2020 Subaru Legacy Review: Can AWD Still Set This Iconic Sedan Apart?

Benchmark AWD sedan brought up to date to face new competition

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Pros

Attractive looks and enveloping, well-trimmed cabin

Punchy turbo engine

Impressive steering and ride quality

Cons

Safety tech could use better calibration

No handle inside trunk-lid

Still not loving that CVT

The Subaru Legacy has long been an anomaly among mid-size sedans. Its signature Boxer engine and AWD system have set it apart from domestic and foreign rivals in North America. Its go-anywhere practicality has made it a popular choice in Canadian and US markets with harsh winters, and with the outdoor crowd.

For the 2020 model year the Legacy is new from the ground up, joining its stablemates on the Subaru Global Platform (SGP) and bringing the latest connectivity and driver assistance tech on board. The update comes not a moment too soon, with big-selling, mainstream rivals like the Toyota Camry and Nissan Altima testing the loyalty of Legacy buyers by introducing AWD options for the first time.

We tried a range-topping Legacy Premier GT to see how it measures up to the challenge.

Price: What Are The 2020 Legacy Trims And How Much For Each in the US and Canada?

In Canada there are four grades, running from the Convenience at C$26,395 via Touring and Limited to the Premier at C$36,295 (all prices MSRP). They all get the 2.5-litre Boxer four-cylinder (182hp) and a Lineartronic CVT transmission. The two highest grades are also available in GT form with a 260hp, turbocharged 2.4-litre engine and high-torque CVT. The Premier GT we drove has an MSRP of C$39,095.

The setup is similar in the US, but the model names are different. The regular Legacy starts at US$22,745, rising through the Premium and Sport to the Limited (US$29,745). There are also XT-badged Limited and Touring versions available with the turbo motor; the closest to our test car is the fully loaded Touring XT (US$35,895).

Exterior: Styling changes for 2020

Subaru hasn’t messed with the Legacy’s established look but to our eyes, the new model is a more attractive proposition than the outgoing car. It is a little more elegant but is still substantial, with real curbside presence. The designers were apparently aiming for, “a sleek silhouette that appears to be in motion, even when stopped”. 

There are wider fenders and a frameless hexagonal grille. The reworked side-mirror design is aimed at improving the appearance and lowering wind noise. On the Premier GT, the mirrors are finished in satin chrome. All GT/XT models get chrome-tipped exhausts.

The test car came finished in attractive Crystal White Pearl paint, one of six available shades in Canada. The Tungsten and Ice Silver metallic colours are not available in the US, but buyers there additionally have the option of Crimson Red Pearl.

Interior and equipment: Here’s what new inside the redesigned Legacy

The Outback and Legacy have always had much in common. Like the Legacy, its crossover wagon cousin is all-new for 2020 and we encourage you take a look at our 2020 Outback review of that model too, as most of the comments there also apply to the Legacy.

Specifying a Legacy is just as simple as it is for the Outback – no complicated packages or hidden charges to speak of, beyond regular dealer-fit accessories. Our top-of-the-line Premier GT test car had just about everything you could wish for in equipment terms. Winningly, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and lots of safety kit is standard across the range but the glitchy DriverFocus distraction mitigation system and front-view camera are Premier-only.

2020 subaru legacy interior
Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and lots of safety kit is standard across the range but the glitchy DriverFocus distraction mitigation system and front-view camera are on the top trim 2020 Legacy. Photo: Graham Heeps

We still like the brown Nappa leather-trimmed cabin and the well-padded centre console was appreciated by this long-legged driver. With the Legacy’s lower ride height, the cockpit somehow feels seems more enveloping and homely than in the jacked-up Outback, yet it still feels roomy – rear-seat legroom is very good, for example. 

The Legacy is therefore a comfortable place to spend a journey and has all the infotainment and connectivity options you’ll need. In the Premier GT’s case, that includes a 12-speaker Harman Kardon audio system. But our ergonomic reservations from the Outback remain, especially the two-step, screen-based front seat warmer activation, which quickly becomes tiresome in the dead of winter.

Cargo capacity

You can fit 428L (15.1 cu.ft) of cargo into the Legacy, without dropping the rear seats. We were happy with the access to the trunk and the space within but there’s no handle on the inside to help you close the lid after loading. It’s an unnecessary inconvenience – you get your hands dirty when you shut the lid, especially in winter – and is just about the only feature on the car that smacks of cost-cutting.

Engine and transmission: putting the turbo to the test

The turbo engine has plenty of punch. Peak torque is 277 lb-ft @ 2,000-4,800rpm – a full 100 lb-ft more than the non-turbo motor can manage. It contributes to making this Legacy the sportiest SGP-based Subaru we’ve yet driven – the step up from the normally aspirated 2.5 that we tried in the Outback is noticeable – and helps to offset the pain induced by the whining CVT. We remain unconvinced of the transmission’s merits and it has no place in a car badged ‘GT’.

The official combined fuel consumption is 8.7L/100km (32mpg), about 14% more than the non-turbo engine in the Outback we tried. However, our real-world figure of 10.9L/100km (21.6mpg) was actually slightly better than we managed in the crossover due to warmer weather in the test week.

On the road: How does Subaru’s next-generation AWD sedan handle?

It’s not just the flexible, torquey turbo engine (with its appealing exhaust note) that contributes to this Legacy’s winning driving experience. The steering is nicely weighted and accurate, with a much more connected feel than in the Outback. And despite the Premier GT’s standard 18in alloy wheels, the ride was surprisingly compliant, albeit on 225/50 Bridgestone Blizzak WS90 winter tires, not all-seasons.

The steering is nicely weighted and accurate, with a much more connected feel than in the Outback.

All of which makes the presence of the CVT more frustrating. Apologies for the repetition, but that transmission does not belong in this car. Aside from its unappealing whine, it does nothing to enhance to GT’s sporting pretensions by messing with your instinctive sense of which gear you should be in, when. Assuming that a vehicle in this class is unlikely to be fitted with a manual, a well sorted automatic would be a great addition, in our opinion.

Takeaway: our final thoughts on the 2020 Legacy Touring XT / Premier GT range-topping model

The Subaru Legacy is excellent at being a car. The Legacy Premier GT is roomy, comprehensively equipped and drives very well. Its major faults are few and you know that the Legacy will take care of you in winter (on the correct tires) or during off-road driving. If aspects of the driver assistance systems become too annoying, they can be switched off, which just leaves the CVT as the only real blemish. 

Subaru’s marketing calls the Legacy ‘The SUV of sedans’ but it should be celebrating its very car-ness. The Legacy is not an SUV and the fact that Toyota and Nissan have joined Subaru in producing AWD cars with a trunk suggests that there continues to be a market for practical sedans, which almost always weigh less, drive better and use less fuel than their SUV siblings. Long may there continue to be one. Learn more and check latest pricing here:

Graham Heeps
Based in Calgary, AB, Graham’s outlets include Autocar, Professional Motorsport World, Turnology.com and Electric & Hybrid Vehicle Technology. A lifelong motorsports fan, he’s a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC), the Guild of Motoring Writers and the Motor Press Guild, speaks German and collects Matchbox cars (at the same time).

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