By on February 1, 2019

2018 Subaru Legacy Rear Closeup, Image: Subaru

Few automakers can boast of 85 consecutive months of yearly month-over-month growth, but that’s exactly what Subaru did as the calendar turned from 2018 to 2019. Still, despite the automaker’s impressive performance in the United States, not every model in Subaru’s lineup is a sales stud. There’s always a problem child or two.

As American buyers drain from the passenger car market, Subaru plans to make a pitch for the non-traditional traditional car, unveiling a next-generation 2020 Legacy at next week’s Chicago Auto Show. By the way, you should wish the Legacy a happy birthday today.

It was on February 1, 1989 that Subaru’s all-wheel drive midsize sedan first appeared in Japanese dealerships. Americans received their first Legacys for the 1990 model year, and the current, sixth-generation model bowed in 2014 for the 2015 model year.

Offering the company’s signature AWD system in a conservative midsize package (the badass-looking second-gen model deserves recognition), the Legacy provided weather-weary buyers with a more capable family vehicle. Those looking for more cargo space had — and have — the Legacy’s brash Outback sibling as an alternative. Thing is, everyone’s looking for more cargo capacity these days.

Image: Subaru

For 2020, the Legacy moves to the global platform shared by its smaller Impreza and Crosstrek stablemates and the larger Forester and Ascent. While Subaru hasn’t mentioned much about the seventh-gen Legacy, it did provide us with a couple of teasers, including that shot of a vertically aligned touchscreen seen above. Expect a big cabin makeover. Outside? Maybe not so much.

As the below photo shows, the Legacy adopts the brand’s signature C-shaped headlamps and a new skin, though the word “radical” does not apply to this vehicle. Subaru’s sticking to familiar and somewhat staid design.

Legacy sales climbed rapidly in the U.S. during the model’s early years, but faded around the turn of the century as new, unibody AWD crossovers began showing up in greater numbers. The trend continued up to the recession, but sales picked up in its wake. The release of the sixth-gen model saw Legacy sales rise to their highest point since the nameplate’s earliest years, but the collapse of the passenger car market didn’t leave the Legacy unscathed.

From a post-recession high of 65,306 vehicles sold in 2016, Legacy sales sank to 40,109 units in the U.S. last year. That tally represents a 19.5 percent decrease from 2017, and makes the Legacy the fastest declining model in the brand’s lineup. Sure, the BRZ is in trouble, but its volume is too low to make much of a dent in Subaru’s overall health. The Impreza and WRX are also on a downhill slide, though not as steep as the Legacy’s.

Can a new platform and styling revamp arrest, or at least slow, the Legacy’s descent? Time will tell, but I’d wager a guess that the word you’re all whispering right now is “no.”

[Images: Subaru]

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36 Comments on “Subaru’s Most Troubled Model Gets a Makeover, Bows Next Week...”


  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Please give the Legacy the turbo-4 from the Accent as an option and you’ll have my interest…

    BTW “The Straight Pipes” (Canadian Auto Reviewers) called the Legacy the “Perfect Dad Car.”

  • avatar
    turbo_awd

    Hoping against all odds that this might actually be a reasonable successor to my ’05 Legacy GT wagon..

  • avatar
    Nick_515

    My colleague got “a great deal” on one for $20k with nearly 30k miles. I’ve never bit my tongue harder wishing them congratulations.

  • avatar
    bullnuke

    It’s 2018 volume is about equal to the Passat (which has also fallen over the last model year) but, interestingly enough, its resale value (according to the KBB article referenced here on TTAC) is the best of the mid-sized cars and rated higher than Camry and Accord. As there is a rather large component commonality between Legacy and Outback (basically a Legacy wagon), I don’t foresee Subaru freaking out and dropping the sedan anytime soon. I do agree with Principal Dan that the turbo 4 would make the car interesting but I don’t see that happening. Mazda is trying this with the turbo optioned Mazda6 in an attempt to catch up to Legacy sales levels but it is doubtful that this is making much difference.

  • avatar
    Steve Biro

    Unless Subaru expands the Legacy’s appeal, they will go on selling a few while the SUVs/CUVs continue to eat the lion’s share of the market. One way they can do this is to offer the very stout turbo four as an option in a sport package.

    Reality check: If they do offer the turbo four, don’t expect a manual transmission. It’s just not going to happen. Now how many if you are interested? And, given that Subaru stopped offering the turbo in the Forester (partly to differentiate it from the Ascent and party because of the low take rate), what do you think the chances are that we’ll see it in the Legacy?

    The problem isn’t Subaru per se… it’s Subaru of America, which is staffed by a bunch of short-sighted American sales types. As soon as something becomes complicated or a model doesn’t just sell itself, their eyes glaze over and they default to not offering something.

    I’d love to be proven wrong.

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      Most reviewers have said Subaru “Does CVT Right” – given that the H6 (which I assume is going away) never had a manual in the Legacy and given that the Legacy GT in any form has been dead for 10 plus years, yes I would find 260 hp, 277 lb-ft interesting in an AWD family car.

      The current Legacy is almost 1000 lbs lighter than the Ascent. If they can keep that spread for the new one, the turbo would be pretty sprightly.

    • 0 avatar
      gottacook

      I would love it if Subaru offered a stick shift in the new Legacy, but even in Canada they’ve stopped offering it. (You could still get a 6MT in a 2017 Legacy or Outback made in Indiana and sold in Canada.)

      (The new BMW 3 series apparently doesn’t offer a manual anywhere in the world – and in the Motor Trend I read in my doctor’s office a few days ago, the several-pages-long article about the new 3 didn’t even mention that the manual had been dropped. How sad is that?)

  • avatar
    Stanley Steamer

    The raked grill and thin C pillar hark back to the 2005-09 models, probably the best looking version. I’m glad they dropped the bulbous and dopey styling of the ’10-’13 models.

  • avatar
    VW4motion

    Hmm, “Most Troubled” model? Which other model is troubled ?
    I know this is an auto site. But, geez pretend to make sense.

  • avatar
    3800FAN

    I test drove the 2017 Legacy and liked it. It had a terrific ride and handling and visibility and interior. It’s only weakness was the 4 cylinder engine was too weak. That being said I did like it more than the new Accord 1.5T which I found sluggish (when not in sport mode), too low, and too snug in the front seat.

    20 more HP and some interior updates are all the legacy needs in my opinion.

    • 0 avatar
      gtem

      To my embarrassment, I could barely keep ahead of a college kid in a base 2.5i Legacy (assuming it was CVT) in my ’01 2.8 A4 Quattro (stick).

      • 0 avatar
        blppt

        IIRC, those A4 2.8s weren’t very quick—if you got saddled with the automatic, you’d be doing 60 in just over 10 seconds.

        So, you were probably right where you were supposed to be (just ahead of a 2.5 CVT legacy).

        • 0 avatar
          gtem

          Well driven, a factory fresh 2.8 Quattro+stick should do 60 in 7.5. Considering at best a rolling start and my non-professional driving, I’m not surprised it was as close as it was!

  • avatar
    gottacook

    “Those looking for more cargo space had — and have — the Legacy’s brash Outback sibling as an alternative.” The Legacy wagon has (apparently) been forgotten by this writer. For those of us who didn’t like the Outback’s ride height and exterior appurtenances, it was a betrayal when Subaru of America dropped the Legacy wagon after the 2007 model year (although I believe the Indiana factory kept making them for Canada for another few years). The Outback was simply more profitable, I get it, but it couldn’t have been that difficult to manufacture both on the same production line.

    (Our ’03 5-speed Legacy wagon served us well and kept us safe for 15 years.)

  • avatar
    cimarron typeR

    I don’t understand how the new DI 2.5l is no faster than the port injected model on the C&D road test of the new Forester. I think I’d rather have an AWD Altima instead if I needed something in this class.

  • avatar
    wooootles

    Can you imagine if it had a FA24 turbo and a 6-speed?

    Nah. Probably CVT onry.

  • avatar
    SwiftLegend

    We have a 2015 legacy. Had a camry but needed AWD and couldn’t be happier with the ride and the ROOM! Decent gas mileage and looks great. Test drove HR-V and were thinking of Crosstrek.

    Only problem is the CVT, but that is just the lack of immediate response going reverse/forward and going 10mph around a city block.

    Otherwise been good so far.

  • avatar
    vehic1

    Some of those 85 months’ growth was mighty teency, especially after 2015 – but yes, they can still make the claim. Back around 2012 – 2015, they were like Jeep has been this last year. Legacy is a minor factor.

  • avatar
    David Brown

    We recently retired a 2013 328i for a 2018 Legacy 3.6. It’s actually an exceptional car! All the tech that BMW would charge an arm and a leg for, and plenty of power. Only disappointment so far is that the trunk lid does not fully open. Makes loading an arm full of groceries a bit of a task. Otherwise, it’s a nice car. Fuel costs using the 3.6 and regular fuel are exactly equivalent to the BMW using premium.

  • avatar
    conundrum

    With Subaru commodifying itself into using that CVT regardless of engine, a new sporty Legacy is going to be annoying anyway.

    The WRX CVT is little fun – I’ve driven two, noisy rattly hard-riding contraptions; the new Impreza is a deeply boring machine with strange steering and handling, and the H6 Legacy perambulates. I drove the latter at the insistence of the sales manager I’ve known for 30 years – he claimed it would mash my 08 LGT easily. Not a hope in hell, not even close. I rejected it. Then he refused to drive mine, of course to see my POV. Well, he’s only interested in shifting new vehicles, not the same guy I first met as the service manager with a bit of life in my Audi days. Too bad. The Mazda 6 turbo slays the Legacy in my two drives of it – too bad it’s only FWD.

    I look forward to details of the new Legacy for old times’ sake, but if it has the steering of the Impreza, even if there’s a turbo version, can’t see it being much use with the mandatory CVT. People forget good hydraulic power steering and a turbo that isn’t gargling for breath beyond 5000 rpm. Not me – I own such a beast.

  • avatar
    ttacgreg

    Any new sedan model is facing severe headwinds, being a member of a marked segment that is being abandoned by buyers.

  • avatar
    Ryan

    Subaru, if you want to the Legacy to improve sales do these two things. First, only offer one power plant -the 2.4 Turbo from the Ascent. Second, offer a manual transmission in each trim level. This sedan has to be different and not just “well its soon to be the only non luxury AWD sedan”.

  • avatar
    JD-Shifty

    I’m waiting for the AWD Corolla

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