Subaru has never been shy about getting weird in public. Witness its decades-long commitment to the boxer engine, its history of producing slightly off-kilter models, and its stewardship of the sensible station wagon through the onslaught of the gargantuan SUV, all of which bolster the company’s reputation by coloring outside the lines. Yet the 2018 Subaru Legacy 2.5i Sport tested here shares few of the automaker’s contrarian attitudes, instead trying to blend in with the popular crowd. Which is a little weird—for Subaru, anyway.
The entire Legacy lineup has undergone a mild refresh for 2018 that adds a little contemporary spice and brand identity to the Legacy’s front fascia. (The Sport trim tested here was added for 2017 to sit above the Base and Premium and below the Limited and Limited 3.6R.) Otherwise, it could hide on most dealership parking lots without fear of being discovered. Likewise, the updated interior with a new center console and steering wheel put it in the same chapter of the modern design book as its rivals, if not the same page. What sets the Legacy 2.5i apart, however, are the keys to virtually all Subarus: standard all-wheel drive and a flat-four boxer engine.
In the case of our Legacy, that four makes 175 horsepower and 174 lb-ft of torque, the latter at 4000 rpm. Output travels through a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) to a Symmetrical AWD setup, which is Subie-speak for an electronically controlled and continuously variable hydraulic transfer clutch capable of delivering torque to the axle with the best grip. It’s a sturdy combo, but acceleration is not high on its list of priorities. The zero-to-60-mph run consumes a full 8.6 seconds, with the quarter-mile requiring 16.7 seconds.
While these numbers might have been typical family-sedan fare just a decade ago, we now live in a reality where a 2018 Honda Accord EX-L 1.5T CVT can do the same tricks in 7.3 and 15.7 seconds (or even more quickly with a manual), and the naturally aspirated 2018 Toyota Camry XSE V-6 can fly through the tasks in 5.8 and 14.4. True, the comparison may be tilted in favor of the Accord via forced induction and the Camry via cylinder count, but to paraphrase the urban poets of the ’90s, don’t hate the players, hate the game. Subaru faithful interested in keeping pace are free to explore the Legacy Limited 3.6R trim with its 256-hp flat-six, but the privilege will cost an additional $5600 over the $27,205 base price of the Legacy 2.5i Sport tested here.
Business as Usual
The manner in which the Legacy goes about its business will be familiar to anyone with seat time in a recent Subaru product. Cold mornings yield a few chugs of the engine’s rotating bits before settling into its trademark flat-four low-frequency resonance; it’s not harsh, but you’ll never mistake it for the near silent behavior of some of the latest silky smooth inline-fours. Pin the accelerator pedal and the CVT lets engine rpm climb, doing its best to turn torque into momentum. Subaru says the transmission’s electronic control unit was retuned to be more responsive, but like most CVTs we’ve experienced, it retains that slightly unsettling and disconnected sensation of the engine speed outpacing vehicle acceleration. Moving the selector into its manual mode allows the driver to “shift gears” via wheel-mounted paddles that command the CVT to shuffle among six fixed ratios, but the novelty grows old quickly since doing so isn’t much fun. CVTs have their place, but we’d have preferred that Subaru put whatever resources it took to make the CVT play make-believe and instead used them to put its current six-speed manual into the Legacy. (While we’re dreaming, in a perfect world Subaru would develop a new top-notch manual gearbox for use across its entire lineup.)
The chassis also received some attention for 2018, Subaru retuning both the suspension for a smoother ride and the electrically assisted power steering for enhanced feel. Without the benefit of a back-to-back comparison, we’ll mention that speed bumps and road imperfections seemed a little more isolated than in the previous model, at least with the 18-inch aluminum wheels and 225/50R-18 Goodyear Eagle LS2 tires that distinguish the Sport from the Legacy pack. The new-for-2018 sound-insulating front side windows seem to have been a worthy upgrade, too; per our sound-test meters, there may not be less noise overall, but it’s not concentrated right beside your ear, either.
Overall, the Legacy demonstrates a tight, solid, and rattle-free structure. Directional changes are reasonably stable, but sharp turns at any speed reveal moderate understeer and body lean; pushed on our 300-foot skidpad, the Subaru pulled 0.85 g of grip. That’s just a couple of ticks behind the 0.87 g generated by the max-sporty Camry XSE V-6 and the 0.89-g figure posted by the surprisingly grippy Accord EX-L 1.5T.
Adding all-wheel drive to any vehicle can adversely affect its fuel economy, but Subaru doesn’t make a two-wheel-drive Legacy, so the EPA’s city/highway 25/34 mpg estimates are the baseline. Unfortunately, our observed 25 mpg doesn’t come close to the EPA’s 29-mpg combined mark, but then we’re not known for being light on the throttle. By comparison, that’s 1 mpg better than the 24 mpg we recorded for both an Accord Sport 1.5T with the six-speed manual and an Accord 2.0T with the 10-speed automatic. This Legacy returned 34 mpg in our 75-mph highway fuel-economy test, exactly matching the EPA’s estimate.
Priced by the Cubic Foot
Another area where the Legacy excels is interior passenger volume. Measuring 101 cubic feet, it’s in a dead heat with the 100 and 103 cubes respectively offered by the Camry and the Accord, but the real-world effect is even more significant. After many days behind the wheel, we’re confident saying that folks of the wide, thick, and/or tall persuasions will find more usable room in the front seats than in either of its chief rivals, something we’re not accustomed to saying about Subaru products.
A well-curated romp through the cosmetic and comfort departments define the standard features that set the Sport apart from the Base and Premium trims below it. Interior tweaks include two-tone gray upholstery with blue stitching, carbon-fiber-patterned interior trim, a power sunroof, proximity entry, push-button start, and an auto-dimming rearview mirror. Exterior cues include a slightly different grille treatment, fog lamps with black bezels, satin silver power-folding side mirrors, and chrome accents on the rocker panels. The Sport badging means nothing beyond the cosmetic presentation—all the mechanical bits remain unchanged.
The sole option on our test car was a $2095 package that bundles Subaru’s EyeSight driver-assist technologies, including blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, lane-departure and sway warnings, and pre-collision automated emergency braking. Seamlessly integrated and deftly calibrated, Subaru’s EyeSight safety systems perform better than those found in some premium brands. What’s more, the package also includes the Starlink infotainment system with an 8.0-inch touchscreen, navigation, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability, satellite radio, voice-activated controls, Bluetooth, and more. The as-tested price of $29,300 slips between the $26,670 Honda Accord 1.5T Sport CVT and the $30,860 Accord 1.5T EX-L CVT. In that context, the Legacy’s secret value weapon is the inclusion of the navigation system in the aforementioned package. Adding nav to the Accord bumps the EX-L 1.5T’s price tag up to $31,860, and it can’t be had in the Sport 1.5T.
Even compared to Subaru’s current lineup of increasingly mainstream vehicles, the Legacy 2.5i Sport feels as if much of its inherent Subaru-ness has been stripped from its soul in order to catch the attention of mid-size-sedan buyers conditioned by years of Accord and Camry ownership. While we understand the desire to connect with the common man, we think Subaru is most appealing when it’s getting a little funky.
VEHICLE TYPE: front-engine, all-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 4-door sedan
PRICE AS TESTED: $29,300 (base price: $23,055)
ENGINE TYPE: DOHC 16-valve flat-4, aluminum block and heads, port fuel injection
Displacement: 152 cu in, 2498 cc
Power: 175 hp @ 5800 rpm
Torque: 174 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm
TRANSMISSION: continuously variable automatic with manual shifting mode
Wheelbase: 108.3 in
Length: 189.1 in
Width: 72.4 in Height: 59.0 in
Passenger volume: 101 cu ft
Trunk volume: 15 cu ft
Curb weight: 3521 lb
C/D TEST RESULTS:
Zero to 60 mph: 8.6 sec
Zero to 100 mph: 24.0 sec
Zero to 110 mph: 31.6 sec
Rolling start, 5–60 mph: 8.9 sec
Top gear, 30–50 mph: 4.2 sec
Top gear, 50–70 mph: 5.8 sec
Standing ¼-mile: 16.7 sec @ 85 mph
Top speed (governor limited): 130 mph
Braking, 70–0 mph: 167 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.85 g
C/D FUEL ECONOMY:
Observed: 25 mpg
75-mph highway driving: 34 mpg
Highway range: 620 mi
EPA FUEL ECONOMY:
Combined/city/highway: 29/25/34 mpg