Many mid-size sedan buyers act like lemmings, continually buying the same make of vehicle year after year. Otherwise, a lot more Subaru Legacy mid-size sedans would be bought.
Rivals to the Legacy — essentially an overlooked gem — include the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord. Most receive far more advertising and have a considerably larger owner body.
Not that Subaru hasn’t been around for decades. It began to get its feet as a small, cramped front-wheel drive model that nevertheless was rugged. It became a favorite for rough New England winters, and for years was known as a “New England” or “Northeast” car. Few Americans knew it scored well in tough European rallies.
Subaru began switching from inexpensive economy cars to more upscale models later than rivals. It built a terrific sports car — the SVX — in the early 1990s, but few could identify Subaru with a sports car, so the SVX eventually was dropped. However, hot-car lovers have readily accepted the more modern, very fast Subaru Impreza WRX four-seater, which had done well in tough overseas rallies.(Times change, so Subaru recently introduced a nifty sports car called the BRZ, which is Subaru’s only rear-drive model. It was developed with Toyota’s Scion division, and has gotten good reviews.)
While, not as big as many major competitors, Subaru has moved up in the world since its switch to standard all-wheel-drive for its models. More recently, models such as the Impreza, Outback and Legacy have helped improve sales.
The Legacy got a major redesign in 2010, when it received a roomier, nicer interior.
The handsome, tightly built 2013 Legacy is much the same as the 2012 model, but has minor trim changes and revised styling with new headlights, grille and front bumper.
Legacy base prices range from $20,295 for the base 2.5i to $28,895 for the top-line 3.6R Limited. All trim levels are well-equipped, especially the higher-line ones, and have Subaru’s exceptional all-wheel-drive system.
The 2013 Subaru also has an optional new “Eyesight” option that provides such things as pre-collision braking, lane departure warning and adaptive cruise control. It will stop the car at lower speeds without driver control to avoid hitting an object.The sporty turbocharged 2.5 GT has been dropped. That leaves the Legacy with models that have either a 2.5-liter four-cylinder with 173 horsepower (up from 170) or a 3.6-liter six-cylinder with 256 horsepower — unchanged from 2012.
Both compact engines have horizontally opposed pistons, as do Porsche sports car engines, to allow a lower center of gravity for better handling.
The four-cylinder comes with a six-speed manual gearbox or CVT automatic transmission. The “six” comes only with a five-speed automatic.
Subaru says the four-cylinder makes the Legacy the most economical mid-size all-wheel-drive vehicle, with preliminary estimated fuel economy of 24 miles per gallon in the city and 32 on highways.
But the “four” is a bit weak and also is noisy during fast acceleration with the CVT transmission. There’s no such problem with the six-cylinder, which was in the Legacy 3.6R Limited I tested.
The six-cylinder provided fast merging and quick 65-80 mph passing on highways. The five-speed automatic transmission performed smoothly and efficiently, and its manual shift feature, via steering wheel paddles, also worked well. Fuel economy is an estimated 18 miles per gallon in the city and 25 on highways.
The steering is firm, but nicely geared and accurate. A thick steering wheel provides a good grip. The ride is comfortable, with the suspension soaking up bumps, and the brakes work strongly and have good pedal feel. I easily swept through freeway on-and off-ramps at above-average speeds, although that showed that the seats could use more side support.
This is an exceptionally roomy car, especially in the rear, and occupants sit high.
The large trunk has a low, wide opening, with a lid that raises smoothly on twin struts. Split rear seatbacks, which have release handles in the trunk, fold flat to enlarge the cargo area.
My test car’s quiet interior looked upscale. There was a fair amount of plastic in the dashboard area, but it looked like high-grade stuff. Brightly lit backlit gauges could be quickly read in sunlight. Controls were easily reached. But sound system controls and the dashboard screen used with them often can’t be easily utilized when driving. Large outside mirrors assist rear vision.
The air conditioning worked well on 90-plus-degree days, but the driver’s power front window raced up and down so quickly that it was difficult to stop midway.
Sun visors with slide-out extensions to block out more of the sun are a nice touch, especially when driving into the sun during late afternoons. Door pockets are too slim to be of much good, and a thick owner’s manual occupies most of the glove compartment. But the console has a large, covered bin. And front cupholders are conveniently positioned.
The hood raises on twin struts, and fluid-filler areas can be easily reached. As with the trunk lid, the hood is lined.
The 2013 Legacy delivers a lot for the money and deserves more consideration from the generally conservative folks who shop for mid-size sedans.
Pros: Handsome. Roomy. Good roadability. Comfortable. Strong six-cylinder. All-wheel drive.
Cons: Average performance with the base four-cyclinder. Sporty GT mode gone.
Bottom Line: Often overlooked mid-size sedan.
Dan Jedlicka has been an automotive journalist for more than 40 years. To read more of his new vintage car reviews, visit: www.danjedlicka.com.