2010 Subaru Legacy: First Drive

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I just spent all week driving Subaru’s redesigned 2010 Legacy around the Seattle area, a region whose consummate splendor in July and August very nearly makes the remaining 10 months of overcast yuck seem tolerable. (I know; I grew up here. Nirvana never gets old.)

Unlike summertime ‘round these parts, the new Legacy is nothing to write home about. Apart from having all-wheel drive and, considering that, pretty decent gas mileage, it doesn’t offer any compelling reason to look past the litany of Camrys, Accords, Fusions, Altimas and Malibus vying for that spot in your driveway. It’s also a value choice, starting under $20,000 with that all-wheel drive.

No doubt Subaru will position its contender as a unique choice; press materials already claim the car’s styling “stands apart with a bold, high-tech look.”

Alas, unique doesn’t always mean better.

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Let’s start with that, um, styling. Fellow editors found the Legacy’s styling better suited to its Outback sibling when Subaru introduced the pair at the New York auto show last spring. Having driven it all week, my opinion follows suit. The old Legacy was lean and agile, a sporting alternative to the portlier family cars of its day. The new Legacy seems purposefully heftier, like it tried to join that crowd by way of cladding everything outward. It’s a distracting appearance. I see bits of Infiniti G37 and Saab 9-5, a profile too long in its overhangs, and a lot of general chaos around the front bumper.

Legacy3

Things get better inside, but not much. The dash and doors on my 2.5i Limited tester had respectable graining and a low-gloss finish, but the dash panels weren’t padded — something the panels in nearly every competitor short of the rental-grade Dodge Avenger are. The center controls have a textured silver plastic, and it looks higher-end than the flatter grays in the Accord and Camry.

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Somewhere along the way, though, Subaru decided to cram all the A/C and stereo buttons into a smallish area above the gearshift. That’s where they usually go, but the space reserved seems needlessly constricted. The controls push and rotate with luxury-car damping, but their pinky-sized packaging comes off looking chintzy. Combine that with the Legacy’s trendy italicized gauges and over-lacquered faux wood trim, and the cabin just doesn’t evince luxury like an upscale family car should — or at least should do a good job faking. The Accord, despite its over-buttoned dash and too-stiff seats, does.

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Trade luxury for utility, as many Subaru fans do, and the Legacy fares a bit better. The backseat, improved by some 4 inches’ legroom for 2010, is as roomy as the Accord’s, save for a significant floor hump to accommodate the AWD driveshaft. There’s ample room in the glove compartment and center console, and all four doors have sizeable pockets — not something you often find, at least not in rear doors.

My tester’s four-cylinder engine, coupled with a continuously variable automatic transmission, was powerful enough around town. (There’s also a turbo four and a six-cylinder; I tested neither.) On the highway, the CVT could be a bit more responsive; getting around semis requires quick 65-to-75 mph spurts, and the transmission dallies in lower parts of the tach a bit too long for confident passing.

Ride quality is generally good — not Camry or Malibu good, but somewhere between those and the firmer Mazda6 and Altima. The steering feels natural and well-weighted, and wind noise is relatively low. In trips up and down Washington’s Interstate 5, however, road noise proved excessive, and at 70 mph or so the sedan became quite susceptible to crosswinds. I spent the better part of a stretch between Olympia, Wash., and Portland, Ore., futzing around with minor steering corrections to stay on course.

Stay tuned for a full review. For now, my lukewarm regard for the Legacy may not matter: In an auto industry slammed by recession, Subaru sales were up — up! — in June. In tough times, Subie knows what buyers want. The Legacy may ultimately prove to be one of the company’s weaker redesigns, but that may not stop the automaker’s fans from welcoming it all the same.

Comments 

Tony

"The backseat, improved by some 4 inches’ legroom for 2010, is as roomy as the Accord’s, save for a significant floor hump to accommodate the AWD driveshaft."

I believe, Accord has the hump anyway. Its the Camry that has no hump.

Original sheth

most FWD cars have a hump for exhaust pipe.

It's a shame that Subaru designers decided to copy the likes of half a dozen other cars on the market.

It's also a shame about the interior - it almost looks Lexus-like if you squint from a distance.

SouthTX

It looks like a Sebring IMHO... but it is good that almost nobody buys the sedan, everybody likes the wagon.

Paul in MN

"The dash and doors on my 2.5i Limited tester had respectable graining and a low-gloss finish, but the dash panels weren’t padded..."

Who cares? How often are you caressing you dash? I know it's nitpicking, but I'm sick about hearing about the quality/soft-touch plastics on the dash board. Door/arm rest and console would matter, especially on longer drives, but the dash?

It's too bad they made the thing so much heavier and messed up what was a descent ride, but the extra backseat room was necessary. The '08 was as bad as my Mazda3 on legroom.

Paul in MN

It's been said before, but it bears repeating. Toyota is likely going to ruin most of Subie's lineup. The controlling interest seems to be directing the Legacy to = Camry with AWD, the Forester is nearly a Rav4 without 3rd row and the new outback is growing into a Venza.

These aren't bad vehicles, it's just a shame that one of the more distinct (and better performing) line of cars is becoming just another Toyonda.

Paul,

I agree; and it's quite unfortunately that one of the more unique lower-cost brands (Subaru) is going the way of the green - money, that is. What's tricky to predict is whether or not their actions will gain them more market share, or whether it will alienate previous buyers while still not drawing in new ones.

Nick

I think you all should know toyota does not have a controlling interest in Subaru. They bought GM's old shares, 20% or so if I remember correctly. By the way, the "so much" heavier comment should come with an factual note: it's 65 pounds heavier. Not that much. Do I like it? No, but let's at least keep the comments factual.

Tony

I would never buy a Subaru in its old form. The back seat of all Subarus was the main problem. Looks like Subaru attempted to fix it. I would need to inspect myself if it is fixed or they said, they fixed it. There were more problems in the back then the leg room.

Paul in MN

Thanks, my comments weren't meant to mislead, but were in reference to what reviewers are saying about the ride - it feels much heavier than previous models. 65lbs isn't much, but when matching that to 2.5L and a CVT with AWD and any weight gain (to go with the extra lenght/width) can adversely effect the driving experience.

To its credit, as Kelsey said, the ride may not be best in class, but it still fits somewhere in the middle.

Paul in MN

Regarding my misstating Toyota's interest in Subaru. While 17% may not be a controlling interest, when you're one of the world's largest car manufacturers and have a 17% stake, you're going to greatly influence decision making. As Subie eyes a greater market share, they'll absolutely heed Toyota's direction.

My point was more to my disappointment in growing dimensions and style that is increasingly reflecting the mainstream rather than continuing to carve out a sustainable niche.

There's still a lot of value there - less than a base Accord, with AWD, similar space and better mileage. Hard to argue with that or the recent success. Just my devalued $.02.

Scott

I really like the redesign on the Legacy much more than on the Outback. Although I haven't seen one in person yet, the proportions on the Outback seem akward and scream 'Audi AllRoad' or 'Volvo XCountry'; both fine cars but too much quasi-tough clading. I think Subaru flops back and forth on the redesigns of these vehicles. First the design suits the sedan better, then the wagon and now its the sedans turns again.
BTW, when the lease on our Honda Pilot runs out in October, my husband will be getting a 2010 Outback. Damn!

C

You guys said this is a CVT, but did I see the gear shift lever have a manumatic shifting?

legacy fan

this is an extremely ugly car. what happened to subaru... the 2008 and 2009 legacy was awsome looking... this is sad...

erik

wow *bold syling" HA thats rich, and im sure a toyota camry has bold styling too. They look nearly the same. Sigh, every aisan car looks exactly the same......

cliff

I just leased a 2010 legacy base model...i must say for a base model its pretty nicely equipped. Im rather satisfied with its power compared to others in its class, and the AWD hugs corners and doesnt get that annoying understeet that FWD cars have.

I just wish the fenders werent so big...at first i didnt mind it but im starting to wish i had a 2009 exterior.

It does kinda feel like a nice lexus or acura though, just a little noisier.

Jude Belcher

Your comment about nothing to write home about bugs me. IT IS a VERY SAFE car. My mother was hit by another car running a red light and all the emergency people were surprised that my mother was not severely hurt. Any other car and my mom might not be here today

The 2013 Legacy is supposed to have structural enhancements which will include stiffening of the rear frame rails. Subaru says that this will make the ride quality smoother. I rode in a brand-new 2012 Legacy yesterday (buying my son a car) and the only thing that bothered me was that at only 30 mpg I could feel the rear of the car thump when coming off of asphalt humps left from road-repair. This disturbed me because I am going to have to lay out about $24,000. for either a Legacy or the new VW Passat. If my son chooses the Legacy, I am going to insist that he wait a couple of extra months because I would prefer to pre-order the 2013 model.
Subaru states that the rear sway bar has been thickened and that the suspension geometry has been revised. They state that the overall structure of the car has been made stiffer. Other than the rear's thump-over-humps, the overall ride quality is reasonably smooth. The car has tremendous safety numbers (see IIHS) and the same boxer engine configuration which once was exclusive to only Porche. Next weekend my son will drive the new 2012 Passat. It should interesting.

In my previous post I failed to make clear that is the 2013 Legacy which will have the stiffer structure and firmer suspension; not the 2012.
Sorry.

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