A few days before a 2021 Subaru Legacy arrived for a week of test driving, the Wall Street Journal published a critical review of it, saying it lagged far behind its competitors.
I was baffled. The midsize sedan had been completely redesigned for the 2020 model year. Jeff Zurschmeide, the other Pamplin Media Group auto writer, and I both tested it. And we raved about it, calling it the best Legacy ever and value-packed option for buyers who want all-wheel-drive — a wise choice in the rainy and occasionally snowy Pacific Northwest.
Had Subaru redesigned the Legacy again and screwed it up? Nope. The 2021 model is little changed and I stand behind my original conclusion. It is a great family car for those of us who value extra traction when the weather turns bad.
As a longtime Journal subscriber, I respect Dan Neil, their reviewer, but I know he is used to driving much more expensive vehicles. He also compared the Legacy unfavorably to two midsize sedans that don't offer AWD, the Honda Accord and the Hyundai Sonata. Both are excellent affordable midsize cars, but the Legacy's real competition are the Nissan Altima and Toyota Camry, all of which now offer AWD as an option.
The Altima and Camry are also a great cars, but the Legacy beats them where it counts with a lot of potential buyers — power. The Subaru is available with an optional turbocharged 2.4-liter Boxer four engine that pumps out 260 horsepower. That is far more than the 188 horsepower from the Nissan's standard normally-aspirated 2.5-liter inline four or the 202 horsepower from Toyota's normally-aspirated 2.5-liter inline four. Although other versions of the Camry can be outfitted with a 301 horsepower V6, those seeking extra traction in the Toyota have to settle for less.
All-wheel-drive is also available on V6-powered versions of the 2021 Dodge Charger. And with 300 horsepower on tap, the 3.6-liter engine is more powerful than the Legacy's 2.4T. But the Charger has not been redesigned in many years and gets worse mileage, although it is also a little larger.
Subaru had started the Legacy with a turbo 4 as the optional engine, then swappped for a 3.0-liter 6, which was heavier made it harder to corner. The return of the optional turbo 4 in the GT version 2020 was a welcome improvement, even though it falls short of the 268 to 310 horsepower available in the WRX and STi versions of the Impreza. But I think that would require expensive suspension and brake upgrades, and I doubt Legacy buyers are looking for that kind of performance. Still, a Legacy WRX or STi would he a game changer.
Neil is right when he faults Subaru over its styling, however. The company has upgraded all of its older vehicles in recent years, but only true fans can tell by looking at them. Although the overall quality has improved, they look almost the same form the outside. I walked right by an all-new Forester at the Seattle Auto Show once because it looked so much like the previous generation. The interiors have changed more, with acres of rubber and hard plastic being replaced by higher quality materials, including leather. But none of their redesigned have been as transformational as some other manufacturers, including the edgier-looking Camry. But the Legacy offers slightly more interior space than the Nissan and Toyota.
During a week of test driving, the 2021 Legacy confirmed everything I liked about the 2020 model, including the ample amount of interior space, smooth ride, good power from the turbocharged engine, and quality materials in the upscale XT Limited version. I also liked the understated exterior styling, although I agree that it looks a little pedestrian compared to the swoopier Camry, Hyundai Sonata and Kia Optima. But, unlike the Camry, the Sonata and Optima are not available with AWD at any price
Legacy buyers can also be confident that the standard EyeSight safety system is one of the best on the market. It did a good job of warning me about cars ahead of me in my lane slowing, and both pedestrians and vehicles passing behind me when I was about to back up. The extra-large 11.6-inch infotainment touchscreen that comes standard in all but the base trim was easy to read, although the it took some practice to switch between functions quickly.
Obviously, a midsize Audi, BMW or Mercedes with AWD will be more refined than a Subaru Legacy, but they will also cost many thousand more than even the top-of-the-line XT Touring version. And the Legacy will be just as good in the rain and snow since since Subaru has many years of experience equipping practically every car with its fabled Symmetrical All-Whhel Drive system.
2021 Subaru Legacy XT Limited
Base price: $22,895 (base)
Price as tested: $34,445
Type: Midsize sedan
Engine: 2.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder (260 hp, 277 lbs-ft)
Transmission: Continuously Variable Transmission
EPA estimated mileage: 24/32
Overall length: 190.6 inches
Curb weight: 3,779 pounds
Final assembly: Lafayette, Indiana
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