By on October 27, 2014

2015 Subaru LEgacyAmerica’s 35th president, John F. Kennedy, said, “One person can make a difference, and everyone should try.”

Automobile manufacturing is not public policy. (Actually it is, basically all the time.) But virtually every automaker tries to make a difference in the midsize car sector, yet are the differences each manufacturer makes worthy of a mention here?

2014, like most years, is a time of great change for the segment. We’ve been steadily approaching a premature refresh of the Camry, America’s best-selling car. Chrysler Group replaced its Sebring-based 200 and Dodge Avenger with an Italian-based (can we call it that?) 2015 200. Hyundai’s avant-garde sixth-generation Sonata was replaced by a more conservative 2015 model.

Also recently launched was the sixth-generation Subaru Legacy. Subaru USA reported their best-ever Legacy sales month in September, when 6198 were sold.

Crossing the 6K threshold is no mean feat for a car which averaged fewer than 3800 monthly sales in 2012 and 2013.

With real volume coming from the company’s midsize car (plus improvements from the Outback, XV Crosstrek, and Forester) Subaru yet again reported record brand-wide sales: September 2014 was Subaru’s best-ever September. Sales have increased in 34 consecutive months.

Meanwhile, Mazda reported the 6’s sixth consecutive year-over-year monthly improvement as September sales shot up to 4263 units. 6 sales have now topped 4000 units in five consecutive months after crested the 4K mark only seven times in the previous 28 months.

2014 Mazda 6Measured by percentage gains, the 6 was America’s second-fastest-growing midsize nameplate in September, surging 35% as Legacy sales jumped 118%.

Perhaps neither car made a huge difference in the overall scheme of things – they accounted for just 0.8% of the new vehicles sold in the United States last month – but their impact on the midsize sector was notable. In September 2013, they generated just 3.5% of America’s midsize car volume; that figure rose to 5.9% in September 2014. With 10,461 sales between the pair, they combined to produce market share similar to the Chrysler 200 (10,995 September sales) and Kia Optima (10,908 September sales).

Nevertheless, the 31% year-over-year improvement from the Honda Accord, America’s best-selling car in both August and September, translated to 7780 extra sales compared with September 2013. In other words, Honda added more sales to an already high September 2013 Accord total than Subaru or Mazda’s midsize total. The Accord’s market share, on its own, increased by 3.7 percentage points to 18.5%.

America’s four best-selling midsize cars so far this year (Camry, Accord, Altima, Fusion) combine to sell 60% more often than the next eight-best-selling midsize cars (Sonata, Malibu, Optima, 200, Passat, Avenger, 6, Legacy).

This doesn’t translate to bad news for the two smaller Japanese automakers, not at all. Subaru will likely sell more than 50,000 Legacy sedans this year, a total not achieved by the Legacy nameplate since its sales figures were Outback-inclusive. Mazda has already sold more 6s through the first nine months of 2014 than in all of 2009, 2010, 2011, or 2012 and will likely produce the greatest year-end 6 volume since 2007, when 57,575 6s were sold.

Clearly, lower volume intermediate cars are having an impact as they utilize their unique strengths to attract attention in a stagnating segment. And yet even in September, a most difference-making of months, the Legacy and 6’s achievements pale in comparison to the Accord’s surge, like filibustering senators who aren’t blessed with veto pens in their desk drawers.

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22 Comments on “Subaru Legacy and Mazda 6: Low Volume Midsize Cars Making A Small Difference...”

  • avatar

    To top it off these sedans pale in comparison to crossover sales. Is everyone just selling so many more cars that they all look good?

  • avatar

    So, while mid-size sedans still sell, some sell better than others and some sell better than they used to.

    But they’re still just sedans and therefore anachronisms.

    • 0 avatar

      You know, I recently shopped for a small/mid sized car with a manual as a must. That requirement plus the popularity/price of hatches among compacts forced me to look at sedans. Suprisingly I found my self enamored with these unloved variants, especially the Mazdas. For what ever reason while I clung to the ideal of a sporty coupe and had genuine interest in the practical hatch the sedan like most other people was never a contender. The anachronism seems as always to come from fashion rather than the qualities of the object. And this thought after so many years wishing people in America would finally embrace the hatch/wagon/tall box and do away with that silly stigma.

  • avatar

    Glad to see these two often overlooked cars get some love, there are some of us out there who like the idea of driving something you do not see at every stop light, at least on the coasts that is. If I had to buy a car tomorrow I would look at both of these as well as an accord , it would be a tough sell against the accord but at least these two are making their way into the conversation.

  • avatar

    I can endorse the Accord and the Fusion, and while I’m a car guy, I can also absolutely understand why so many people choose the lowest-common-denominator Camry. But for the life of me, I can’t figure out how anyone, let alone 320,000 people a year, surveys the midsize segment, realizes they could buy a Fusion, Camry, Accord, 6, Optima, or 200, and says “You know what? That Nissan Altima is a wise choice to invest $24k of my own money.”

    I mean, I’ve rented it several times (as in, been stuck with it as the last car on the Emerald Aisle) in various trim levels, and rode around with a friend when he proudly showed up with his new car (and of course lied and told him how great it was), and I’m sorry but it’s just an unpleasant place to be compared to just about anything else in the segment. What am I missing?

    • 0 avatar

      I have to say I feel that way about pretty much every Nissan I have ever been in. Altima, Maxima, 370Z, Xterra, a whole bevvy of Infinities….. The only one that impressed me was the GTR, which is very un-Nissan like to begin with. Some people love them, though. Preferring the G3x to 3 series cars etc. I just never gelled with them.

    • 0 avatar
      30-mile fetch

      Can’t vouch for the current Altima, but the last gen wasn’t a bad option in the field. It handled quite well but had the road noise levels of a Camry, interior materials to at least match the Accord, the CVT was far more responsive than the 6 speed lump in the prior Fusion, and it did all the utilitarian stuff like cupholders and storage bins and trunk space as well as anything else in the segment.

      The current Altima sounds less competitive.

    • 0 avatar

      Which generation of Altima are you referring to? We bought a 2012 Altima 2.5SL in November of 2011 after looking at the all new Camry, the stale Accord and the stale Mazda6 available at that time. Domestics were not considered. The Legacy was eliminated as Subaru insists on putting awful (very short) seats in their mainstream models.

      The Accord was OK, though the last generation of Accord (08-12??) was the low point for that car. It was far noisier than the Altima and is know to have weak brakes. We nixed it.

      The new for 2013 Camry was terrible from the start. We tried the SE and the LE. The SE rode very stiffly for no performance benefit. The seats were very short in the bottom cushion and the interior appeared very cheap. The LE was quite ugly in the front bumper and the steering was so overboosted the test drive did not even make it off the lot before I stopped.

      We quite liked the Mazda6, but it was not a true Mazda in that generation. It had most of the fun to drive taken out of it. The seats were short, flat and slippery. The Fuel ecomony was far below par and the dealer experience was terrible.

      The Altima ended up being a happy medium. It is quiet, smooth and efficient. The CVT I thought would be awful is actually great. I prefer it in an A to B car to a 6+ speed auto. The steering has just the right weight to it and the seats, while too wide, are at least long enough in the bottom cushion. The brakes are strong and pedal feel is good for a basic family car. We now have 71,000 miles trouble free.

  • avatar

    I have seen a new Legacy on the road and was sort of “MEH” by the design. Subaru is clearly doing something right with increasing volume month after month. But part of me wonders if the intangible qualities that made Subaru so popular with their owners have faded in favor of mainstream aspirations, and if this will actually have a negative affect going forward. No manual transmissions, CVTs, outbacks that are more akin to a midsized SUV, no WRX hatchback, a RWD coupe. I guess Porsche faithful have said the same with regard to Porsche’s expanding lineup and brand dilution. The same naysayers seem to be proven wrong time and again.

    But perhaps Volkswagen is a better example. I think VW offering more vanilla styling, features and content more closely aligned with volume leaders has backfired on them. Their customers wanted Volkswagens but are getting vehicles now benchmarking less interesting volume leaders and failing to mimic the quality and reliability of the competitors they are chasing.

    • 0 avatar

      The Legacy now is just – meh you’re right. All the details, when taken separately, add up to no good however.

      I mean, the chin spoiler jutting out, the bull nose from a prior Sonata, the cut lines of the doors cause the chrome trim to look very odd at the front and rear around the windows, the wheels are gross, there’s lots of unnatural lines going on at the lower trim/running board piece.


      The 6 is good looking though, albeit pricy for what you get.

      • 0 avatar

        Add one to the 6 as I pick up my new Mazda 6 tomorrow. It was up against the Honda Accord Sport which is also a very impressive car. Close call but the 6 felt so much more alive to drive and looks fantastic in Soul Red.

      • 0 avatar

        Add one to Mazda as I pick up my new Mazda 6 tomorrow. It was up against the Honda Accord Sport which is also a very impressive car. Close call but the 6 felt so much more alive to drive and looks fantastic in Soul Red.

      • 0 avatar

        I completely agree. The current Legacy is very bulky, unnatural, and ugly looking.

        Next gen they should kick it back to the ’04-09 gen. Beautiful car that was the total package

    • 0 avatar

      As the owner of a fairly new Outback, I can tell you: It’s a wagon. Sure, internet “enthusiasts” whine and moan it’s jacked up a couple of inches. Good. Makes it easier for me to get in and out. It’s a station wagon, not a sports wagon or a sports car. It’s mission is not to be sporty.

      I like the “Mainstream” Subarus. The pilarless windows needed to go. The normal ones feel much more solid.

      • 0 avatar

        As long as the OB is a lifted Legacy, it’s a wagon. Not exactly sure how wagons and crossovers differ fundamentally, but I have never seen anyone able to slam a crossover to create a sedan. Bmw tries with the 1, but it’s still obviously an XO.

  • avatar

    I like the look of the Legacys. Put a proper 8/9 speed automatic and boost the 6 cyl. to 300+ HP, and I’ll throw my money at Subaru. But the improvment in sales indicates the market is accepting the CVT and Subaru has no incentive to change.

  • avatar

    I have seen very few of the new 6 on the road. And I am not surprised, every Mazda dealer I went to had only one or two on the lot. They all have dozens of 3`s, but 6`s are rare.

    • 0 avatar

      Ever since Mazda stopped US production, supply of the 6 has been limited, esp. since the new 6 has been popular in other markets.

      Along the same lines, H/K don’t have the capacity that the Japanese Big 3 have in the US (all of them can crank out more Camrys, Accords or Altimas than Hyundai or Kia can of all models built at either of their US plants).

      But combined Sonata/Optima sales have recently been 2nd to the Camry (or 3rd) in overall sales.

    • 0 avatar

      They seem to have hit a tipping point around here. I used to see them very infrequently, then all of a sudden they are common. I believe Mazda intends the 3 & CX-5 to be their volume models, but they seem to have a genuine success story with the 6.

      • 0 avatar
        This Is Dawg

        I’ve had my 6 for one and a half years now and I’ve also noticed that trend. Up until 3 months ago, I wouldn’t see another 6 more than twice a month. Now I see a few a week. I also don’t know if I’ve only just started paying attention, but I’ve been noticing a huge amount of 1st gen 3s and 6s around DFW lately. Guess rusting isn’t an issue when it only snows once a year.

  • avatar

    The new Legacy is a fine alternative to the more mainstream sedans. It might not have the dramatic styling of the 200 or Fusion, but at least there is decent headroom for the rear seat passengers. The Legacy’s interior isn’t quite as nice as the Accords, but since Honda saved money by not offering AWD, they had more money to spend on the interior. Most consumers will understand that. The styling of the Mazda6 is stunning. But I have not been out for a test drive in the 6.

  • avatar

    I was a 30 year owner of Hondas, from Civics, through Accord, and then CR-V.

    Last year, it was time to trade-in the 2007 CR-V (my first SUV) for the next gen model. Took it for a drive (top of the line) and it was very nice – not great, but nice. On the lot was the just released latest Accord. Took it for a drive just for the fun of it, and thought – hmm, for a little extra it’s a much better driving car than the CR-V.
    I liked the rear view side mirror for lane changing, but didn’t like the outdated engine and transmission. It was soft and comfortable.

    Then I took the Mazda CX-5 then the 6 out for drives, having been in a friend’s newly purchased diesel CX-5 – yes, the ones reported to have oil troubles. What a world of difference in terms of “drivability”. Now I understood the “zoom-zoom” advertising.

    I ended up buying the Soul Red Mazda 6 2.2 turbo diesel Atenza as it’s called in Australia with all the mod cons including the i-Eloop fuel saving setup. This is a car for driving. In March this year, visiting San Francisco, I rented a car to drive down the PCH to LA. I was “upgraded” from a smallish Corolla to a Nissan Altima, current model. The drive was wet and cloud-obscured, unfortunately, but how I wished I had my Mazda 6 to do this classic drive. The Altima was great on the 405, but on the PCH was a dog to drive.

    The Accord in Australia is not the huge market owner it is in the USA, so the 6 has a better showing here, although the latest 3 must be eating its lunch, cannibalising the product. The same engine and better running gear (e.g. infotainment system) is to be had, as well as the Soul Red, and likely I would have saved $10,000 buying it rather than the 6. Mind you, as Apple’s story tells us, if you’re going to lose sales, let it be to your own product rather than a competitor’s.

    For reasons best known to Mazda US, the wagon we have here is not available, and my guess is Mazda is selling as many 6 wagons in Australia as they are sedans or close to it. It can also be bought in diesel, and is perhaps one of best looking wagons out there. Not as accomplished perhaps as the Outback, with different reasons for owning I suspect.

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