Jeans, sweatshirt, and Nikes, every single day. That was my high school outfit, an introvert’s attempt to blend into the background. Every once in awhile, I’d try something new, usually committing a fashion faux pas in the process that immediately put me back into my standard uniform to avoid further ridicule.
Subaru’s approach to design is similar. Typically, the company’s cars and SUVs are vanilla flavored, and when Subaru attempts to add a little flair it often backfires in the direction of quirky. The BRZ sports car is a notable exception to this rule, perhaps because Subaru didn’t style it.
The 2018 Subaru Legacy reminds me of jeans, a sweatshirt, and Nikes. There’s nothing wrong with it, but nothing to take note of, either. You buy this car (if you’re still interested in a car and not an SUV) for its standard all-wheel drive and top-notch safety ratings. Otherwise, it lands on the bland side of what is historically a field of non-descript family sedans.
Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if Subaru dropped the Legacy from its lineup after its current run. In 2017, the Legacy outsold the Buick Regal and Mazda 6, and the discontinued Chrysler 200 andVolkswagen CC. That’s not exactly a bragging point, though, because for every Legacy that found a home Honda sold more than five Accords.
Perhaps the Legacy’s freshening for the 2018 model year will help. Subaru has made lots of small changes to the 2018 Legacy that result in a more pleasing, if not more attention-grabbing, family car. To investigate, I spent a week with a Legacy 2.5i Sport equipped with the EyeSight option package, bringing the price to a value-laden $29,300 including the $860 destination charge.
This year, the Legacy’s front and rear styling is tweaked, new “Konoji”-shaped daytime running lights debut, and two new colors are available. My Legacy test car was dipped into one of them, Crimson Red, and the Sport trim level added unique wheels, a rear spoiler, and rather gratuitous grille, doorsill, and side mirror housing details.
Though equipped with a rakish roofline, the Legacy’s styling is nothing to get excited about. This reaction, believe it or not, actually represents progress. After all, it is better to be a wallflower than an ugly duckling. Still, so much about this car is so compelling that it really deserves eye-catching, attractive styling to bring buyers in.
Inside, Subaru says it has upgraded the interior materials, added new standard features such as welcome lighting and automatic locking doors, revised the controls, and installed a new steering wheel. Special carbon fiber-pattern trim, gloss black accents, blue contrast stitching, and 2-tone gray cloth seats define the Sport trim level.
In spite of these changes, the Legacy’s cabin is more functional than stylish. Attempts to dress it up, such as gloss black surfaces that make some controls look cheap and leatherette seat bolsters that really ought to be dark gray cloth, don’t fool anybody.
Quality levels are, however, high. From the solid “thunk” the doors make when closed to the way Subaru lines the storage areas and details the windshield pillar covers, it is clear that the company is paying attention to details that other automakers are not.
Subaru says it has improved the Legacy’s air conditioning system for 2018, and while that’s great, the company stopped short of solving a couple of additional comfort issues.
First, the front passenger’s seat is not adjustable for height. Seat track travel is remarkably generous, but once you’re in, you feel like you’re sitting on the floor, and that makes it harder to gracefully exit the car. If you want a vehicle that’s easy to get into and out of, take a look at Subaru’s Outback, which is basically a Legacy station wagon with a taller ride height and SUV styling cues.
Second, in order to get rear air conditioning vents, you need to buy a Legacy with Limited trim. The lack of vents, in combination with a lack of tinted rear windows, resulted in griping from rear-seat passengers. Again, I’ll reference the Outback for its privacy-tinted rear windows, which help cut down on solar heating.
Drivers will be satisfied while behind the Legacy 2.5i Sport’s new steering wheel, which is quite nice to grip. The 10-way power adjustable driver’s seat ensures a proper, supportive position, and the padding on both the door armrest and center armrest is remarkably dense and plush.
Outward visibility is outstanding. Thin windshield pillars, lots of glass, oversized side mirrors, and a tall seating position make it easier to drive and park this car.
Call the Legacy’s control layout a work in progress, though the automaker gets most things right.
Primary controls are logically located, easy to find, and easy to operate. Secondary controls require memorization if you wish to find them without a hunt, and it is easy to forget where certain data is displayed. Subaru has, however, moved the dual-zone climate control system’s temperature displays to within the temperature knobs for the 2018 model year.
Instrumentation can be hard to reference at a glance, especially the undersized gauges with their undersized markings. And at night, it looks like a Bomb Pop dripped all over the car’s dashboard thanks to Subaru’s use of red, white, and blue illumination. One color, or at most two, is a better approach.
Because Subaru installs a standard all-wheel-drive system in the Legacy, while at the same time carving out what is essentially full-size family space in the car’s rear seating area, the trunk takes a hit in terms of measurable space. Among the smallest in the segment, the Legacy’s cargo area supplies 15 cubic-feet of volume.
That sounds unimpressive, but Subaru smartly configures the space with a flat load floor and lots of width between the wheel wells. And that translates to practical room for cube-shaped objects, like suitcases. Also, as a dealer installed accessory, you can get a robust grocery bag hook installed. Just make sure everything is double-bagged because if they rip your eggs will drop, break, and get goo everywhere.
Interior storage is fairly generous. The glove box is sizable, the center storage console is positively huge, and there is a covered bin forward of the transmission shifter where you can store your smartphone while it is charging via the USB port. The Legacy’s door panel pockets are rather skimpy, unfortunately.
For 2018, one of the biggest changes to the Legacy is a new StarLink infotainment system. In standard trim, the display grows to 6.5 inches across, while all other versions of the Legacy benefit from an 8-inch screen. Subaru says the system’s content loads faster, and that’s true.
Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration is standard, and the voice recognition technology is improved for easier use with Siri and Google assistant functions. Subaru adds USB ports for the rear seat passengers, and TomTom supplies the embedded navigation system technology. New apps include Yelp, Best Parking, Glympse, and more. There’s even an eBird bird-watching app because, well, Subaru’s customer data profile must indicate that this is desirable.
StarLink subscription services are offered in two packages, neither of which includes ways to monitor teenaged drivers and their use of the car. The least expensive package includes automatic collision notification and emergency SOS assistance service, while the most expensive package adds remote access to various vehicle functions.
Subaru provides volume and tuning knobs for the stereo, and shortcut buttons for the home screen, the navigation map, and the radio display. Everything else is accessible through the Apps shortcut button.
Graphically, the system is pleasing to use, the display mounted beneath a glass surface for a smooth, modern appearance. It also resists fingerprints. I did, however, have a bit of trouble with the voice recognition system. I had cancelled navigation to a destination, and each time thereafter when I pushed the “talk” button on the steering wheel, the system would confirm cancellation of my route. It wasn’t until I shut the car off and re-started it that this problem resolved itself.
Worth noting here is the Legacy’s PIN code vehicle access system. Using it, you can leave your key fob inside of the vehicle in order to exercise unencumbered by your keys, and then re-gain entry by entering a code via the trunk release button.
There is no possible way that the Subaru Legacy can improve upon its crash-test scores and related safety ratings. The federal government gives it 5-star ratings in every single assessment, including for rollover resistance. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gives it a “Good” rating in every single assessment, including the brand new small overlap frontal impact test for the front passenger’s seat.
If you’re looking for a midsize sedan that will protect you best in the collision, the Legacy is it.
Not only is this car incredibly safe in a crash, but you can get a full load of driver assistance and collision avoidance technologies on it for as little as $26,700. And that’s the sticker price. With all-wheel drive. And the destination charge.
My 2.5i Sport model was a little more expensive than that, but not much. And EyeSight worked well, operating with remarkable refinement. During the week with the car, it emitted just one false collision warning alarm, and one false lane departure alarm.
So what gives with the rating in this section? Glad you asked. My test car had a reverse automatic braking system. Trouble is, in the Legacy the sensors that cause it to activate read my street as an obstacle. That meant that every time I exited my driveway I had to either slow to a turtle’s pace or wait for StarLink to load so that I could shut the system off.
What I would really like is for Subaru to supply a way to shut the system off and save that setting. Or revise the sensors so that I can back out of my driveway at a normal pace without the car suddenly slamming on its own brakes.
Subaru offers two different engines in the 2018 Legacy. One is a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine making 175 horsepower at 5,800 rpm and 174 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,800 rpm. The other is a 3.6-liter 6-cylinder generating 256 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 247 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,400 rpm.
Any Legacy with “2.5i” in its name has the 4-cylinder, which is satisfactory for most driving. At higher elevation, my bet is that this car feels pretty slow. And even when driven at sea level, it simply could not deliver acceleration anywhere close to quick.
On a positive note, the standard continuously variable transmission is refined for 2018. It is programmed with stepped ratios that are supposed to make the car’s acceleration characteristics mimic those of a car with a traditional automatic, and it works until you floor the gas pedal. Then, a CVT’s characteristic droning is evident, but even so you get the sense that the racket is actually emanating from the horizontally opposed “boxer” style engine.
The more powerful 6-cylinder engine is one solution to the acceleration problem, but this engine is A.) only offered with Limited trim; B.) comparatively thirsty; and C.) still normally aspirated and susceptible to the debilitating effect of elevation and thinner atmosphere on such engines.
What the Legacy really needs is the turbocharged 2.5-liter 4-cylinder that Subaru uses in the base WRX. That would solve all kinds of complaints. Turbos are thirsty, too, but given that my Legacy 2.5i Sport got 27.1 mpg on my test loop (falling short of the EPA rating of 29 mpg in combined driving), I’d say the extra horsepower and torque from an engine impervious to the effects of elevation would be worth the trade-off.
Subaru’s standard symmetrical all-wheel-drive system equips the car with terrific all-weather traction, active torque vectoring, and can send all of the engine’s power output to a single wheel if necessary to help the Legacy extract itself from slippery situations. No wonder these are so popular in parts of the country that are regularly blasted with foul weather.
For 2018, engineers have upgraded all aspects of the Legacy’s ride and handling qualities, and from the rating in this section you can tell I’m impressed.
Brake pedal feel, steering response, a re-tuned suspension, and steps taken to quiet the car’s cabin deliver a more composed and serene driving character than before.
Steering is perfectly weighted and precise, and the new steering wheel is terrific to hold in your hands. The brakes, too, call no undue attention to themselves, though a panic stop executed with hot discs produced a somewhat lengthy period before the car came to a halt.
Though it has the word “Sport” in its name, this version of the Legacy isn’t stiff. In fact, when traversing bigger whoops and dips it feels softer than it ought to. However, body motion is expertly attenuated and the Legacy is both tossable and enjoyable to drive. Unfortunately, the capable handling simply serves to underscore the engine’s lack of power.
During 3-hour stints behind the wheel, cruising on the highway between 70 and 80 mph, the Legacy was unexpectedly quiet inside, a pleasant surprise. Aside from occasionally choppy ride motions on sharper bumps, the car was solid, secure, and composed, a perfect companion for a road trip from the northwestern reaches of the Los Angeles suburbs to Palm Springs.
If you want an all-wheel-drive family car, your choices include the Buick LaCrosse and Regal, the Chrysler 300, the Dodge Charger, and the Ford Fusion and Taurus. Note how these vehicles are offered by the traditional “Detroit 3” automakers. Because Michigan weather.
Subaru’s Legacy is the only other choice. And in this model, AWD comes standard at a starting price of $23,055 for the least expensive version of the car.
This feature, in combination with the Legacy’s reputation for safety and durability, is no doubt responsible for the bulk of its annual sales. And there are lots of other reasons to consider a Legacy, ranging from its comfortable seats to its enjoyable driving dynamics.
Until it loses its rather anonymous design in favor of something both stylish and attractive, though, this family sedan is destined to remain a wallflower. That’s fine when you’re an introvert seeking to avoid attention, but it spells doom if you’re a car company trying to turn a profit.
Good thing that the Legacy-based Outback crossover is such a big hit for Subaru.
Did you find this article helpful? If so, please share it using the “Join the Conversation” buttons below, and thank you for visiting Daily News Autos.