to rattle. For 2010, these have been replaced with framed windows that do a better job of preserving cabin tranquility. There's little road noise to speak of, though, as already mentioned, there is some engine noise to contend with when the mill is pushed.
As far as its control layout goes, the 2010 Subaru Legacy 2.5i Premium is a study in economy. The stereo interface features just two knobs (one for volume and the other for tuning) and a handful of logically placed buttons that allow you to do things like access preset stations and toggle among AM, FM and satellite radio. The climate controls are similarly efficient. There are two knobs governing temperature and fan intensity, along with individual buttons to select airflow mode. Unlike single-button mode setups, these buttons allow you to directly access the mode you want without cycling through the ones you don't.
Speaking of ease of operation, the car's optional sunroof is a cinch to manage, with one-touch open and close. The sunroof overlooks a generous greenhouse that bucks the prevailing high-beltline trend and thus is a boon to visibility.
The Legacy's backseat is one of the most spacious in the segment, with more legroom than the Honda Accord's. There's enough hiproom and headroom to easily seat three adults, and a center armrest -- padded, with two cupholders -- makes travels more agreeable when just two are riding in back. A rear-facing child seat may be placed behind the seat of even taller drivers, with room to spare.
With 14.7 cubic feet of luggage capacity, the Legacy's trunk is about midpack for this segment -- bigger than the Accord's, but smaller than the Mazda 6's. However, there's lots of usable space back there, thanks to minimal wheelwell intrusion. The trunk is also quite wide -- wide enough to allow drivers to simultaneously tote golf clubs and a suitcase. The rear seats may be folded (60/40 split) to increase cargo capacity and accommodate outsize items.
Design/Fit and Finish
From the back, the 2010 Subaru Legacy looks like any other sedan in this segment, but when viewed in profile or from the front, it makes more of a statement. The front fascia with its oversized grille is a bit too in-your-face for some editors' tastes, as are the car's overstated fenders. But others applaud the Legacy's sheet metal for being a distinctive voice in a mostly bland chorus of family sedans.
Materials quality is just so-so. The fabric that shrouded the seats in our test car looked dingy and easily attracted dirt, and some of the cabin's metallic accents seemed cheap and flimsy. The feel of the car's switchgear was also subpar. Certain rivals -- like the Suzuki Kizashi -- feature buttons, knobs and stalks with a more expensive, well-damped action.
Who should consider this vehicle
Families will be well served by the Legacy's roomy dimensions, and its standard all-wheel drive makes it a no-brainer for drivers living in snowy states. With its unique sheet metal and attractive price, this 2010 Subaru Legacy is a great choice for value-minded buyers in search of a midsize sedan that marches to the beat of its own drummer.
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