Subaru Legacy a very nice vehicle to drive – unless it drives you nuts
By Jim Bray
Subaru's historic legacy is a long string of interesting, all-wheel-drive vehicles, and its current automotive Legacy continues that trend by offering a nice-to-drive sedan that'll handle all four seasons of weather with aplomb.
Alas, Subaru has chosen to follow the "nannie herd" by making the vehicle so annoying that I, for one, would hesitate to visit a dealership to purchase one.
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It's too bad, because I really liked driving Subaru Canada's Legacy GT through some very wintry Calgary roads this past January. It has plenty of pickup, from its turbo "boxer" four cylinder engine, a cat-like independent suspension and Subaru's famous symmetrical all-wheel drive. I couldn't even bring myself to hate its CVT, continuously variable transmission, the way I do usually when I drive a car that's saddled with one.
Subaru's sample Legacy GT, which rang in the till at $41,995 (the base Touring is $32,995), is their largest sedan, and it's full of modern technology. It seats five comfortably, is handsome inside and outside, and will probably last as long as its owners want it to.
According to Subaru Canada's website, this seventh generation Legacy has been "restyled and retuned for the new model year", though it was pretty nice last year, too – nanny caveats notwithstanding.
The exterior tweaks include a new and sportier-looking front fascia, headlights and bumper (the GT trim level gets its own front grille "with bold red accent trim", and there's custom badging on the trunk lid.
Subaru's all-wheel drive is similar in concept to Audi's quattro, and it means the car sticks to the road like infant feces to a Hudson's Bay blanket. This is great when the roads get less than peachy – snow, etc. – but which also works really well when you're going a tad off-road or just when you're carving some apices on a curvy back road. The only thing missing is a real, old-fashioned hand brake for winter parking lot fun – and in this regard it's no different from most current cars I can think of.
To make the Legacy handle even better, its symmetrical Full-Time AWD also features active torque vectoring to help ensure the wheels – and the car – are turning as they should.
Power for the base Legacy comes from a normally aspirated boxer four that turns out 182 horses @ 5,800 rpm, which is pretty competitive for such vehicles. The more interesting trim levels such as the GT get a more interesting, 2.4 litre boxer four that's turbocharged (there's quite a bit of lag initially, followed by a most satisfying rush) and which sends 260 horses to all four wheels @ 5,600 rpm. That's the fun engine!
Inside, Subaru claims "class-leading passenger space", as well as more technology (grrrr), "great ergonomics" (as long as you aren't trying to read the LCD), and "higher-grade materials and finishes". Well, there's more to my ergonomics angst than just the screen and Big Brother. I also had issues with skipping tracks and/or presets on the audio system from the steering wheel, because Subaru has mounted the "source" button right next to the "skip forward/backward" buttons and I kept hitting the source button instead of the skip button.
So, yeah, operator error, but I got out of the Legacy and into a Honda CR-V, whose skip buttons (but not the source button) are in the same place, and it wasn't an issue there. Which makes me wonder if my fingers are extra fat (don't ask my wife!) or if Subaru designers actually sit behind the wheel and use the various functions they put into their vehicles.
The driving position is just fine and Subaru's sample had a power/memory driver's seat, which is always handy. The stock stereo is a four-speaker unit, but the GT came with nice 12-speaker Harman/Kardon system. The steering wheel is heated, and Legacys that come with the big LCD also get wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability.
As much as I liked the Legacy, it could have been so much more if Subaru had decided to do a bit less when it comes to interfaces.
For example, it sports a big, "portrait-oriented" LCD screen on the centre stack to handle most of the functions you'd want from such a location – audio, HVAC, navigation, programming, etc. Yet that big screen is so reflective it's difficult to read in bright sunlight and, perhaps even worse, it often switches into a kind of "night mode" when you go under a bridge that causes it (and the instrument panel) to dim (which is what you'd want at night) to the point where it's almost unreadable in sunlight – and it stays that way long after you've driven back into that sunlight. Sloppy, indeed.
Worse, the thing includes Subaru's ultra-insulting nannie that monitors the position of your head and, if it decides you aren't watching the road enough, complains at you via a reminder (audible and visual) that comes up on the dashboard.
So, while you're trying to figure out the darn screen, the darn car is lecturing you about your driving habits.
I don't know about you, but I don't need my vehicle to sit as judge and jury about my driving skills, and to bitch at me if it thinks I'm falling short of what it thinks I should be doing. It's a particular insult to my intelligence and to my 50 years of trying to hone my driving skills to be as good as they can be.
Besides, I have a wife and family and friends who are perfectly happy making such judgements!
You can supposedly shut this insulting annoyance off, but I couldn't figure out how to keep it off (I refuse to read manuals, with the thought being that if I, as reasonably sophisticated user of things automotive, can't figure something basic out then it's probably fuzzy design).
You also can't shut off the auto start/stop permanently, despite there being a provision for it in the set-up menus. What's with that? Why bother putting such a choice in the menus if it doesn't work?
This stuff is all standard equipment, too, so you can't choose not to order it. All of which means that, to me, Subaru has now replaced Honda as the automotive brand (of the ones I've driven) that's so off-putting that I wouldn't recommend it to friends. And that's a shame, because there's a lot to like here.
"Safety and Driver-Assistance Features" include automated emergency braking, lane-departure warning with lane-keeping assist, adaptive cruise control with lane-centering – the usual stuff these days, plus that damn head position monitor (which, if you're feeling particularly childish, you can fool by tilting your head to the right while keeping your eyes on the road).
I really wanted to like the Legacy, and I would have if not for the abovementioned whine-worthy issues. It's terrific to drive, the turbo four has plenty of poop, and the suspension is nicely sporty without being jarring. It also comes with all the features one could expect reasonably in a 2023 model year car.
Naturally, your mileage may vary. So, if you want a vehicle that figuratively sits on your own shoulder and whispers in your ear like Grima Wormtongue, you may be right at home with the Subaru.
Copyright 2023 Jim Bray