Let’s face it, Subarus used to be strange. When I was a kid, Subaru was in the same category as Volvo, Saab, Sterling and anything from France. Once upon a time, when friends rode in your Subie they were intrigued by its quirks and idiosyncrasies. As time moved on though, everything has become increasingly mainstream. Well, except for the French. To prove the point we hit Subaru up for a 2011 Legacy 3.6 Limited.
When the Legacy arrived on my doorstep, I had trouble picking it out from all the other cars on the street. The usual Subaru styling cues are gone and in their place we have some sexy curves, some hard lines, fender bulges and a subdued grille. Sounds good so far, right? Here’s the problem: the exact same description can be applied to the 2011 Camry and Accord. A week after our Subaru tester returned from whence it came, Subaru started a viral marketing campaign for the Legacy called “2011 Mediocrity” on Facebook and YouTube. The campaign is supposed to be lampooning the Camry, Accord and Fusion, but in the end it becomes one of the most ironic commercials ever made. Why? Because the 2011 Legacy is by far the most mainstream vehicle Subaru has ever produced. Let’s dive in and see just how average the Subaru can be.
Subaru offers the Legacy in three trim levels: base, Premium and Limited, all of which can be had with two engine options, the 2.5L four-cylinder boxer engine, and the 3.6L six-cylinder boxer provided for our review (there’s also the special 2.5L turbo GT trim for upsizing WRX drivers). The 2.5L four packs 170HP while the 3.6L model provided for our review brings 256HP and 247lb-ft of twist to the party (up from the 245HP and 215lb-ft of last year’s 3.0L six). Compared to the competition these power figures are adequate in a middle-of-the-pack kind of way. While the 2.5L four gets an economy-maximizing CVT, the 3.6L engine has to make do with a 5 speed slush-box which is one cog shy of most of the competition. All boxes checked thus far.
Once inside the Legacy, it is clear this car’s interior was designed to be profitable at the rental car fleet pricing level. Gone are the soft touch plastics previous generations enjoyed and in their place are plastics that look good but feel cheap. Also from the bargain price bin is some of the worst faux wood this side of Chrysler’s K cars. Seriously Subie, who’d you think you were fauxin? Rounding out the mixed bag interior is quite possibly the best almost-metal trim I have seen. Not only does the faux metal fool you, but it seduces you into caressing it on the steering wheel and centre console, yielding satisfying tactile feedback. It’s a pity Subaru didn’t use the same material in the place of the never-seen-a-forest fake wood.
Proving that Subaru knows how to make a vehicle for the average Joe, the fit and finish of the interior is on par with what I expect from GM: haphazard. Adding insult to haptic injury is the feature list of the lesser Legacys (Legacies?). In a world where even Kias come standard with Bluetooth, Subaru makes you either step up to the Limited trim-line or cough up $2290 for the up-level audio package in Premium trim to get the speakerphone. Oddly, Bluetooth isn’t even offered in base models and the same goes for iPod/USB connectivity.
I’d like to say that everything brightens when you turn the Legacy’s key and get out on the highway, but I’d be lying. Gone are the semi-athletic adjectives you could use to describe Subarus of yore. Ten years ago, AWD was an intriguing novelty in a mass-market sedan. Today, an AWD sedan faces more competition and offers less “aint-it-cool” power. For the average person driving the average mid-size sedan, the AWD system of choice really doesn’t matter either. Yes the Symmetrical AWD system Subaru uses is without a doubt superior in terms of feel and function to the Haldex sip-and-grip systems Ford uses, but does Joe-six-pack care? Probably not.
Out on the road the feelings of average continue. Steering feel is slightly numb, road feel is isolated, acceleration to 60 happens in 7 seconds flat and the car stops like your average family hauler. I had hoped for a bit more driving wasabi, but all I ended up getting was vanilla pudding. And the end of the day, the 2011 Legacy drives just like I would expect an AWD Camry to drive, which makes sense because passengers frequently confused the Subaru for a Camry. The only thing unusual about the Legacy these days beats under the hood: the horizontally opposed engines ala Porsche. Sadly when it comes to weight distribution, handling, performance, smoothness, etc. the engine layout no longer provides much benefit compared to the competition. The proof is in that vanilla pudding: in the twisties, the AWD Fusion feels much more planted; much more in-tune with the road than this new Legacy. Sure the Legacy is bigger, but stacked up against the much heavier AWD Ford Taurus, the Legacy still feels heavy and soft despite gaining only 50lbs over the 2009 Legacy.
The 3.6L Legacy’s brother the 2.5 GT is the very proof that Subaru is shooting for the mainstream. The 2.5 GT not only feels better on the road, but with a 0-60 time of 5.6 seconds, it’s significantly quicker as well. Sadly Subaru thought Americans wanted more cylinders instead of more power so the 2.5GT remains a niche model available only with a 6 speed manual transmission. You’d think that the 3.6L would be smoother than the 2.5L turbo 4, but you’d be wrong. You’d think it would sound better, but you’d be wrong again. You’d pray that it would get better fuel economy, but you’d be left wanting.
At $30,015 as equipped, the Subaru Legacy proves that Subaru is capable of giving the American public exactly what they were asking for: a Camry with AWD. You can’t go wrong with putting a Legacy in your garage, especially if you live in the snow-belt, just don’t expect to feel too special behind the wheel. Subaru’s legacy is a company that made quirky vehicles that handled well and stuck out in a crowd, their future appears to be higher sales figures, more profit and mainstream America suited products. How average is that?
Readers who are following TTAC on Facebook were given the opportunity to ask reader questions of the Subaru Legacy. If you would like to ask questions of car reviews in progress, or just follow TTAC, checkout our facebook page. FB fans, here are your answers: Samir S: yes, thankfully it comes in other colors. Dan V: I feel your pain; it’s all about mass-market appeal. Marlon H: Probably not. Brian C: The auto doesn’t hunt as much as it used to. Patrick C: I thought about trying but honestly got too bored. Megan B: I’m sure you know the answer to your first question, second question is yes you can put a rearward facing child seat in the back with a normal-sized human in front. Bill H: Catching air is against the press car loan agreement, sorry.
Subaru provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.