First Drive

FIRST DRIVE: 2015 Subaru Legacy

All-new Legacy proves worthy of mid-size sedan shoppers’ attention

2015 Subaru Legacy - front 3/4 view motion

LAFAYETTE, IN – Subaru has been building its mid-size Legacy sedan for 25 years, but who knew? Not many, according to responses the Japanese brand learned from focus groups as it prepared its sixth-generation intermediate sedan for the marketplace.

2015 Subaru Legacy - rear badging.JPGFurthermore, few folks in those groups were aware that the Legacy is built right here in the good ol’ USA.

Subaru of Indiana America (SIA) is a sprawling 2.97-million-square-foot production facility on the outskirts of this Midwest university (Purdue) city that employs more than 3,800 persons. Subaru says it’s also the "greenest" auto plant in the U.S., with re-use and recycle initiatives in place that enable it to send zero waste to landfill.

Ironically, this plant, which is currently undergoing a $422-million (US) expansion, not only builds Legacys and the Outback crossover, it also assembles one of the Legacy’s prime competitors – the Toyota Camry – although that arrangement will wind down in 2016 when Impreza sedan production will be added.

Increased Awareness

While there are nameplates in the Subaru lineup that are well recognized, even iconic in some cases – the WRX and STi sports sedans, the Outback, the Forester SUV, the Impreza – the Legacy needs to boost intermediate segment shoppers’ awareness if it hopes to increase market share.

2015 Subaru Legacy - rear 3/4 view.JPGCurrently, it’s a bit player competing with such heavyweights as the Camry, Honda Accord, Ford Fusion and Chevy Malibu, but that status leaves the door open for growth – and Subaru is confident the 2015 Legacy has the goods to win new customers to the brand.

The optimism is based on a totally new generation that’s larger, more fuel efficient, more spacious inside and has greater cargo capacity.

Furthermore, the Legacy has ditched the bland styling of previous generations for a sharper exterior design and a fresh look inside, while adding the latest in connectivity and infotainment features, all starting with a base price of $23,495.

Familiar features

Some things remain unchanged, features that have endeared the brand to its customers and helped build a loyalty that rivals the best in the business. For example, Subaru’s benchmark symmetrical all-wheel-drive system is still standard across the Legacy lineup.

The engines are the familiar horizontally-opposed boxer style (as in the Porsche 911), with just two variants: a 2.5-litre four-cylinder and a 3.6-litre flat six. Both engines have been enhanced for 2015 to reduce weight, improve efficiency and reduce engine noise.

2015 Subaru Legacy - 2.5-L four-cylinder engine.JPGThe effectiveness of those changes is reflected in at least a 10% increase in fuel efficiency across the board, while acceleration times have also improved: the four-cylinder can now launch to 100 km/h in 8.8 seconds, compared to 9.1 for the current model, while the 3.6L six takes 6.9 seconds, compared to 7.2 for the 2014 version.

The four-cylinder’s output has increased slightly to 175 horsepower and although the peak torque remains at 174 lb-ft , it’s spread over a broader range of revs resulting in more responsive performance. The four can be matched to a six-speed manual – available only in Canada – or a Lineartronic CVT.

2015 Subaru Legacy - 3.6-L six-cylinder engine.JPGThe 3.6L six generates 256 horsepower and 247 lb-ft of torque and it is paired with a new high-torque version of the Lineartronic CVT, replacing the five-speed automatic on the current generation model. This transmission also features paddle shifters and they operate in a pure manual mode – no automatic override.

During several hours of driving on Interstate highways and secondary roads through beautiful farmland around Lafayette, I found the smoothness and refinement of the 3.6L to be my engine of choice.

It was quite responsive and the reduction in noise level, compared to previous Subaru engines, was significant. The CVT performed so well, especially when one used the paddles to control downshifts and upshifts, that I forgot this wasn’t a conventional automatic transmission.

If, however, fuel economy is your priority, you’ll find the 2.5-litre four to deliver more than adequate performance. It, too, responds well to throttle input, and its noise level has also been reduced, but it just seemed to lack the smooth, refined feel of the larger engine.

Updated styling

First impressions are critical in this segment and Subaru has stepped up its game for 2015, giving the exterior styling a much-needed new look.

The A-pillar has been moved forward and the new acoustic glass windshield has been raked back to provide not only a sportier wedge-shaped profile but also improved aerodynamics and visibility.

In fact, the aerodynamic upgrades have improved the Legacy’s coefficient of drag (Cd) by 8% to 0.29 – the same as for Subaru's BRZ sports car.

2015 Subaru Legacy - front view.JPGThe body-coloured side mirrors have been mounted on the body to also improve visibility. Further back in the side profile, the C-pillar has been lowered, giving the roofline more of a fastback coupe look, while still retaining decent rear headroom.

The front fascia now has a strong, clean appearance, somewhat akin to the nose of the WRX. The grille has been given a makeover, creating a bolder flavor, while the new headlamp assembly includes a C-shaped LED side marker light that is intended to become a Subaru styling cue for the brand.

The overall impression of the new front end is that it’s certainly an improvement on the previous generation, but I think the designers could still go further in making the look more distinctive to the brand.

2015 Subaru Legacy - front wheel detail.JPGWraparound LED rear lights, which mimic the C-shaped front lamps, highlight changes to the restyled rear end. The higher deck lid with built-in ducktail spoiler results in a clean, tidy look. Sporty twin, chrome-tipped exhaust outlets peek out under the rear fascia on 3.6L models.

A strong character line runs from the front wheel well to the rear, tying the design together nicely. The standard wheel is a 17-inch alloy rim, while an upgrade to an 18-inch multi-spoke wheels is included with the Limited trim.

Impressive interior

Changes to the interior are impressive, with soft-touch materials and clean styling throughout. There’s a new steering wheel and switch gear, the standard heated seats have been made larger for more comfort and support, and 10-way power adjustment is standard on the driver’s seat across the lineup.

2015 Subaru Legacy - front seats.JPGLimited models also get heated rear seats and a rear air conditioning vent. A larger sunroof (opening increased by 35 millimetres) is standard.

Improved connectivity includes voice-activated climate control (on Limited models) and voice-activated Bluetooth plus an array of audio features that buyers in the segment have come to expect. They include a media hub with USB and auxiliary inputs, Aha, SiriusXM satellite service and STARLINK Cloud connectivity.

The new base-level six-speaker audio system is activated using a 6.2-inch WVGA touch screen, while the Limited gets a premium Harmon Kardon system that includes a 7-inch, high-resolution WVGA electrostatic touch screen that recognizes multiple gestures, such as pinch, swipe and scroll.

Sound is pumped through 12 speakers by a 576-watt amplifier. A navigation system with SiriusXM traffic updates is included.

Safety features abound

Subaru has a reputation for building, solid, safe products – the Legacy has been an IIHS top safety pick for nine consecutive years – and this iteration continues that legacy.

An ultra-wide-angle rearview camera and automatic headlamps are standard on all models while the Touring and Limited trim levels include a blind-spot detection system. Auto-dimming side mirrors and interior rearview mirror are also standard, as are side mirror signal lights.

A new addition to the suite of eight airbags is a bag built into the front seat cushions, which inflates to help minimize submarining in a frontal impact.

Subaru Eyesight - Second Generation.jpgThe availability of Subaru’s EyeSight driver assistance system has been expanded to include 2.5-litre Touring and Limited models, as well as the 3.6-litre Limited. This third-generation system, using new stereo colour camera technology, integrates adaptive cruise control, pre-collision braking and lane departure warning systems.

The maximum speed for collision mitigation has been increased from 30 km/h to 50 and the response time has been reduced. The system, which has 40% greater range and viewing angle, can now detect pedestrians and recognize brake lights on the vehicle ahead.

In a demonstration of the collision avoidance system at SIA’s testing facility, the system was flawless, bringing the car from 50 km/h to a stop just short of the obstacle ahead.

Behind the wheel

While the new features and styling of this Legacy are impressive, the biggest impact comes when one takes the car on the road. Initially, the quietness is impressive – there’s minimal road, wind or engine noise intruding into the cabin. The ride, too, is superb, soaking up road imperfections with ease, yet still capable of hunkering down in tight curves, while the electric power-assisted steering system had decent feedback.

2015 Subaru Legacy - steering wheel and instrument panel.JPGIn addition to checking out the EyeSight system at SIA’s testing site, I also had an opportunity to thrash the Legacy on a slalom course, a variety of road surface variants and the long, high-speed oval circuit. Through it all, the car remained well planted.

Only when pushed near its limit did it demonstrate a slight tendency to feel a bit light in the rear end as I turned into the corner, but the issue quickly resolved itself when power was applied and the all-wheel-drive pulled the car ahead. Overall, its road manners were excellent, striking a fine balance between ride comfort and sporty handling.

Subaru has developed this new Legacy to draw mid-size buyers away from the traditional segment leaders – and I wouldn’t bet against it succeeding in that goal.

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