As a true workhorse, there are few better than the Subaru Legacy. As an everyday estate, there are loads better.

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This all-new Subaru Legacy is the fifth evolution of the venerable estate, and it arrives at a time when the Subaru brand is changing. This shift began with the controversial move from saloon to hatchback in the recent Impreza – a move that started a shift from the traditional performance focus towards more mainstream, practical brand values.

This Legacy estate follows that same brief. A narrow model range incorporating only three engines and one body shape highlights the fact that the Legacy is targeting a different kind of buyer this time around. The engine options are all four-cylinder boxers: 2.0- and 2.5-litre petrols, the latter mated to a CVT, and the 2.0-litre diesel with a six-speed manual.

A narrow model range incorporates only three engines and one body shape

There’s a similarly limited range of trims: S, SE and SE Nav Plus on the diesel, SE and SE Nav Plus on the 2.5, and unique to the 2.0-litre petrol, ES Nav. There’s not much in the way of options, or colour choices, either. The market for roomy family estates is full of talented and affordable competition.

To find a place at the top, the Legacy must prove that its unique combination of standard all-wheel drive is enough to recommend it over similar-sized, similar-priced front-wheel-drive offerings such as the Ford Mondeo estate, not to mention the 4x4 Skoda Superb estate, potentially the Subaru’s fiercest rival.



18in Subaru Legacy alloy wheels

This Legacy discards some of the visual lineage shared by the four previous generations of Subaru estate. The bodywork at the windows’ bottom edge has, for 20 years, scored a flat line from the A-pillars right through to the body’s rear edge, which itself has previously featured blackened D-pillars to give an impression of a floating roof and enhance a sense of length and elegance. 

But these elements have been banished from this fifth-generation car, and similarly we are slightly sorry to see the abandonment of frameless windows.

There’s something ‘me too’ and somehow less sophisticated about the lines of the current Legacy

Instead, there’s something ‘me too’ and somehow less sophisticated about the lines of the latest Legacy, whose D-pillars are now body coloured and curve around the rear window line like myriad other estates, and whose wheel arches are marked by prominent bulges in the fashion of the Mazda 6 and Ford Mondeo. The Legacy is still far from being an inelegant car, but we’re unconvinced that it stands out as it once did.

The large, flat area below the Legacy’s beltline is meant to look stable and fuss-free, endowing the car with a sense of solidity. SE models get 18in wheels as standard. base models get 16in wheels that leave the arches looking malnourished.

Subaru has consulted the new car design cliché book for headlight inspiration. They’re extended and show off the internal components — supposedly to demonstrate a hi-tech feel.

Subarus has a less obvious family grille than many manufacturers, but this floating wing-type grille has been adopted here and is also on the latest Impreza,

Like the wheel arches, the fussier top half of the car is meant to contrast with the bulky lower half. Chrome surrounds on the windows convey a more premium feel, certainly.


Subaru Legacy dashboard

The Legacy’s external dimensions are all bigger than its predecessor’s, most by around 50mm. Its wheelbase, however, has increased by 80mm to 2750mm, and this has resulted in the Subaru having one of the more accommodating cabins in its class.

There is ample head and leg room in the front, with decent space for three in the rear, too, although the centre seat is slightly compromised by the transmission tunnel. The load bay is one of the biggest in this class; it’s only slightly smaller than that of the Ford Mondeo estate, at 526 litres with the seats in place. This rises to 1726 litres with the rear seats folded, which they do with ease thanks to latches placed just inside the tailgate. The load bay floor itself is low, too, and the rear bumper unobtrusive, which eases the loading of heavy cargo.

The load bay is one of the biggest in this class

Interior finish, however, has seldom been a Subaru strong point, and although the Legacy feels well assembled and is as free from creaks as you’d hope and expect, its surfaces and the design of the minor switches lack the finesse you’d find in even average European competition.

Ergonomically, the Legacy’s cabin is sound. The front chairs are large and there’s a big space between them; this is a wide cockpit. The dials are clear and concise, and the minor controls, even if they look a tad clumsy, operate precisely enough. 

There is a refreshing honesty about the way things work, too. The headlights and wipers have automatic operation but, unlike in some cars, they don’t default to ‘on’ and can be left off, so you’ve got the choice. And although the electronic handbrake’s lever could be bigger, at least it’s simple to operate. Push the throttle and it releases; you don’t have to prod the brakes while you’re doing it.


Subaru Legacy diesel engine

Subaru’s diesel (the company's first ever) is a fine effort, with adequate performance and good refinement and it works well in the Legacy. It is, however, different in character from diesels that arrange their cylinders more conventionally in line. If anything, the boxer diesel shares more with a petrol engine, such is its willingness to rev. Peak power of 148bhp is produced at a relatively low 3600rpm, but the engine will happily rev to its 4600rpm limiter without feeling strained or coarse. 

That is a good thing, because in town driving you can find yourself revving the Legacy more than seems normal for a diesel. This is because of a seemingly odd spacing of first, second and third gear ratios. First and second are relatively close, but the gap to third seems unnecessarily high.  

The boxer diesel shares much with a petrol engine, such is its willingness to rev

Change too early, though, and you’re met with, at best, a dull response and, at worst, an awkward judder. At higher speeds – on the motorway in sixth gear, for instance – the Legacy responds smoothly from low revs

The gearshift itself isn’t satisfying to use, either. The action is positive enough but occasionally notchy, and the gearlever is not especially comfortable to grip (the position of the reverse lockout collar is to blame). 

The 2.5-litre petrol comes with a CVT ‘box as standard. It’s an odd combination, robbing the car of any performance aspirations it may have, to the extent that its official figures show that it’s slower from zero to 62mph than the 2.0-litre petrol with its manual gearbox. It's best avoided.

The 2.0 litre petrol has the advantage of a standard gearbox, and has enough go to almost match the diesel to 60mph (albeit at almost 10sec). It isn't very refined, either. Only if you drive less than 10,000 miles a year does it make a case for itself.

The brakes have a recognisable Subaru quality of a firm pedal, with almost zero dead travel, and the need for a fraction more pressure than with some other systems. Once accustomed to this (which takes very little time) the Legacy stops very well, although their performance drops off quickly under prolonged hard use.


Subaru Legacy cornering

For those trading up from this car’s predecessor, the latest Subaru Legacy’s handling might come as quite a shock. With all-wheel drive, the Legacy retains excellent all-weather traction, but whereas the previous car turned with a nimbleness that few estate cars could match, this one produces a surprising amount of body roll while suffering from a lack of steering precision – a combination that gives the impression that the Legacy is going to understeer badly in hard cornering and discourages attempts to drive the car with any enthusiasm. 

The truth is actually quite different – at the extreme, the Legacy grips strongly and remains neutrally balanced – but it doesn’t matter because you have to drive the Legacy beyond what feels comfortable in order to discover this. 

Subaru has sacrificed some of the Legacy’s driver appeal

You could conclude that such a set-up has its merits – namely, an underlying reserve of ability but with a soft set-up providing a comfortable ride. And this would make sense if the Legacy rode sufficiently well, but it doesn’t. It is certainly not firm or bouncy, but over rough surfaces – and especially at slow to medium speeds – the suspension vibrates loosely and noisily. 

Furthermore, over roads that ask tough questions of a car’s body control, the Legacy’s soft set-up can too easily be caught out. In its dynamic abilities the Legacy is far from a bad car and in some ways it continues to impress, particularly with its ability to carry speed regardless of road conditions. But in its efforts to bring the Legacy to a broader audience, Subaru has sacrificed some of the Legacy’s driver appeal. It isn’t as entertaining to drive as its predecessors, but nor is it significantly (or sufficiently) more comfortable.


Subaru Legacy

If previous customer satisfaction surveys are any guide, the latest Subaru Legacy will prove fairly painless to own – reliability is perhaps its strongest suit, hence its popularity as a working tow car. 

Certainly, in terms of economy, the diesel is as painless to run as you’d reasonably ask; our 39.8mpg average over 500 relatively hard-driven miles is a very creditable result and not at all far from the official claimed average of 44.1mpg. That boxer diesel is clearly efficient and the gearing, while doing little for low-speed driveability, certainly boosts its frugality.

If previous customer satisfaction surveys are any guide, the latest Subaru Legacy will prove fairly painless to own

The 2.5 petrol with its CVT box claims an average of 33.6, although in reality we’d hope for something in the high 20s. The 2.0-litre manual actually fares even worse, with a claimed average of 32.8mpg.

Clearly the diesel is the choice for company car buyers, thanks to its relatively decent CO2 figures for a car of this size and with a four-wheel drive powertrain. The Subaru’s figures are on a par with the four-wheel drive Skoda Superb Estate.

Subaru has always been generous with its standard kit list. Although you miss out on some of the higher tech stuff you can get on options lists, every model gets climate control and alloys, while SE and above get Xenon lights, leather seats and aluminium pedals.

High depreciation is a fact of life for any car in this class, but the Legacy’s failings don't unduly harm its value in the longer term. If this car proves 
as durable as previous Legacies, the versatility afforded by its four-wheel drive system will cause it to retain significant appeal.


2.5 star Subaru Legacy

With the Subaru Legacy, the company has tried to create an estate that offers space, comfort and value. And in some ways it has succeeded. Rear passengers can relax in the wide seats and plentiful leg room, and only the Skoda Superb estate offers similar space and four-wheel drive at the price of the Legacy.

The 2.0-litre petrol car appears to offer decent value, until you examine the running costs, but it’s a cheaper car to run and offers better performance than the 2.5-litre petrol that’s saddled with an unresponsive CVT transmission. The 2.0-litre diesel is the sensible choice and the engine performs well with stats to match.

Even in this, its best guise, it falls well short of the class best

Subaru’s legendary reliability, and the generosity of the equipment list, will appeal to many who just want a reliable workhorse that’s painless to live with. But beyond that, the new Legacy fails to shine. Awkward gear ratios and a clunky gearshift make it hard work in town, while an unsettled ride and lacklustre handling compromise its appeal elsewhere. In trying to appeal to a different market, the new Legacy has lost the unpretentious honesty that made its predecessor so likeable and compromises on too many key points.

Even in this, its best guise, it falls well short of the class best. If you insist on a four-wheel drive estate, the Skoda Superb is a far more sophisticated choice. But if it’s just an estate you’re after, there are many that do the estate bit just as well, but will be a much better proposition for drivers.

Steve Cropley

Steve Cropley Autocar
Title: Editor-in-chief

Steve Cropley is the oldest of Autocar’s editorial team, or the most experienced if you want to be polite about it. He joined over 30 years ago, and has driven many cars and interviewed many people in half a century in the business. 

Cropley, who regards himself as the magazine’s “long stop”, has seen many changes since Autocar was a print-only affair, but claims that in such a fast moving environment he has little appetite for looking back. 

He has been surprised and delighted by the generous reception afforded the My Week In Cars podcast he makes with long suffering colleague Matt Prior, and calls it the most enjoyable part of his working week.

Subaru Legacy 2009-2013 First drives