2020 Subaru Legacy first drive review: It’s what’s inside that counts – CNET

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2020 Subaru Legacy first drive review: It's what's inside that counts


If there’s a major fault with the brand-new 2020 Subaru Legacy, it’s that it doesn’t immediately look like a brand-new car. Even all tarted up in range-topping XT Touring guise, the new Legacy lacks the outright freshness and curb appeal of competitors like the HondaAccord, Mazda6 or Nissan Altima. I mean, have you seen the new Hyundai Sonata?

But spend some time with the 2020 Legacy and you’ll find a number of substantial improvements to an already solid competitor, in areas that really matter. From its compliant ride to its comfortable interior to its wealth of cabin tech and safety systems, this is Subaru’s most competitive and well-executed Legacy by a country mile.

Generous accommodations

The new Legacy doesn’t look bad, it’s just sort of anonymous. But that’s not to say there aren’t some nice details. I like the brushed metal mirror caps on my fully loaded Touring tester, and the way the chrome strip around the side windows curves onto the side mirrors. The headlamp housings are more stylized than before, with standard LED main beams and running lights on all models. The body sides themselves are a bit plain, but the Legacy has a nice stance on its optional 18-inch wheels (17s are standard), and the rear fascia is simple and clean, with dual exhaust pipes only visible on XT (turbocharged) models.

Under its new skin, the Legacy rides on Subaru’s new global platform — the same bones that underpin the Ascent, Forester, Impreza and Outback. Even so, the 2020 Legacy is nearly identical to its predecessor in size, with only 1.5 additional inches of length.

The Legacy might not be a slave to fashion, but this conservative design approach has resulted in lots of space for passengers. Without a heavily raked roof or dramatically angled beltline, the Legacy feels absolutely huge inside, with a ton of glass area and thin pillars resulting in a commanding view of the world outside. A 6-foot-tall driver can put the front seat in their ideal driving position while a similarly sized passenger rides comfortably in the back. And with 15.1 cubic feet of trunk space, the Legacy offers plenty of room for a handful of suitcases, with the added bonus of a larger aperture than before for easy loading.

Caramel-colored Nappa leather is available on the top-end Touring trim.


Michael Shaffer/Subaru

Comfy and techy

Interestingly, it’s inside the Legacy where Subaru seems to have flexed some design muscle. I love the caramel-colored Nappa leather on my Touring tester, especially the way it’s used in large swaths on the dashboard. Overall, the cabin is handsomely styled but still plenty functional, with deep door pockets that can accommodate big water bottles.

The obvious centerpiece of the Legacy’s cabin is Subaru’s 11.6-inch, portrait-oriented Starlink multimedia display. It’s standard on all but the base Legacy, that trim making do with a smaller, 7-inch touchscreen set above an arrangement of physical buttons for the car’s climate controls. On all other models, the huge touchscreen is where you’ll access just about everything, with a few bits of switchgear and knobs for things like audio volume, tuning and temperature.

First seen on the 2020 Outback, this Starlink screen is essentially divided into three sections, with the largest, middle area devoted to the majority of infotainment functions. Above that, you’ll access readouts for things like ambient weather, traffic or vehicle information. At the bottom, you’ll find the climate controls. The whole interface is very simple to work through after a short learning period, with quick responses to inputs and a generally simple menu structure. Embedded navigation is available on higher trim levels and standard on the Legacy Touring, but it’s powered by TomTom and lacks the high-resolution maps befitting such a large screen. Thankfully, every 2020 Legacy comes standard with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and I’d highly recommend sticking to those interfaces for your navigation experience.

The 11.6-inch Starlink infotainment system is bright, colorful and super easy to use.


Michael Shaffer/Subaru

Turbo power and a compliant ride

There’s a new turbocharged engine option for the 2020 Legacy, replacing the old, 3.6-liter flat-6 from last year’s car. It’s the same 2.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder you’ll find in the Ascent and Outback, producing 260 horsepower and 277 pound-feet of torque, mated to a continuously variable transmission and standard all-wheel drive. Not only is this engine more powerful than the outgoing H6 motor, it’s more efficient, too. Subaru estimates fuel economy ratings of 24 miles per gallon city, 32 mpg highway and 27 mpg combined for these XT models, all of which represent 4-mpg gains over the old six-cylinder.

This turbo engine doesn’t exactly turn the Legacy into a sport sedan, but along California’s Highway 33 heading north from Ojai, I find this powerplant adds noticeable pep to the Legacy’s step, with plenty of low-end and midrange power. Unfortunately, the Legacy XT exhibits the same sort of aggressive throttle tip-in we’ve experienced in our long-term 2019 Subaru Ascent, meaning there’s a weird burst of power right off the line that fades away as you pick up speed. It takes a little getting used to, but certainly isn’t a deal-breaker. Happily, XT models also come with paddle shifters so you can force the transmission into holding its simulated “gears” for longer amounts of time to smooth these power peaks out.

Non-XT models use the same naturally aspirated 2.5-liter H4 you’ll find in the Forester and Outback, with 182 horsepower and 176 pound-feet of torque. The CVT/AWD combination is again standard on these turbo-less models, with respectable fuel economy estimates of 27 mpg city, 35 mpg highway and 30 mpg combined.

The new turbo engine has plenty of power, but it doesn’t turn the Legacy into a sport sedan.


Michael Shaffer/Subaru

Every Legacy uses the same suspension and steering setup, so they’re dynamically very similar; the XTs just have more punch. There’s a new Sport trim for 2020, but don’t let the name fool you. Available exclusively with the 2.5-liter engine, there are no chassis tweaks to speak of, just some style upgrades and sport drive modes that slightly alter the throttle and transmission mapping. Really, just go for the Sport trim if you want a decklid spoiler and model-specific, black-finish, 18-inch wheels.

After a day of driving the 2020 Legacy through Southern California, my biggest takeaway is how nicely sorted the chassis is — you’ll feel pavement imperfections, but they don’t jostle you around. Through city centers and on the highway, the Legacy is super comfortable, from its supple ride to its cushy front seats. Hit a twisty backroad and you’ll notice roll in the suspension and vagueness to the steering, but again, this isn’t a sports car. If you’re looking for the driver’s car of the midsize class, I’d sooner recommend a Honda Accord 2.0T or Mazda6 Signature, both of which lack all-wheel drive but feel lighter on their feet with higher levels of driver engagement.

Instead, I could easily see eating up hundreds of miles at a time behind the wheel of a Legacy. That this car is also particularly quiet inside at highway speeds only adds to that perfectly pleasant vibe. Plus, every Legacy comes standard with Subaru’s EyeSight driver assistance technology, with adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist with a lane-centering function, pedestrian detection and more. The lane-centering tech has been updated to now follow a lead car rather than ping-ponging you toward the middle of the lane, and it works a treat along California’s congested 101 Freeway. Other driver-assistance systems, including blind-spot monitoring, lane-change assist and rear cross-traffic alert are available as options, and standard on the top-shelf Touring.

The 2.4-liter turbo-4 offers more power and returns better fuel economy than the outgoing flat-6 engine.


Michael Shaffer/Subaru

A safe, solid choice

2020 Subaru Legacy pricing ranges from $22,745 for a base model to $35,895 for a loaded Touring XT, excluding $900 for destination. That puts the Lafayette, Indiana-built Legacy in line with pretty much every other midsize sedan, though it’s of course noting that Subaru’s contender is the only one to come standard with all-wheel drive.

It’s no secret the seventh-generation Legacy arrives at a time when an increasing number of consumers are ditching sedans and stepping up to more functional crossovers and SUVs. And if you’re one of those people, by all means, Subaru will happily recommend that you pick up a brand-new Forester or Outback.

But as far as midsize sedans are concerned, the 2020 Subaru Legacy positions itself as an incredibly well-rounded offering, packing a ton of tech and oodles of passenger space into a relatively affordable package. It might lack style, but it’s brimming with substance.

It looks a little plain, but the new Legacy is a super-solid midsize sedan.


Michael Shaffer/Subaru


Editors’ note: Travel costs related to this feature were covered by the manufacturer. This is common in the auto industry, as it’s far more economical to ship journalists to cars than to ship cars to journalists. While Roadshow accepts multiday vehicle loans from manufacturers in order to provide scored editorial reviews, all scored vehicle reviews are completed on our turf and on our terms.

The judgments and opinions of Roadshow’s editorial team are our own and we do not accept paid editorial content.



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