It’s double feature Sunday: Can TTAC’s Future Writers master the tough job of a car review? During Future Writers Week, you chose the writers you want to see again on TTAC. Here is today’s second Future Writer car review. Do you like it? Do tell.
Sometimes the demographic stereotypes for particular car buyers exist for a reason. Being a current legal student that first graduated from that big Colorado university in the People’s Republic of Boulder and will almost certainly become the basic “yuppie”, Subarus have held some appeal to me. The idea of a rugged, capable, different family sedan has piqued my interest for awhile; I nearly purchased a used Subaru several years back, settling on a Volvo when I decided that the comfortable box would be a far greater companion on cross-country drives than the quirky, boxer-engined Subie. However, much of the automotive industry has been on a course of bland convergence since the late-nineties production of both of those vehicles; for Volvos that has meant the demise of the canal-boat-esque 5 cylinder sans turbo found in my old S70, but what does it mean for the Subaru Legacy? Are my stereotypes of Subaru outdated, or should I join the ranks of ex-Boulderites who slowly toil around in a stick-shift Legacy? For better or worse, an impending snow storm in Vail appeared to put a wrench in my cheapo rental car plans for my head-clearing pre-law school semester trip, and Enterprise Rent-A-Car responded with a 7500-mile Subaru Legacy.
Subaru seems to have done something quite incredible with the new Legacy: they managed to make it very ugly but managed to keep it completely anonymous. The front end is simply too busy, with the bottom bumper from a Ford Focus and the ungainly headlights cribbed from a children’s nightmare.
The center grill seems to have tried to emulate the much-maligned grill from recent Acuras, but gave up before meeting the hood. The center box is more appealing, with the rather clean lines even possibly indicative of sporting pretensions, but is still rather forgettable, stemming from wheel arches that everyone and their mother puts on cars these days (I’m looking at you, E90 3-series). The rear end either isn’t noticeable from angles beyond 45 degrees, or looks like a bad adaptation of a rear clip from a copyright-friendly Grand Theft Auto vehicle. Either way, initial impressions were weak, with the Toyota Camry parked next to the Legacy in the rental lot being both better proportioned and more attractive in general; this would become a comparison that would ring with increasing volume in my ears throughout my four day Colorado journey, but more on that later.
I remember getting into a 2012 Kia Sportage and thinking “wow, this is almost there”. Were previous Subarus as dreary inside as the Koreans used to be, I would have had a similar impression with the Legacy; unfortunately, the new car represents a considerable step back in interior build quality. The materials are at best equal to modern Kias, which still tend to be a bit worse than their competition. The Camry in comparison? Still mediocre for the class, but overall more solid and up-to-date than the Legacy. Late model Fords? If you have to ask, then you lack both sight and feel. At least the Legacy is fairly roomy, seeming larger inside than the Camry but if all one cares about is interior space, Chevrolet will be happy to sell you an Impala.
After an underwhelming impression on the rental car lot, I would like to say that the Subaru and I had a weekend of bonding, but saying that Pakistan has secure borders would be a more accurate statement. Let’s start with the positive: the Subaru has, despite fairly numb feel, quick steering. Turning into parking lots can be a bit of a laugh, as the quickness of turn-in can allow speeds that cause pedestrians to jump in fright. Exiting that parking lot, however, and the driver enters a world of problems. The power-train, for lack of a more descriptive term, is genuinely awful. The engine is surprisingly slow and hesitant to rev, but it is unlikely that you’ll notice due to how lackluster the CVT transmission is.
To be honest, I have a distinct hatred for CVTs; the unrelenting noise and unnatural feel alone would keep me from ever purchasing one new. I thought the CVT in the Toyota Prius was bad, but anyone who drives a Legacy will be in store for something on another level. The CVT attempts to simulate gears, but simply flat out fails in its mission. When accelerating to 35 from a stop one of two things will happen: either the car will sit at around 3000 rpm and then the revs will completely fall off as it finds another “gear”, and then you’ll start to slow down; or, the care will sit at 3000 rpm and then fail to find said theoretical gear, and then wind down with a noise so vile that the other passengers will begin to laugh.
Other faults? The wind noise is loud, the handbrake can only be disengaged while in drive, the AWD system is dodgy, the ride isn’t composed, and the MPG +/- gauge (which directly correlates to pedal travel, utterly useless) that replaces the coolant gauge becomes a minor disaster when the car begins to overheat (which it will on a spirited drive from Denver to Vail). Although I didn’t track MPG usage for my trip, as with my driving style it would be pointless, the vehicle indicated an overall 27 MPG, which is…acceptable. It is quite sad to say, but if one needs a roomy, AWD sedan, they would be much better served by the used Subaru I passed on years ago. After a long weekend, even I was surprised by the terribleness of the Legacy; to answer my original question of if I should join the ranks of the Boulder Subaru mafia with this entry, the answer is a resounding “no”.
Will Simonsick is a first year law student at Marquette University in Milwaukee, WI. Over the past five years, he has lived in Philadelphia, Boulder, and Brussels, Belgium, and will be spending the summer outside of Frankfurt, Germany. Family rumor has it that his first word was Chevy. He is currently living in automotive purgatory in a hand-me-down Toyota Prius second generation, remaining wistful for his previous Volvo and W-body Chevrolet.