by: SUBARU OF AMERICA, INC. - The 2014 Subaru Legacy is the only affordable midsize car with with standard all-wheel-drive.I was prepared to be disappointed with the 2014 Subaru Legacy Sport. The last Legacy I tested was a blast to drive. It was a GT version with a 268-horsepower turbocharged engine and a six-speed manual transmission. The Sport version of the current Legacy is only a trim package. It came with the base 173-horsepower engine and a Continuously Variable Transmission, which didn't seem promising.

But in a week of mixed driving, the combination grew on me. No, it wasn't as fast as the GT, which has unfortunately been discontinued. But the 2.5-liter four-cylinder Boxer (horizontally opposed) engine still had plenty of power for everyday driving, and the CVT was quieter and more responsive than earlier versions. It even had a manual shift mode with steering wheel-mounted paddles that worked pretty well.

Of course it helped that I knew the Legacy is one of the few reasonably-price mid-size sedans with all-wheel-drive these days. I think AWD is a genuine plus in the wet Pacific Northwest, and Subaru has one many loyal customers by making it standard on all of their models, except the BRZ sports car.

Today, AWD is only available on a few other affordable mid-size sedans, including the Ford Fusion and the all-new Chrysler 200. Both are options which push the price higher than the Legacy, which starts at around $20,000.

Truth be told, the Legacy, now in its fifth generation, is aging rapidly. Although it is boldly styled for a family car and has ample interior room, it feels heavy and unsophisticated on the road. The extensive use of hard plastic in the simple interior doesn't help, either. Most other mid-size cars are newer and more refined.

At the same time, the Legacy is one of the larger mid-size cars, which makes it feel substantial. It is also very stable, even at high speeds, thanks to its all-wheel-drive system and the low center of gravity created by the Boxer engine. The cloth bucket seats in our test model were supportive. The optional Sport package — 18-inch alloy wheels, aluminum pedals, aluminum foot rest and simulated carbon fiber trim pieces — reinforced the impression that it can be driven hard. And the suspension was firm without being harsh, although the sometimes bucked a bit over broken pavement.

Of course, if you really want a performance-oriented Legacy, Subaru offers the R version that features a 256-horsepower 3.6-liter six-cylinder Boxer engine and wider 17-inch tires. You'll sacrifice mileage, though, dropping to 20 mpg from the respectable 27 mpg delivered by the 2.5/CVT combination.

Although most test cars loaned to writers come fully loaded, the Legacy Sport did not include the optional navigation system. As a result, the dash was one of the cleanest designs I've seen in years. It also helped keep the price below $27,000. It did, however, have an impressive upgraded stereo system and rear view camera, which is always appreciated.

Despite the Sport designation, the Legacy was not particularly fast off the line. The CVT took a moment to match the engine revs, after which it launched. Using the manual shift mode helped overcome that very slight problem. Once it got rolling, the Legacy quickly gained speed with just the slightest pressure on the gas pedal. The sportier 3.6R is only available with a five-speed automatic transition, which should be more responsive, however.

Subaru is a relatively small Japanese car company, and its products have lagged behind most competitors for years. The company has begun reinvesting its line up in recent years, however, beginning with the Imperza and continuing with the Forester, both of which took great strides forward in quality which still maintaining their funkiness. Legacy is next and the pre-production photos released so far show a sleeker, more upscale version.

In the meantime, the current model is still worth considering if AWD and value are priorities.

Facts and figures (all models)

• Model tested: 2014 Legacy Sport.

• Manufacturer: Subaru.

• Class: Midsize sedan.

• Layout: Front engine, all-wheel-drive.

• Style: Four door, five passenger car.

• Engine: 2.5-liter Boxer 4 (173 hp, 174 ft-lbs); 3.6-liter Boxer 6 (256 hp, 247 ft-lbs).

• Transmission: 6-speed manual; Continuously Variable Transmission with manual shift mode; 5-speed automatic with manual shift mode.

• Fuel Economy: 24/32/27 (2.5/CVT - as tested); 21/29/24 (2.5/5M); 18/25/20 (3.6/5A).

• Price: Starting around $20,000 ($26,418 as tested).

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