The 2015 Subaru Legacy isn’t a make or break vehicle for the surging Japanese automaker – it’s something much more important than that. Happy with its success in the SUV segment, but looking to make its mark with this new version of its flagship mid-size sedan, Subaru is facing the first real test of the momentum that has been building in its favor over the past five years. Specifically, how will the American public respond not to a vehicle with a built-in audience like the Forester SUV, but rather to an overhauled Subaru Legacy that has never been more than a sales footnote when compared to dominant forces like the Toyota Camry and the Honda Accord?
The answer to this question awaited me in Big Sur, California, where the twists and turns of Highway 1 allowed me to put the 2015 Subaru Legacy through its paces in an environment where its winter-friendly all-wheel drive capability did it no special favors. After sufficient time spent behind the wheel of Subaru’s latest sedan effort, I can confidently state that should Toyota and Honda choose to ignore the new Legacy, it would be at their own peril.
Armed To Disarm
Going into battle against mid-size sedans like the Ford Fusion, the Nissan Altima, and the previously-mentioned Accord and Camry entries means walking one of two different design paths. To wit: both Nissan and Toyota have elected to not risk the delicate sensibilities of family shoppers, presenting a conservative visual package that stands in stark contrast to the engaging curves and extroverted fascias of the Fusion and the Mazda Mazda6.
The 2015 Subaru Legacy splits each approach right down the middle, featuring sheet metal that is bolder than that offered by the previous generation model while erasing some of the older sedan’s awkwardness by way of a cleaner overall presentation. The new Legacy isn’t distinctive, but it’s certainly far less anonymous than several of its key competitors. Much of the credit for the car’s new-found personality can be attributed to its striking headlight shape, confident grille, and rising style line that that starts just behind the front fender and terminates at the vehicle’s tail light.
With its first impression taken care of, the designers of the 2015 Subaru Legacy next had to tackle the sedan’s most-cited bugaboo: a functional, yet uninspired interior. I’m happy to report that things are back on track for the 2015 Legacy, as the passenger compartment feels cohesive and practical without resorting to the utilitarian hard plastics and drab staging that were characteristics of the 2014 edition. Considerable improvements have been made in highlighting the Subaru’s cabin with higher-quality trim, including piano black and wood grain appointments that are a good fit for the car.
While I liked the cloth seats offered on the entry-level Legacy just fine, I have to admit that the optional leather upholstery – which can be found both on the seats and interior panels – is a serious step up for Subaru. Incidentally, both front and rear positions can be heated (a boon to anyone not driving the car in sunny California), and there’s more passenger room inside what Subaru claims is the largest cabin in the mid-size class. It’s a quieter environment, too, thanks to a renewed focus on sound dampening and aerodynamics.
Also checking in with its major league debut is the 2015 Subaru Legacy’s new infotainment system. Featuring a seven-inch touchscreen for cars that have been ordered with navigation (and a 6.2-inch screen for those without that I did not have the chance to sample), the new unit looks sharp against its black frame, which also houses several shortcut buttons for often-used features. The logic of the Subaru system is less convoluted than in the past, and it’s a revelation to not have to deal with the single-line LCD readouts that can currently be found in less expensive automobiles from the brand. As an added bonus, sound quality is up from the Legacy’s available Harman/Kardon surround sound speakers.
Same Engines, New Tuning And Transmission
The 2015 Subaru Legacy’s drivetrain is a familiar one, consisting of a standard all-wheel drive system fed by either a 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine (2.5i, 2.5i Premium, and 2.5i Limited trims) or a 3.6-liter six-cylinder motor (3.6R Limited trim). Each of these power plants adopts a horizontally-opposed ‘boxer’ design which helps keep the car’s center of gravity as low as possible.
The 2.5-liter’s output has been coaxed from 173 horses last year to 175 for 2015, with torque holding steady at 174 lb-ft. The 3.6-liter unit generates an unchanged 256 horsepower and 247 lb-ft of torque. New for the current model year is the imposition of a continuously-variable automatic transmission on all versions of the Subaru Legacy, which means both the manual and traditional automatic gearboxes that used to be available with the car are ancient history. The upshot is improved efficiency regardless of engine size, with the 2.5-liter rated at 26-mpg city and 36-mpg highway and the 3.6R Limited turning in 20-mpg around town and 27-mpg during highway cruising. It should be noted that the four-cylinder Legacy benefits from the installation of active aero grille shutters that open and close so as to reduce the sedan’s drag.
Putting It All Together
It was with some trepidation that I set out for the morning behind the wheel of the 2015 Subaru Legacy 3.6R Limited, as I was concerned at how the car’s new CVT gearbox would handle the constant elevation changes that define the coastal sections of Highway 1 south of Monterey. My trepidation turned out to be completely unwarranted. The continuously-variable unit proved adept at mimicking the stepped response of a torque converter-equipped car when required while doling out pegged-RPM acceleration on straighter stretches of road that allowed the six-cylinder Legacy to stretch its legs.
My afternoon was spent flogging the 2.5-liter edition of the sedan, and I do mean flogging – a late return from an afternoon spent filming and taking photographs in the scenic vicinity of the Hearst Castle had me seriously behind schedule. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the reconfigured CVT that is now standard with the Legacy was equally harmonious with the admittedly heavy car’s entry-level motor. In contrast to more staid CVT performance in Subaru models like the Impreza (which features a very similar drivetrain), the four-cylinder was quite willing to give me its all when called upon by my right foot. Of the two, there’s no question that the 3.6-liter six-cylinder Legacy offers more immediate performance, but the 2.5-liter is quite acceptable in daily driving. There’s a definite mileage penalty to pay for the six’s additional oomph, too, which will be a deciding factor for a sizable percentage of buyers.
The 2015 Subaru Legacy makes no sporting pretensions with regard to its chassis tuning, but thanks to an infusion of high strength steel and an active torque vectoring system that improves corner turn-in, the Legacy felt respectably sure of itself on more challenging segments of road. A new dual-valve shock absorber design is available with the 3.6R Limited trim, but unexpectedly I found the four-cylinder car to be more easily hustled at supra-legal speeds. Perhaps this was due to the fact that I had had more seat time in the Legacy prior to being handed the keys to the afternoon’s 2.5-liter model, or maybe it was simply because the potential consequences of my late arrival to the hotel – missing dinner – focused my mind and sharpened my driving skills.
Safety First, and Second, for Subaru
That same high strength steel that guards against chassis flex also goes a long way towards reinforcing the car’s front bumper and its A and B pillars to help keep occupants of the 2015 Subaru Legacy that much safer in a collision. Two other pieces of technology are additionally on-hand to protect Legacy riders: a revised version of Subaru’s Eyesight active safety system as well as a new front seat seat-cushion airbag designed to prevent riders from sliding out from under their seatbelts.
Eyesight is the name given to the pair of cameras mounted at the top of the 2015 Subaru Legacy’s windshield which monitor the road ahead as part of the sedan’s adaptive cruise control feature. Eyesight – which makes use of smaller cameras than were available for 2014, and which are now full-color in a better bid to identify flashing brake lights – also works together with a side-mounted radar-based blind spot monitoring system as well as a lane keeping assistance feature In addition, Subaru has installed a ‘Steering-Responsive Foglights’ system alongside Eyesight that illuminates one side of the road or the other when the wheel is turned. I have to wonder what oncoming traffic will think of the Legacy’s blinking fogs at night, but the rest of the Eyesight suite works quite well.
Elbowing Its Way Into The Conversation
The 2015 Subaru Legacy understands that being polite isn’t going to get it noticed by mid-size sedan shoppers, and as a result the more eye-catching car is proud to crow about its excellent safety record, standard all-wheel drive traction, and much-improved fuel mileage and passenger compartment. Dynamically, the Legacy is at least the peer of leading lights like the Camry and more engaging to drive than the Nissan Altima. Price-wise, four-cylinder models (starting at $21,695) hit a sweet spot where very few rivals offer any all-wheel drive option of their own. Finally, with fuel efficiency of 32-mpg combined, the 2.5-liter engine finds itself on a level playing field with the most frugal of its competitors.
The 2015 Subaru Legacy seems poised for the mainstream acceptance that has so far been out of reach for the small automaker. It’ll be a long road, as Toyota and Honda currently sell 17 times as many mid-size sedans as Subaru has been able to muster, but even snaring one of those 17 customers away from a potential Accord purchase would be a huge win for the brand – and the Legacy is a car that was designed with winning in mind.