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Subaru Legacy

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Base Price: $21,695
Price as Tested: $31,790

It may not look very different from last year’s model, but subtle changes throughout make for a much improved 2015 Subaru Legacy. When I first saw the redesigned 2015 Legacy at the Chicago Auto Show last year, Subaru product folks were almost apologetic that the changes aren’t more sweeping. I get that. From the curb, this midsize four-door doesn’t stand out from the crowded field of midsize sedans. It’s not exactly a head turner. Get into an O.J. Simpson-style police chase, and the helicopters are unlikely to pick you out from the surrounding traffic.

Too much shouldn’t be read into the fact that Subaru chose to mostly tinker around the edges when developing the sixth-generation Legacy. Utility is its basic mandate and that has improved impressively. A Subie loyalist will probably be able to tell aSubaru-Legacy_2015_1024x768_wallpaper_22 2015 version with its somewhat more grown-up styling from a 2014, but there’s not much expansion in exterior dimensions to give it away. The headlights and grille are the most noticeable changes in a three-quarter view. Similar exterior dimensions, though, didn’t stop Subaru from coaxing a couple extra tenths of an inch of space here and a couple there around the cabin. There’s even a bit more cargo space in the trunk.

The four trim levels begin with the $21,695 base 2.5i and run north to the $29,595 3.6R Limited, like my test Legacy. All feature all-wheel drive as standard.

Inside the cabin the changes are huge and apparent. Not only is the new Legacy filled with noticeably better materials and lots of soft-touch surfaces, the overall styling is more refined – almost elegant in Limited trim. Everything from the main gauges to the controls for the climate system have more eye appeal. Flowing evenly from one side of the interior to the other, the dashboard and instrument panel feel and look more upscale. The seats are generous and comfortable. Pony up the dough for either of the Limited grades and leather seats are standard. Subaru packed more sound-deadening elements, such as liquid-filled engine mounts, into the package, making for a quieter cockpit.

2015_Subaru_Legacy_int_03Propelling the 2.5i grades is a 175-horsepower “boxer” four-cylinder engine. Boxer is Subaru speak for a flat-engine design that contributes to a lower overall center of gravity. My test Legacy was a 3.6R Limited. It’s basically equipped the same as the 2.5i Limited, except it uses a 256-horsepower “boxer” six-cylinder engine to turn its wheels. All Legacy sedans distribute engine output to the wheels via a continuously variable transmission (CVT).

Despite the extra drag AWD puts on fuel economy, 2.5i editions boast a government-estimated 26 mpg city, 36 mpg highway and 30 mpg in combined driving. That puts Legacy smack-dab in the fuel-economy sweet spot of FWD mid-size sedans. Opting for the six cylinder scrubs a good bit of the mileage away resulting in 20 mpg city, 28 mpg highway and 23 mpg combined.

New electric power steering increases responsiveness and agility. Legacy feels well planted in the curves. It certainly handles much better than its exterior styling might lead you to believe. It won’t rock a boy racer’s world, but it is competent when pushed.

Subaru introduced a number of standard or optional safety features on the new Legacy. Front-seat-cushion airbags inflate during a frontal crash to prevent occupants from submarining under the dashboard. This brings the airbag count in every new Legacy to eight. Available on upper Legacy grades is the latest version of Subaru’s EyeSight. Using stereo cameras and information from the adaptive cruise control system, EyeSight warns drivers of obstacles in the road and will even stop the car if the driver fails to respond. Steering-Responsive Fog Lights can turn on the appropriate fog light, aiming it in the direction of a turn when the headlights are on.

Even in its base guise, Legacy is impressively equipped with full power accessories, rearview camera, cruise control, auto-on/off DSCF9623headlights, air conditioning, a 6.2-inch touchscreen, Bluetooth connectivity and an audio system with iPod interface.

Limited grades include such goodies as dual-zone automatic climate control, heated front/rear seats and outboard mirrors, leather seating, windshield wiper de-icer, rear cross-traffic alert and an upgraded Harman Kardon surround-sound audio system with 12 speakers. My 3.6R also had $2,195 worth of options, including moonroof and navigation.

Legacy may not win the midsize sedan swim-suit competition, but it offers a lot of value, excellent fuel economy, a welcoming cabin and better-than-expected performance. It just makes sense.