Review: 2011 Subaru Legacy 3.6R

Alex L. Dykes
by Alex L. Dykes

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.

Alex L. Dykes
Alex L. Dykes

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  • Wmba Wmba on Oct 22, 2010

    Drove a friend's new 2011 Legacy with CVT. A completely anodyne experience compared to my '08 Legacy GT, but then so was the '08 regular Legacy. The new interior sort of looks better, but feels worse. Fit and finish on my car is only fair also. The glovebox door has hung drunkenly from day 1, the doors are not really square, etc. On the other hand, apart from front sway bar bushings and a loose window regulator, nothing has gone wrong. Reminds me of my '99 Impreza in that way. The cars seem genuinely reliable, and my car is a blast to drive -- in fact I prefer it to my brother's new Infiniti G37x, which is a bit quicker but very rough riding and also possessed of a not particularly rich interior, along with a drone at highway speed, and constant roaring engine noise at other times. You pays your money and takes your choice.

    • Goodall Goodall on Oct 25, 2010

      Just bought the 2.5 ltd version of this car so I can't comment on the six cylinder engine. I totally disagree with the comments about the interior. Our car is well finished. Styling is subjective. I happen to think it's very nice. I've had the car two weeks and I've received many compliments. Looks a lot better to me than a Camry or Accord. Also handles and corners better than the new Accord with which I was not impressed. The fake wood looks as good as the wood in my BMW IMO. The leather is very soft to the touch and the paint looks to be high quality. The car feels very solid and is quiet on the highway. I enjoy driving it. It's not my 3 series but it's still fun to drive.

  • Mr Carpenter Mr Carpenter on Nov 08, 2010

    I own a 2010 Legacy 4 cyl. with CVT and premium package (i.e. power seats, alloy wheels, etc). I know I could have gotten a less expensive car which would have been just as useable and nice (in fact, my wife and I DID just that in 2008 - bought her a new 2009 Hyundai Sonata). The Hyundai Sonata is 105% the car that the Subaru Legacy is, and not only is it significantly cheaper, but when buying the Hyundai, we got 30% off the sticker price. (Remember, in 2008, the economy was already in the tank). So, why on earth did I buy a Subie Legacy? And why on earth would I trade off my beloved Prius which I enjoyed so much for one? Simple: I live in a (bankrupt) northern state and for 3 days in mid-December 2009 after a major snow storm, the state could not be bothered to plow a fairly major roadway between an US Highway and the village near where I live. My Prius was undriveable (even with snow tires) and our Sonata barely managed to cut the mustard (with snow tires). One day - I could have said "meh, okay". Two days, inexcusable. Three days?! Fugeddaboudit. My wife is a nurse, so she will be driving the Subie (WITH snow tires) this winter and I'll drive her Sonata (simply because she drives home in the dark and I do not). I'm also getting 27-33 mpg with both cars so the efficiency factor is equal between them. Though to be honest, I actually prefer the Sonata. (Also a 4 cylinder). Interestingly I've timed the Subie 0-60 and it's about 10 seconds - roughly the same as the '08 Prius. Maybe just a tad faster. It's significantly faster above 70 in acceleration, though. But the Hyundai will do 60 in about 8.5 seconds! Not too shabby. Plus the Sonata will (apparently, according to the book) top out at 125! Again, not too shabby. (Prius? 106). Subie don't publish a top speed.

  • Dave M. The Outback alternates between decent design and goofy design every generation. 2005 was attractive, 2010 goofy. 2015 decent. 2020 good, but the ‘23 refresh hideous.Looking forward to the Outback hybrid in ‘26…..
  • Lorenzo Subaru had the ideal wagon - in 1995. The Legacy Outback was a straight two-box design with rear quarter and back windows you could see out of, and was available in brown with a 5-speed manual, as God and TTAC commenters intended. It's nice they're not raising prices, but when you've lost the plot, does it matter?
  • Bkojote Remember a month a go when Cleveland wanted to create a more walkable Cleveland and TTAC's 'BIG GOVERNMENT IS THE PROBLEM' dumbest and dullest all collectively crapped their diapers? Here's the thing- look on any American highway and it's littered with people who don't /want/ to be driving or shouldn't be. Look at every Becky on her phone during the morning commute in her Tucson, look at every Brad aggro driving his 84 month loan GMC. Hell look how many drivers nowadays can't even operate a headlight switch. You expect these people to understand a stoplight? In my neighborhood alone 4 people have been rear ended at lights from someone on their phone. Distracted driving over the past 10 years has spiked, and it's only going to get worse unless Becky has an alternative, because no judge is going to pull her license when 'she needs it to get to work!' but heaven forbid she not check fb/tiktok for 40 minutes a day.
  • Scott Shouldn't the The Italian Minister for Business be criticizing The Milano for being too ugly to be Italian?Better use of resources doing that....
  • Steve Biro Frankly, while I can do without Eyesight and automatic start-stop, there is generally less B-S with Subarus in terms of design, utility and off-road chops than with many other brands. I just hope that when they adopt Toyota’s hybrid system, they’ll also use Toyota’s eCVT.