By on October 2, 2017

2018 Subaru Legacy SUS commercial Canada - Image: Subaru Canada YouTubeWhat does an automaker do after the company’s three-year-old midsize sedan — the only midsize sedan with standard all-wheel drive — is slightly upgraded for 2018?

It initiates a new marketing campaign. And what must that marketing campaign entail when the car is chronically unpopular and suffering from sharp sales declines in a shrinking category? It must utilize a catchy, attention-grabbing slogan.

Thus, for 2018, Subaru gives us the rebirth of a tagline: sport utility sedan.

Only this time, unlike 1998, the Legacy SUS isn’t lifted, it doesn’t wear two-tone cladding, its tires’ lettering won’t be emboldened by white font. The 2018 Subaru Legacy Sport Utility Sedan is just a Legacy.

The SUS idea isn’t dead, of course. Volvo USA has sold, ahem, 1,034 copies of the S60 Cross Country over the last two years. But for now, there’s no plan for an actual return to Outback-like characteristics for the Legacy sedan that originally spawned Subaru’s most popular product.

With tongue planted firmly in cheek, Subaru Canada’s marketing campaign for the 2018 Legacy talks about #trunkification and plays up the Legacy’s standard all-wheel drive. An attempt to portray the Legacy’s smaller-than-an-SUV cargo compartment as a step forward because of its cargo isolation likely draws just as much attention to its smaller shape, but given the tone of the ad, it’s pretty clear Subaru knows that already. The fine print is even an attempt at humor: “In all its majesty, the all-wheel drive Subaru Legacy sedan has been around since 1989.”

The ad goes further, showing the lowering process from an SUV to a Legacy, as if to shine a light on the car’s lack of true SUV characteristics.

There’s a strong sense of Silicon Valley sarcasm, as if Subaru is making fun of Subaru making fun of tech elites who think they’ve introduced the next big thing. Remember friends, a Pause Pod is just a tent. By talking up cargo isolation and trunkification, Subaru Canada seems to acknowledge that the 2018 Legacy is just a sedan, and is confident in such classification.

Granted, isn’t in the same facetious mood. “Introducing the Sport Utility Sedan,” the company’s homepage says in all seriousness. Only with a click-through do you witness the subtle nudge and wink: “An SUV like no other, because it’s a sedan – a Sport Utility Sedan,” Subaru Canada says. The company once again speaks of trunkification, all-wheel drive, and the fact that the Legacy is anything but high, “It’s lower,” Subaru says, “for precise handling and control.”

Any attention Subaru earns for the Legacy will be good attention. And the Legacy is in desperate need of positive attention. Fewer than 3 percent of the midsize cars sold in Canada so far this year have been Subarus. The Legacy’s volume is down 18 percent, year-over-year, in a category that isn’t shrinking quite that fast.

Back in the United States (where the Legacy is actually built), sales are down 19 percent in a midsize segment that’s down 17 percent through the first eight months of 2017. Subaru’s share of the segment is just 2.8 percent, and every competitor aside from the Mazda 6 produces more volume.

Subaru USA is not going to follow its northerly neighbo(u)r down the SUS route, however. “We promote Legacy’s versatility over regular sedans,” Subaru USA’s director of corporate communications, Michael McHale tells TTAC, “but not in this direction.”

[Image: Subaru Canada/YouTube]

Timothy Cain is a contributing analyst at The Truth About Cars and and the founder and former editor of Follow on Twitter @timcaincars and Instagram.

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37 Comments on “The Subaru Legacy Sport Utility Sedan Returns, in a Sense...”

  • avatar

    After getting stuck in drawbridge traffic (two openings in 10 minutes!) yesterday with some fragrant prepared food in the cargo area of our C-Max, I’m very receptive to a cargo-isolation pitch. (I was in a huge hurry and didn’t have time to move kiddos’ car seats over to the sedan.)

    • 0 avatar

      I feel like this is just going to go over most viewers’ heads, and not aid in the desirability of the forgotten Legacy sedan.

    • 0 avatar

      Cargo separation is why I continue to prefer a sedan as my daily driver. The problem is that it doesn’t do that much to stop smells and they will still permeate the car given enough time. However you don’t have to worry about cargo you’ve stuck in the trunk flying about the passenger area should a collision occur which is my biggest concern.

      • 0 avatar

        Which isn’t an issue if you have a hatch/wagon/suv with a proper cargo cover. The one in my Saab wagon is rated to have 75lbs on top of it. Both my GTI and BMW wagon covers are designed to restrain cargo as well, even though they are rollup covers. And all the European hatches and wagons have restraints built into the floor, tie down anything dangerous.

        • 0 avatar

          Cargo isolation is nice when it’s cold out, you want it hot in the cabin, you do your food shopping in Salt Lake City for a stay in Montana. Doubly so if your food is fished, rather than bought….

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    “Sport Utility Sedan” + “Love” = sales

  • avatar

    Get your act right, Subaru. This is laaaaaame.

    The original SUS was cool, but too niche to last for very long. #goldbadges4evar

  • avatar

    I’m just trying to picture the marketing pitch for this…

    “Remember that thing you did approximately 10 years ago? The one that wasn’t very successful? Yeah we want to do that but just as a marketing slogan.”

    • 0 avatar

      “Last time we changed something and it didn’t work. So now we will not change something instead and it will… work?”

    • 0 avatar

      Agreed, what a load of crap.

      Its a “utility” without any of the utility people buy utilities for, its a “sport” without any sport (oh, but its lower than an SUV for better handling…just like every other non-SUV/CUV/truck that offers AWD). The “sedan” part is the only applicable word. They might as well tack on the word “coupe” for all the sense it makes.

  • avatar

    Look like Subaru aiming to kill rest of Legacy sales. “Ah, SUS? forget it”

  • avatar

    This SUS has as much appeal as Phil Collins’ Sususudio.

  • avatar

    So I’m a bit biased towards Subarus, but you have to admit this is kind of funny.
    I think the latest Legacy (especially with the 2018 update) is probably better than it gets credit for. It’s super quiet, solid, and smooth, and I’d even say the interior is rather plush (if boring). It’s like what a Camry used to be, before the cheapening began. And that’s not such a bad thing.

  • avatar

    The poor guy writing the ad copy… It’s the smallest slice of the sales pie, but it more than likely takes up a disproportionate amount of time and effort trying to come up with something that works.

  • avatar

    Saw the spot on the weekend. Cleverest car commercial in a while. Nice to see someone striking back at the soccer-mom-mobile.

  • avatar

    Honestly if the thing was a bit more interesting visually I’d probably buy one. It just looks like a 2006 Hyundai Sonata.

  • avatar

    Big hole in this story: The 2018 Legacy and Outback in Canada are missing the manual transmission that was offered through 2017. (Those stick-shift cars were, of course, made in Indiana even though no U.S. manual Legacy or Outback had been offered since the 2014 models.) It’s all CVTs now, two different types available.

    You would think that a story about the “reintroduction” of the Legacy as an especially sporting vehicle would mention whether or not the manual was still available. A quick check of the specifications at the Subaru Canada page tells the tale. Likewise the Outback, of course.

    • 0 avatar

      If Subaru would bring back the Legacy wagon with manual transmission I’d buy one. Unfortunately, a sedan lacks cargo space, and I don’t care for CVTs.

      Supposedly nobody wants this combination, but my old Legacy wagon with 5MT was gone within four hours of posting it on Kijiji – so it would seem there is at least some demand for them.

      The Forester that replaced the Legacy is ok, but the Legacy was a better highway car, and it was easier to load bikes and skis on the roof rack of the Legacy. The only advantage of the short wheelbase and extra height of the Forester is that it doesn’t scrape the bottom of the car when going over bumps the way the Legacy sometimes used to do.

      As long as Subaru continues to offer a manual Forester, they’ve still got me as a customer, so maybe offering manual Legacy wagons would just cannibalize sales of their other products – but it would be nice to have more choice…

      • 0 avatar

        Ha, we’ve still got ours – a 5-speed ’03 Legacy SE wagon, still running strong after 120K miles. Eminently useful and fun to drive after 14.5 years, a great deal when new, and well worth the cost in replacement parts and maintenance.

  • avatar

    Kind of silly, but I get that Subaru needs to distinguish the Legacy’s niche. Maybe they need to emphasize the Legacy’s high seating position and visibility (at a time where sedans have been going in the “longer, lower, wider” direction as CUVs take up the slack – see Civic and Camry), without making it sound like a Buick LeSabre. It seems like Subaru gave up any sporting pretensions for the Legacy around 2012.

    Sure enough, the middle-aged and elderly Legacy owners I know love their cars!

  • avatar
    Prove Your Humanity 2+9=?

    Kudos to Subaru for keeping a proper name on most of their models (Legacy, Outback, Forester) instead of going all Acura and Cadillac on them…
    Subaru OSW, LSW, FSV… yecch.

    The might be trying to send a coded message, though: Sport Outback Sedan – SOS!

  • avatar

    I don’t know about the marketing but I do like the relatively clean lines. Someone alluded to an earlier Sonata. FWIW I also like the look of those.

  • avatar

    Given how much Americans like sedans, and how much Americans like jacked up vehicles, one would think that a jacked up sedan would be a bases loaded home run. But evidently the jacked-up-ness isn’t as important as the utility part.

  • avatar

    Subaru first grabbed my attention this year with an all wheel drive six cylinder sedan offering … but then I saw and test drove the OUTBACK…and never looked back. After 25+ years of driving sedans, it was time for some luxury, utility and common sense. Thank you Subaru for my 2018 Outback 3.6R Limited…its perfect.

  • avatar

    I watched the ad and found it quite well done. It’s obviously poking fun (loved the quick flash to the reporter eagerly taking notes when the word “trunkification” is used), and is clearly not taking itself too seriously. I think it’s quite clever and a refreshing break from the normal run of auto ads.

  • avatar

    If only they were ALSO bringing back the Legacy GT…

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    I feel like my MKS could be an SUS. It’s a very tall sedan with high ground clearance.

  • avatar

    Jeebus this species is stupid.

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