By on September 30, 2014

2015 Subaru Legacy 3.6R LimitedIn the very recent past, six-cylinder midsize sedans were often the cars consumers acquired because the basic four-cylinder powerplants were insufficient devices. As fuel efficiency became more of a concern, as economic concerns prompted families to consider less costly purchases, and as larger four-cylinder engines became more refined and powerful, the six-cylinder option gradually became less necessary.

In 2014, upgrading from the four to the six means an increase from sufficient power to over-the-top acceleration.


Rewind to 2002. The V6-powered Honda Accord, a 3.0L car with 200 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque, was tasked with motivating 3274 pounds. The latest four-cylinder in Honda’s Accord is a 2.4L tasked with propelling only two fewer pounds (in Sport trim) with only 11 fewer ponies than in that 2002 V6. The newer Accord – which just recorded record-high monthly U.S. sales – is two inches longer, its cabin is only slightly larger, and its trunk is 12% more capacious. It’s absolutely fine, completely capable, and as quick as the old V6, if not quicker. Or, if you want to accelerate like an 80s (or 90s?) supercar, you buy the V6.

2015 Subaru Legacy 3.6R Limited profileThere’s much more to the new Subaru Legacy than an engine. It’s the only car in the class that comes equipped exclusively with all-wheel-drive. Its cabin is truly vast. The trunk, while shallow, is deep and wide and squared off. Interior quality is a couple of generations ahead of the last car. Road and wind noise has been kept to a minimum, and ride quality is really rather impressive. 576 watts and 12 speakers of Harman Kardon audio provides a positive acoustic experience. The steering and handling lack the edge of third and fourth-generation Legacy 2.5 GTs, body roll being the biggest complaint, but the steering is more natural and weightier than what you’ll find in many intermediate cars, and there’s no secondary jostling of occupants as the car recovers from severe road imperfections.

Driver comfort is enhanced by terrific visibility, and while my lanky frame never felt low enough in the car, there is a sensation of abundant up-front space that’s in keeping with contemporary “mid”-size cars, which easy fill a garage. The extensive list of active safety features (ADC, PCB, PCTM, VLDSW, BSD, LCA, RCTA) on this top-trim Legacy Limited work unobtrusively, unlike the Jeep Cherokee which brings you harshly to an unnecessary halt when reversing, for example.

2015 Subaru Legacy 3.6R Limited rearBut in an era which supplies us with perfectly conventional family sedans that tempt consumers to switch out the capable four-cylinder engine for a high-performance V6  – America’s three favourite midsize sedans still offer remarkably quick V6 powerplants – the Legacy’s 3.6L horizontally-opposed six-cylinder reeks of insignificant extravagance. Subaru USA only offers the 3.6L on full bore Limited models and asks for an extra $3100 to take the plunge.

And what a plunge it is, as average fuel economy takes a nosedive from 30 mpg in the 2.5L to 23. The boxer six’s city rating is 20 mpg. In a mix of city and highway driving, we averaged 19.6 mpg over the course of a week. The six-cylinder’s fuel economy ratings are better than the all-wheel-drive V6-engined Chrysler 200’s; not as good as the 2.0L EcoBoost AWD Ford Fusion’s. Granted, in that Fusion, we saw 18.4 mpg. An Accord V6, lacking all-wheel-drive of course, is rated at 21/34/26 city/highway/combined.

2015 Subaru Legacy 3.6R Limited steering wheelThe Subaru’s six-cylinder fuel economy is a highlighted issue because it’s yet another penalty you pay, in addition to the higher transaction price, for an insufficient amount of heavy throttle fun. By modern standards, the Legacy 3.6R doesn’t feel like a genuinely quick car, because it’s not a genuinely quick car. Four-cylinder power in a Mazda 6, for instance, will get you away from stoplights more quickly. Indeed, the last Legacy 3.6 accelerates more rapidly. The Subaru is heavier than it used to be, and that’s an undeniable part of the problem, but that weight pays dividends in a structure that feels very solid and a cabin that’s nicely hushed. Indeed, the 3.6L isn’t overwhelming even on paper: with just 256 horsepower, it does not rank among the elite. No, the bigger issue isn’t the Legacy’s overall heft and dearth of impressive specs but rather the connecting element between the engine and the wheels: this is the kind of CVT that gives CVTs a bad name.

Certain that added power cures all CVT ills, I was pleased to discover that the CVT in the latest Outback 2.5i we tested a few weeks ago was mostly inoffensive. Yes, sometimes it made unpleasant sounds. (This 3.6 makes a great noise but its orchestral talents are thrown out of tune by the conductor, the CVT.) But the 2.5’s delivery of power was not hindered by its gearlessness. Knowing this, I assumed that an additional 81 horsepower would only smooth out the CVTness.

Perhaps Subaru made similar assumptions and therefore did not take the time to properly calibrate the pairing, as the dearth of initial acceleration from rest is a miserable disappointment. The paddle shifters offer real assistance, but the frustration of being in a six-cylinder midsize car that simply doesn’t feel like a substantial upgrade over the four is not going to be alleviated by operating the paddles on a constant basis. (A six-speed manual is not available with either of the Legacy’s two engines in the United States; Canadian buyers can select a three-pedal layout with the 2.5L engine.)

2015 Subaru Legacy 3.6R Limited Tech interiorFortunately, these disappointing realizations serve to highlight the gains made by more basic Legacys in the Subaru’s latest revamp. The new infotainment interface is quick and uncomplicated; only a long reach to the tuning knob and excessive glare on the screen itself let down an otherwise straightforward centre stack. The outgoing Legacy I drove around last winter was hugely uncompetitive. With all-wheel-drive included in the price and inoffensive styling, perhaps even a handsome front end, the new 2015 Legacy is just as staunchly Subaru as it’s always been, if less athletic, but it now feels as well-built as the category’s top sellers.

North America’s new vehicle market has developed a large appetite for cars and crossovers with four driven wheels. Yet the major midsize players from Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Hyundai, Kia, and Volkswagen have either never entered the all-wheel-drive fray or have forsaken the notion. Massive leaps in refinement have created an opportunity for the 2015 Subaru Legacy to capitalize on its unconventional layout.

The fact that the underperforming CVT-laden six-cylinder option is a terrible value is truly of little consequence on that front. A dollar-minded sedan buyer with a yearning for all-wheel-drive, decent fuel efficiency, and space for four already knows he’s better served by the base engine. Alas, historically speaking, not many of those buyers have actually existed.

Timothy Cain is the founder of, which obsesses over the free and frequent publication of U.S. and Canadian auto sales figures. The Legacy was provided for review by Subaru Canada.

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41 Comments on “Capsule Review: 2015 Subaru Legacy 3.6R Limited...”

  • avatar

    “Indeed, the 3.6L isn’t overwhelming even on paper: with just 256 horsepower, it does not rank among the elite. No, the bigger issue isn’t the Legacy’s overall heft and dearth of impressive specs but rather the connecting element between the engine and the wheels: this is the kind of CVT that gives CVTs a bad name.”

    That’s sad, considering the 4th gen Legacy GT was very much among the midsize elite when it came out. With the improvements in styling and interior quality, they had a chance to make this generation into a really nice sport sedan but chose not to do so.

    As a Canadian, I think the one to get would be the highest trim that they sell with the 6MT.

    • 0 avatar

      All of the most recent subaru offerings are just so.. Meh. They’ve lost what made them unique, it’s almost 2015 ffs there’s no reason this car shouldn’t have at least 325 hp

  • avatar

    I don’t get this meme I am coming across frequently among automotive writers who say CVT’s make noise. Do they? My new hybrid Toyota has been said by many writers that the CVT makes odd noises. All I ever hear is the note of the motor, nothing that sounds remotely like gear works. I do understand the HSD system is mechanically a totally different animal than bed and pulley CVTs so maybe I am simply inexperienced? Do belt and pulley CVT’s make noise?

    • 0 avatar

      Yes, drive a dodge caliber, its bad, it just compounds the complete lack of power by making the horrible sounds it does.
      Never have I got out of a vehicle and felt so angry at the world. Never will I purchase anything that causes that much stress and anguish on such a short trip.
      Basically you’ll hear it with the engine and it together, just a deepish tone whining noise. I can’t speak for Toyota.

      I can deal with slow but that car was the devil in automotive form, the lack of room to my left and in front of me was terrible as well.

      I can’t recall ever driving anything else with a CVT.

    • 0 avatar

      Unfortunately, Subaru’s CVT is noisy – can’t speak for the rest. I had a 2014 Impreza as a whirring loaner for a week, which made me investigate. Subaru uses a German brand CVT, whose name now escapes me, but they also supplied the CVT for Audi A4 FWD models sold here in Canada and Europe. A sales rep pal’s A4 CVT, mostly highway miles, failed at 180,000 km. He was highly unimpressed at the $2K repair bill, but at least they could repair it, unlike Nissans which are swapped out as a $5K unit.

      I brought up the noise issue with the Subaru sales manager, who I’ve known for 25 years. Uncharacteristically, he became defensive, and basically told me off. “We’ve had zero failures, not like the competition!” Told him, that’s great – now how about the noise? He stomped off – most strange for him. Obviously a sore point.

    • 0 avatar

      Have driven many CVT-equipped Nissan and Ford products, and one Honda, although never a Subaru. Can’t say I ever noticed transmission noise in any of them.

      The usual CVT objection is that the engine “drones.” Well, of course it does… the whole point of a CVT is to keep the revs at the optimum point for the level of acceleration being requested. Personally, I prefer a good CVT to any other type of automatic for non-spirited driving.

    • 0 avatar

      It’s not so much that the transmission makes noise, though some of them do whine a bit. It is that the CVT keeps the engine bang on it’s torque peak, which is often a rev point that doesn’t sound particularly nice. With a conventional gearbox, the engine is running up and down the rev range, this is what we expect. With the CVT the engine just drones along. Very efficient, but it doesn’t sound good at all. And if you get an engine that is particularly unpleasant sounding (Nissan 4), it can be pretty bad.

      Though ultimately, I don’t find CVTs any worse than any other automatic. I don’t like any of them with very few exceptions.

  • avatar
    87 Morgan

    Couple of thoughts.
    I think this car looks good, has some Buick lines to it seems like.

    Here in CO this will sell all day long as the Subie is now the car to have. But, why the rotten mpg? Surely the fine engineers at Fuji can develop some HP with out guzzling gas. This mpg is approaching full size truck numbers with Hemi power. Anecdotally, I had two chevy Equinox for company rides, put 75k on both, had the 4 cylinder which I did not find offensively slow and they both delivered 26 mpg consistently city/highway.

    Could one make the argument that Fuji is getting cheap on development costs knowing they have the IT product to maximize there return? Then, when they fall too far behind they can introduce a new line up of engines that offer substantially higher mpg to revitalize sales? Planned obsolescence all over again…

    • 0 avatar

      You see Buick lines? I see a Taurus front clip and a Camry rear end.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      “But, why the rotten mpg?”

      Opposed engine and full-time AWD. Subarus have always lagged the competition in gas mileage because of these features.

      • 0 avatar

        We had an 03 Legacy 2.5 and while it was a decent car mostly, the mileage was awful. The hills of western PA, AWD and the wide gearing of the four speed auto made it work hard. We never saw more than 16-17 mpg city and about 25 highway compared to the pre-revised EPA sticker of 20/27. The revised ratings make it about right, at 18/25.

        18/25 for a 160 (170?) hp four cylinder? The AWD really saved the day about twice over a three year lease, but it really wasn’t worth the mileage penalty.

      • 0 avatar
        87 Morgan

        How do explain the mpg of the CRV Rav4 equinox then?

        My point is that Fuji has always been on the low end for economy, so much so that it is almost embarrassing. Again, dodge figured out how to get a hemi to return comparable mpg in a full size truck 4×4 vs AWD but also carrying a ton more weight and aerodynamics of a brick.

        They can do better and IMHO could, at some point, lose their momentum in the new car sales race if they can’t figure economy.

        • 0 avatar

          Why would they bother? Nobody buys a Subaru for the fuel economy, so the impetus to greatly improve mileage is absent. Better to put that money into things that buyers actually care about, like body cladding and activity stickers.

          • 0 avatar

            I agree. Subie buyers in MY area don’t give a hoot about fuel economy but want the thing to go when it snows or the ski-slopes and trails have turned to mud.

            Surprisingly, many of the old and very old Subies are still in year-’round use where I live, and that includes the old gutsy H-6 models.

            So, in MY area, Subies hold up very well (if you take care of them).

      • 0 avatar

        Not sure that the cylinder arrangement has much to do with it. It’s 3.6L, which is rather big for the hp developed, and it is AWD. I assume it is also quite heavy.

  • avatar

    I think your 19.6 mpg is a little off from and other blogs. Some avg up to 25 with the v6 and I think the overall MPG on fuelly is 22.6 . and those averages were in the bigger less aerodynamic Outback. In fact my neighbor. Gets 22 MPG average with a 2013 3.6 outback which is rated less then your 2015 model

  • avatar

    “Indeed, the 3.6L isn’t overwhelming even on paper: with just 256 horsepower, it does not rank among the elite.”

    Nissan will do you a 3.5L (5 years ago) with over FIFTY more HP. And equal or a bit better fuel economy with AWD if you’re using the 7-speed auto. In a larger, heavier car.

  • avatar

    The whole point of still offering this motor should be to offer the manual.

    • 0 avatar

      And the H6 has never been sold with a manual in the good ole USA.

      That would truly be a car worth of an “R” suffix and a great budget alternative to an Audi sport sedan.

      • 0 avatar

        It would be completely beneath me to point out that Subaru’s target market abhors handling a stick.

      • 0 avatar

        “And the H6 has never been sold with a manual in the good ole USA.

        That would truly be a car worth of an “R” suffix and a great budget alternative to an Audi sport sedan.”

        The 2.5 turbos in the fourth generation Legacy were really heading into Audi territory with looks and performance, but Subaru got bored with them and focused on making Outback into a Conestoga wagon. I guess it makes them money, but it’s sad to think of what those cars could have become.

      • 0 avatar

        Precisely. But what will happen is its take rate will plummet because apparently its near pointless now with a CVT from a mileage/power standpoint and the motor will simply be dropped. Wither Subaru, you used to be cool.

  • avatar

    The center stack buttons and steering wheel controls still look like amateur hour at Isuzu in 2001. And there’s no wood.

    I like the idea of Subaru, and their image, just not the execution. Unless we’re talking about the Legacy 2.5GT SUB I saw the other day – I approve of that one.

  • avatar

    This is a car I want to like but dang if it isn’t pricey even on the used market as well.

    I had an uncle who loved his Subaru’s from a mid 80s Loyale wagon to the last of the Legacy GT wagons. He passed away before the GT was canceled. I wonder what he would think of this Subaru?

  • avatar

    It’s a good car no doubt, but for the similar price it seems like a lot of buyers choose the added utility of the Outback, dumb enthusiast complaints be damned.

  • avatar

    Subaru has a perfectly good 2 liter turbo that delivers both decent power and efficiency in the WRX so why do they bother with this old, harsh and torque anemic engine?

    • 0 avatar
      Ashy Larry

      The 2.0T is also offered in the Forester, with the CVT, and has garnered praise in that combo. Seems like it would be a worthy addition to the Legacy and Outback lineups. Subaru seems to be ignoring the tends towards small displacement turbos in non-sporty cars. It does so at its peril.

      • 0 avatar

        It’s doubly strange Subaru does not offer a turbo in the Legacy/Outback, given their sales strength in the mountain states.

        With Audi chasing increasing rough/slippery road irrelevance with ever larger wheels/shorter sidewalls in their pursuit of Bimmerness, the Subies are becoming THE cars to have in the ski and mountain climb states.

  • avatar

    My daily driver is a coal-black 2005 2.5 GT LTD Wagon. With 250 turbo’ed ponies all lined up and waiting to be stroked by the sport shift AT. Actually glad I didn’t look for the spec.B, as constant rowing in traffic isn’t always fun.

    There were a number of other Subies between the current one and the first, a 1.8T Loyale wagon. Back then, the only thing the engine could do was imitate a police sireen.

    I don’t think I’d get as excited over this newer version.

  • avatar

    I own a ’08 Legacy GT – love it. The H6 available that year was just a smooth operator, no life or brio and had the same auto as mine. Snooze city.

    C/D has tested the 2015 Legacy H6 CVT. It’s a dud, loses half a second or more compared to the old five speed auto. Which makes a person wonder. The whole point behind a CVT is to allow the engine to stay at max power during hard acceleration, so it should be quicker, but it isn’t.

    This new car is a bit of an old bus. With 600,000 US sales expected this year, Subaru’s customers are hardly the Amazons of yore. When I go for an oil change/service, the customers in the lounge seem to be quiet laptop wielding regulah workers. Then a gen 4 LGT wagon pulls up, is processed by the service writer and the owner enters the lounge. Goodness gracious, a person with non-dead eyes and signs of actual life.

    Except for the WRX/STI and the deaf people who don’t mind wringing out a BRZ for its ounce of performance, not much need for a thinking person to enter the AWD emporium these days. Pity.

  • avatar

    I tried to like the ’14, but that 5A transmission seemed odd to me.

    Then, I drove a ’14 Charger 3.6/8A AWD. And took it home.

    32 on the highway at 70 mph when in RWD mode. 27+ in AWD in winter.

    I expected better of the ’15 Subaru. Not sure what they are up to with this.

  • avatar

    This is a great review. Highly informative. I’ll have to pay more attention to your reviews in the future.

  • avatar

    “The trunk, while shallow, is deep…”

    I think I know what Mr. Cain was trying to say (shallow in height but deep in length), but that put me off for a few seconds.

    Pairing the H6 with a lazy CVT is unfortunate. While I think it’s ridiculous for people to complain about CVT cars droning (that’s the whole point, to vary the gear ratio and keep the engine at the optimal RPM), the large-engine option should never be tuned to feel lazy. That’s the whole point of buying the 6-pot.

  • avatar

    Nice job sub this new sheet metel is actually attractive and much more masculine. Maybe this will draw in more sales.

  • avatar

    Don’t see the massive improvement in interior quality…looks very rental grade to me, especially in base trim. I do prefer the new exterior design minus the Cruze-ish plastic triangle (why are these going back in style???).
    Also, it seems like the previous 3.6r, while never very popular, was a heavily reviewed car, and there were major differences in recorded 0-60 times, car and driver getting as low as 5.8 seconds but others no faster than mid 7’s. It’s hard to take 0-60 times too seriously anymore considering all of the factors that can affect such a calculation…

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