It’s not a tidal wave yet, or even a real surge, but an interesting wrinkle is reshaping the midsize-sedan market.
Hoping to extend the appeal of sedans, some makers have begun fitting them with all-wheel-drive.
For years, Subaru has fielded the midsize segment’s only AWD model. But now, that car, the Legacy, faces two new foes: Nissan’s 2020 Altima and Kia’s soon-to-be-released 2021 K5 sedan.
Both are front-wheel-drive by default, with available AWD.
By contrast, Subaru’s Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive system is standard on all its models but the rear-drive BRZ sports car.
AWD baked in
Moreover, it’s baked into Legacy’s platform as a structural component. It’s a permanent, full-time system that uses a network of sensors and cameras to anticipate and respond to traction loss.
Subaru has dialed back Legacy’s hiking-boot persona, but, with its tall greenhouse and elevated (5.9 inches) stance, it still gives off an outdoorsy vibe.
For 2020, Legacy ($22,745) is fully made-over. It rides on a platform that’s lighter, stronger and more rigid than before. Its cabin is quieter and better isolated from the outside world.
Steering and handling grow sharper and more responsive and ride quality is improved.
The Legacy’s ride is soft and compliant. It effectively masks the impact of all but the worst potholes. The downside is less control over unwanted body motions. On undulating and winding roads, Legacy is subject to random bobbing and weaving.
Safety improves, though, as the new superstructure absorbs over 40-percent more energy in front/side crashes than the previous model.
Fresh soft-touch surfaces
Inside, soft-touch surfaces have replaced many of the last generation’s hard plastics. Improved materials include the Subaru’s first use of Nappa leather.
The 2020 Legacy comes in six trims: Base ($22,745), Premium ($24,995), Sport ($26,945), Limited ($30,645), Limited XT ($34,195) and Touring XT ($35,895).
All but the base trim come standard with the most recent version of Subaru's infotainment system, which includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration. In-car WiFi is available on Legacy for the first time.
An 11.6-inch tablet-style touchscreen is standard on all trims but the base model, which gets a pair of 7-inch screens.
Subaru loads the infotainment system with too many functions buried too deeply in an ill-defined menu structure. Adjusting the heated-seats is a three-step process. Even disabling the intrusive auto stop/start feature requires burrowing into menus.
And, because the system resets when the Subaru powers down, stop/start must be disabled each time the car is started.
Subaru’s EyeSight suite of driver-assistance features is now standard throughout the line. It includes adaptive cruise control with lane centering, automated emergency braking and lane-departure warning.
Blind-spot warning with rear cross-traffic alert is available separately.
An available new DriverFocus Distraction Mitigation System uses a camera and facial recognition software to identify signs of driver fatigue or driver distraction.
A new turbocharged four-cylinder engine that makes 260 horsepower joins the existing naturally aspirated four. It’s Subaru’s first turbo since 2002 and it powers the Limited XT and Touring XT.
The base engine, a naturally aspirated 2.5-liter four makes 182 horsepower.
Both are mated to a continuously variable transmission.
The base engine powers the Legacy from 0-60 in 8.5 seconds. The XT models need just 6.1 seconds.
The turbo earns an EPA-estimated 27-mpg combined, a 4-mpg improvement over the six-cylinder engine it replaces; the 2.5-liter Legacy scores a 30-mpg combined rating.
We tested the new Sport trim fitted with the base engine. There was enough power for worry-free freeway merging but passing on two-lane roads takes care.
The engine grows coarse and noisy under hard acceleration and the CVT, which normally mimics an automatic’s shift points, can lapse into the expected CVT elasticity.
The turbocharged engine is said to be more refined.
In the end, I suspect that Legacy will stand tall in the face of fresh competition. Its robust AWD system, improved dynamics, comfortable cabin and gentle ride will continue to appeal to snow-country buyers and those who frequent Forest Service roads.
Questions or comments? Contact Don at email@example.com.
2020 Subaru Legacy Sport
Vehicle base price: $22,745
Trim level base price: $26,945
As tested: $30,090 (includes destination and handling)
Options: Starlink 11.6-inch multimedia navigation system; power moonroof; blind-spot detection with rear cross-traffic alert and lane-change assist; reverse automatic braking
EPA rating: 30 combined/27 city/35 highway
Regular gasoline specified