2013 Subaru Legacy 3.6R Road Test Review

Simon Hill - CAP staff
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For buyers seeking a competent, comfortable and conservatively styled midsized family sedan, there's certainly no shortage of choice out there, with the Toyota Camry, Kia Optima, Nissan Altima, Chevrolet Malibu and Honda Accord all springing immediately to mind (although technically speaking the Accord qualifies as a full-size car these days). But if you add a simple (and for some folks essential) qualifier - all-wheel drive - the list instantly becomes really rather short. There's the Infiniti G25x, but with a base price of over $40,000 it's really in entry-level luxury territory rather than the family sedan segment, while all-wheel drive versions of the Acura TL and Lexus GS are even pricier. There's also the Ford Fusion in AWD trim, which is priced right but these days sports a not-so-conservative Aston Martin style grille (you'll either love it, or…). Which leaves only the Subaru Legacy.

"But wait," I can hear you saying, "Subarus are quirky, not conservative." Well, that was then, and this is now. For better or worse, while Subarus continue to be mechanically unique due to their horizontally-opposed engines and standard symmetrical all-wheel drive, their outward appearances and overall character have grown increasingly mainstream, perhaps none more so than the flagship Legacy sedan.

Three years after the fifth-generation Legacy was introduced for the 2010 model year, Subaru has updated the 2013 model with slightly tweaked front end styling, revised suspension tuning, a more powerful and efficient base engine, and available Eyesight driver assistance system in the top trim level.

The styling changes are subtle: the grille crossbar is straighter and perhaps beefier than before, and the lower valance is more sculpted, but that's about it. In overall profile the 2013 Legacy remains a nicely proportioned but somewhat generic-looking sedan, with fat fender bulges giving it a needed hint of purpose. What isn't immediately obvious in the styling is the apparent care Subaru's designers have taken to ensure good outward sightlines - the Legacy offers some of the best rearward visibility in its segment, which is an often under-appreciated benefit.

The 2013 Legacy is offered with a choice of two engines - a 2.5-litre horizontally opposed 4-cylinder that develops 173 horsepower and 174 lb-ft of torque (up 3 horsepower and 4 lb-ft from 2012) or, as in my test car, a 3.6-litre horizontally opposed 6-cylinder that churns out a respectable 256 horsepower and 247 lb-ft of torque. Transmission choices for the four-cylinder include either a 6-speed manual or an automatic CVT (continuously variable transmission), while the 6-cylinder car gets a conventional 5-speed automatic with paddle shifters for when you want manual control of the gears.

Interior space is everything one would expect of a midsize car, with supportive front seats and a roomy and comfortable back seat. Trunk space, at 416 litres, is about 20 litres shy of the Camry or Accord but still counts as generous by any standard. Certainly it easily swallowed all the sports gear and groceries my family threw at it over the course of a week.

Interior design and materials are likewise on par for the segment - the Legacy doesn't boast a stitched faux-leather dash like the Camry, and instead makes do with hard plastic surfacing, but it's well textured and looks good (and I've never actually seen anyone other than fellow auto journalists knocking on the dashboard anyhow). Wherever you are likely to actually touch the interior, such as on the door panel uppers and armrests, the Legacy uses soft-touch materials, while faux wood (in Touring and Limited models) and convincing brushed metal-look trim are used to good effect to provide visual interest. The overall impression is one of understated sophistication, save for a few odd details such as the sky-blue plastic inserts behind the radio controls, which contrast with the prominent (and very shiny) red hazard light switch.

Four-cylinder models are available in five different trim levels, while the 6-cylinder comes only in top "Limited" trim. This means that all 6-cylinder cars get leather upholstery, a voice-activated multimedia system with GPS navigation and rear-view camera, nine-speaker harman/kardon premium audio with satellite radio, woodgrain trim, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, power adjustable passenger's seat (the driver's seat is power adjustable in all but the base trim level), power moonroof, 17-inch alloy wheels and more.

On the road, the 6-cylinder engine in the 3.6R provides a refined character and brisk acceleration, hauling the 1,624-kg Legacy from 0 to 100 km/h in just over 7 seconds. City/highway fuel economy is rated at 11.8 / 8.2 L/100km, which is about the same as the AWD Ford Fusion.

The ride is solid and quiet, and the suspension is soft enough to soak up minor road imperfections without fuss while still being firm enough to offer reasonably athletic handling. The 6-cylinder version actually has an advantage in the handling department thanks to a more sophisticated all-wheel drive system with variable torque distribution (4-cylinder models use a simpler viscous-coupling centre differential). The VTD system gives the Legacy particularly sure-footed handling, effectively using the engine's power to help pull the car through the corners. For winter and wet-weather driving the advantages of this system are clear, which is one reason Subaru has long been a favourite brand amongst skiers and other winter sports enthusiasts.

The big new feature this year for the fifth-generation Legacy is the Eyesight driver assistance system, available as a $1,500 standalone option only on 6-cylinder models. My test car was equipped with this impressive piece of safety gear, which one would normally expect to find only in high-priced luxury cars. Subaru's Eyesight uses twin cameras mounted either side of the rearview mirror to provide a three-dimensional forward view to the system's computer, which in turn uses the information to provide a range of features including adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, pre-collision warning and braking, plus lead-vehicle start alert (the system chirps at you if traffic ahead moves off but you don't). I found that it worked fairly unobtrusively - it would occasionally beep at me during perfectly normal driving maneuvers, but not so often as to be a bother or a nuisance. The adaptive cruise control will likely be greatly appreciated by anyone who commutes in stop-and-go traffic, allowing you to set a following distance and maximum speed, and then relax, knowing that the Legacy will keep up with the traffic flow and safely brake to a halt if need be.

Suggested pricing for the all-wheel drive 2013 Legacy is competitive with the front-drive Toyota Camry and Honda Accord, starting at $25,190 including destination charges for the base 2.5i, and going up to $36,390 destination in for the 3.6R Limited. My test car, equipped with the Eyesight system, topped out the range at $37,890 delivered.

With the clear benefits of Subaru's legendary all-wheel drive system packaged in a civilized, comfortable and eminently practical family sedan, the Legacy is a tempting proposition for anyone who drives in Canadian winters.

©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Sedan, Subaru, 2013, Legacy, $20,000 - $29,999, $30,000 - $39,999, Midsize,

Organizations: Subaru

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