Hey there, time traveller! This article was published 21/2/2020 (249 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
It was a snowy couple of weeks in January when I drove Subaru’s all-new Legacy GT. And while the white sedan didn’t exactly stand out against its snowy background, it made a heck of an impression from the driver’s seat.
In what seemed like a perpetual light dusting of snow during my test drive, the Subie showed off its superb all-wheel drive system, using whatever traction made available from its Bridgestone Blizzak winter tires to get moving without delay. And even though the car wears conservative family sedan duds, it is not opposed to giving its pilot a little latitude when it comes to maximizing performance. That means a stability control system that’s not afraid to let the car step slightly out of line without killing the fun too soon. Achieving a slight drift when accelerating out of a corner is easy and controllable, thanks also in part to torque-vectoring technology that joins the Legacy line for the first time. Previously, the feature was only available on the high-performance WRX and STI models.
Such traits are rare in the sedan segment, even though the car does have an all-wheel drive competitor in the form of Nissan’s new Altima. Those in the market will have to look at premium brands if they want additional all-wheel drive options in a sedan format.
The new Legacy is built on Subaru’s Global Platform, which started with the 2017 Impreza and continues to underpin all new Subaru models as they are introduced. It’s a design philosophy that permeates throughout the lineup, with a specific future-proof emphasis on performance and safety. On the performance side, a lower centre of gravity and increased stiffness pays dividends in handling and noise levels. Advancements in structural design result in a 40 per cent improvement in crash energy absorption to protect occupants. Future powertrains — hybrid and electric — can be accommodated in the new platform.
But for now, we have two gasoline options in the new Legacy. The base engine is a 2.5-litre "boxer" flat-four engine with direct injection, producing 182 horsepower and 176 lb-ft of torque. But the great news for this year is the return of the turbocharged motor in GT models. At 2.4 litres, it’s slightly smaller, but intercooled turbocharging boosts the output to 260 horses and 277 lb-ft of torque spread over an impressively wide rev range.
What we have here, then, is a wonderful engine and all-wheel drive combination, the foundation of a great sports sedan. But be warned, this isn’t the same Subaru that brought us the original Legacy GT, which was the ideal solution for a person with enthusiast wants and family needs. This new Legacy is more about appealing to the masses. The SUV of sedans, as Subaru’s marketing machine would like you to see it.
So, connecting that wonderful engine and superb drive system is a continuously variable transmission, or CVT, which is devoid of gears (and soul, for that matter). Instead, the design utilizes a belt with variable diameter pulleys and is one that Subaru has been using to varying degrees since the Justy was introduced in the 1980s.
All those years of experience don’t turn the CVT into a great transmission from a driveability perspective. The primary advantages of this gearless gearbox are simplicity (read: lower cost) and fuel efficiency. But don’t expect the responsiveness of a good automatic. And since the CVT is the only transmission offered on the Legacy, buyers need to decide for themselves whether it’s a deal breaker. It would be for me.
Car manufacturers have almost completely exorcised turbo lag from modern turbocharged engines. This Legacy, for example, dishes out maximum torque from 2,000 right through to 4,800 r.p.m., meaning ample power is available at virtually any moment.
It’s a shame, then, that a new form of lag is present due to the CVT design. It’s a transmission designed for efficiency, but by default it is hesitant to let the revs jump without a healthy stab at the throttle. A sport mode would help to elevate the revs and quicken the transmission’s response, but none is available on this car.
There are, however, "shift" paddles on the wheel, which allow the driver to set the revs if he or she so chooses. But this is not the kind of car that encourages fake manual shifting. The CVT also exhibits some characteristic whine under load, but it’s a lot less intrusive than that in Subaru’s own Ascent SUV.
The other anti-sporty feature of the Legacy comes in the form of ride quality. It’s very comfy, which will certainly appeal to the masses. But the GT should be sportier than that, with a more buttoned-down suspension and quicker steering to make better use of the car’s performance potential.
Perhaps of more interest to the focus group participants is the interior experience, for which the Legacy scores very highly. Start with premium materials, comfortable seats, and a tasteful brown and black colour palette in our Premier GT tester. At $40K as tested, the interior does not disappoint.
But the first thing people will surely notice is the massive 11.6-inch infotainment display, available in Touring and higher trims. Subaru is taking a run at Tesla and other premium brands by making it the focal point of the user interface. They haven’t gone so far as to eliminate all the hard buttons around the display, and for that we can be thankful.
Without climbing on my soapbox, I’ll just say it has been proven the more interaction people need to have with the interface during driving, the more distracted they will be. For that reason, primary controls should always be within easy reach and operated with minimal attention directed away from the task at hand. Which is driving, in case anyone forgot.
To that end, basic climate and audio controls are activated via buttons and knobs, and the Legacy’s steering wheel contains buttons for cruise, audio, wheel heat, and other commonly used functions that are very intuitive to control.
The team designing the infotainment display did make some questionable decisions. To switch between, say, audio and navigation displays, one first needs to tap the home screen icon, then choose the appropriate function. There should be shortcuts on or around the screen to reduce the number of taps required.
Same goes for heated seats, which first require one to tap on the seat heater icon, then choose the level of heating or cooling on the display. All while not watching the road.
The Legacy starts at $26,395 for the Convenience model and includes standard all-wheel drive. For comparison, the Altima starts at $28,098. Our Premier GT tester tops the model range at $39,095, and there are four models in between to offer a variety of feature and price points.
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