I went to the University of Colorado at Boulder for my freshman year of college and I noticed one thing living there that most other people would probably would never think twice about. Having grown up in Northern California everyone had a Honda Accord but in Colorado they all drove Subaru Legacy and Outback models.
I often times wondered what all of these hearty individualists who call themselves Coloradans saw in those cars besides the fact that they had all-wheel drive. There had to be more to it than the fact that they had better traction when driving through the snow that blanketed the state for most of the winter months. There is a pretty sunny spring and summer season in Colorado you know.
So after my week with a 2010 Subaru Legacy Limited 2.5i I think I finally get it. And while I never thought anyone who lived in Southern California (where I currently reside) truly needed all-wheel drive, now I am a firm believer in Subaru’s version of the technology no matter how nice the weather is where you live. Let me just tell you now that I have never felt so planted, secure and safe driving any car in my entire life. And I’ve driven Volvos, unfortunately.
The thing that makes the 2010 Subaru Legacy such a special family car is that it goes beyond the realm of being a great snow car. It is roomy, comfortable, has a stylish interior (that wouldn’t look out of place in an Acura), a handsome exterior (rare among family sedans nowadays), a huge trunk, gets great fuel economy (especially considering the fact that the engine has to power all four wheels) and in top of the line Limited form it is an absolute steal at $24,995.
For that price you a 2.5 liter 170 horsepower “Boxer” 4-cylinder engine (the cylinders are horizontally opposed instead of in the usual V formation), a CVT automatic transmission with a manual function and paddle shifters, all-wheel drive, power windows, power door locks, cruise control, steering wheel mounted audio controls, a 10-way power driver’s seat, 4-way power passenger seat, rich and sturdy feeling leather, realistic wood trim that would shame a Lexus, heated seats, heated windshield wipers, 17-inch alloy wheels, Bluetooth, dual zone climate control and an absolutely terrific Harmon/Kardon 440 watt 7-speaker premium audio system.
A $2,995 option package was added to my test vehicle and this included a power moonroof, a high mounted in-dash navigation unit, a back-up camera, a USB/iPod port (with great accessibility through the nav-screen) and hands free Bluetooth. This option package is definitely worth the cost as many competitors charge that much just for a navigator. Less important was the Sirius satellite radio for $461 and a trunk cargo net for $65.
So we have established here that the 2010 Subaru Legacy is an incomparable value in its class. No one else offers all-wheel drive so inexpensively and I can’t think of many sedans at any price that offer a rear back-up camera although families with small children do sometimes buy them instead of crossovers (note: that was sarcasm).
But the real question that needs to be answered is can the Legacy compete toe to toe with competition like the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Nissan Altima and Mazda6? I have tested all four of those mainstream family sedans so not only will I tell you all about the 2010 Legacy but I will also tell you how these powerhouses stack up against the latest generation of Subaru’s most mainstream sedan.
Subaru really found its groove with the 2010 Legacy and Outback. The Legacy is easily one of the most stylish family sedans on the market today and as you don’t see them coming and going everywhere, there is a level of hipster cachet to owning one.
My favorite exterior feature is the “hawk eye” (Subaru’s words) headlamp design which really gives the front of the car a fresh and unique appearance. My tester also came in a color I would not normally choose myself called Sky Blue Metallic but it really was incredibly flattering to the shape of my test Legacy and I highly recommend it. The overall look of the 2010 Legacy is clean, simple and there isn’t a bad angle from which to view this car so that says a lot.
I honestly think that if most people sat in the interior of the 2010 Subaru Legacy Limited and couldn’t see the Subaru logo, 90% of them would think they were in a vehicle from a luxury automaker. It is really that well done. I own a 2006 Acura TL and it feels just as solidly constructed and stylish as the interior of my car which cost a whole lot more than $24,995 when it was new. And my TL doesn’t have all-wheel drive, a back-up camera, a USB-iPod port or paddle shifters.
The controls for the automatic climate control, stereo and touch screen navigation are all easy to understand and logically placed. At night the speedometer/tachometer, center stack, steering wheel controls and door switches all glow different colors but the overall effect is uniquely pleasing to the eye. Subaru has a knack for pulling off little things like this that set it apart from the norm and the 2010 Legacy is all the better for it.
Some other auto journalists have complained about the electronic parking brake located to the left of the driver on the dashboard but I personally loved how simply the system worked. Just push in to set it and pull out to release it. Also, when you activate the parking brake it makes a noise just like the Millenium Falcon from “Star Wars” as it raises its landing gear. Yes, I am a total “Star Wars” geek. I admit it freely.
The biggest change for 2010, however, is the increased space now available in both the passenger compartment and huge 14.7 cubic foot trunk. The rear seats alone now boast an added 4 inches of legroom making this family sedan a true five seater.
All of the seats are well padded and covered in leather that looks magnificent in black. Thanks to a standard tilt/telescoping steering wheel and a 10-way power seat (Premium and Limited models only) it is very easy for the driver to get comfortable.
There is also a large center console, glovebox, a number of cupholders and surprisingly large map pockets (who has maps anymore?) in the doors to help store all of your junk. Even the cheapest base level Legacy which starts at $19,995 still comes with a sporty feeling three spoke steering wheel with audio controls that feels great in your hands as you are driving.
The dashboard in my Limited model was slightly different than the one found in lesser models as it was dominated up top by a very large navigation screen with easy to read maps and controls. My only niggle is that you can’t input any information into the screen as you are driving. Now, I realize the driver shouldn’t be inputting an address on the move but couldn’t the passenger do it?
But I suppose this is just another by product of our ridiculously litigious society. My Acura, however, does allow you to input directions on the move and yes I am smart enough to never use it as I am driving. Not everyone is an idiot. But as far as interiors go, the Legacy’s is pretty much perfect.
Safety and Economy
All Subaru models are IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) “Top Safety Picks” and given the fact that their tests are far more difficult to pass than those required by the Government, it says a whole lot about how safe these cars really are. To get a “Top Safety Pick” rating a vehicle must get a top score of “Good” in front, side and rear impact crash tests as well as in a rollover roof strength test. On top of that the car must come with Stability Control and pass a whiplash protection test.
The key to Subaru’s safety is what they call a “Ring Shaped Reinforcement Frame” that absorbs collision forces from any impact angle. I don’t know if there is a real correlation but there is such a feeling of solidity and heft when you are driving the 2010 Legacy that it almost feels like you could take on a Chevy Suburban and still come out of it unscathed.
In addition to that frame strengthening system, all 2010 Legacy and Outback models have a newly designed engine cradle that forces the engine underneath the car in case of a high speed frontal impact. This helps keep the engine from winding up in your lap in the event of a catastrophic accident. And we all know that could seriously ruin your day.
Whereas many Subaru models have “Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive” which splits engine torque 50/50 between the front and rear axles, 2.5 liter 4 cylinder models with the Lineartronic CVT use a different set-up. It is called “Active Torque Split All-Wheel Drive” and it uses an electronically managed transfer clutch to actively control the level of power distribution based on driving and road conditions. So as you are driving the 2010 Subaru Legacy 2.5i with the CVT automatic the all-wheel drive system is doing the thinking for you traction wise.
In addition to giving you a more high-tech all-wheel drive setup, the CVT automatic in the 2.5i variants of the 2010 Legacy return class leading fuel economy for vehicles with four driven wheels. The EPA estimates returns of 23 city/31 highway. I got 22 miles per gallon during my test but I routinely abused the manual paddle shifters because I so enjoyed the utterly unique engine noise that the flat four “Boxer” engine makes at high revs. But more about that in the next section.
Subaru shares the 2010 Legacy’s horizontally opposed “Boxer” engine design with only one other car company in the world. Porsche uses the design with the six cylinder engine that sits in the back of its iconic 911. So why have Subaru and Porsche stuck with this engine layout?
First off, since the cylinders are horizontally opposed instead of facing upwards in a V or inline straight formation the engine can sit lower in the engine bay thereby lowering the center of gravity. And when a vehicle has a lower center of gravity it handles better. And the Subaru really does hug the road as you take it around corners.
The “Boxer” engine also makes a very distinct noise when you rev it and to my ears it is a positively rapturous sound. It is sort of like a harmonic thrum that affords the 2010 Legacy a very unique sonic experience during spirited driving. This is the only test car where I have actually turned the radio (I can’t drive without music) and air conditioning (I never open windows) just so I could hear the engine. It sounds that cool.
The CVT also does a very good impression of a regular automatic and is vastly superior to the unit in the 2010 Altima. When you put it in manual mode and use the paddle shifters it will let you rev it up to 6,000 RPM then it says it has had enough and upshifts for you. So it is almost like a manual but just not quite. At least the CVT doesn’t make any odd groaning noises like some competitors units that I may have previously mentioned.
Steering feel is heavy and almost Germanic in feel while the car feels firmly planted at all times even during high speed cornering. Body roll is almost non-existent but the vehicle still absorbs bumps with hardly any body flex or undue wallowing. An excellent ride/handling compromise that might lack some of the agile reflexes of the Accord but the Legacy can still afford plenty of grins on a winding road.
The 2.5 liter 4 cylinder motor may not be overburdened with power and torque but quite frankly it never feels underpowered in normal, everyday driving. And if you do need a little extra oomph you can always rely on the paddle shifters to get the engine revving. You will be surprised how quickly the 2010 Legacy builds up speed. And if the regular 2.5 liter is not enough there is a turbocharged 265 horsepower GT model and a 3.6 liter V6 available that puts out 256 horsepower.
Comparing the 2010 Subaru Legacy with its Family Sedan Competition (4-cylinder models)
2010 Toyota Camry
Lows-Don’t get me started
Highs-Adventurous styling, great manual transmission, high feature content for the price
Lows-4 cylinder engine is slow with automatic, limited headroom in rear seat, lacks steering feel
2010 Nissan Altima
Highs-Handsome styling, bargain pricing, fast
Lows-CVT automatic makes odd noises, cheap interior trim, lacks handling finesse
2010 Honda Accord
Highs-Powerful engine, smooth automatic transmission, great ride/handling, best in class steering
Lows-Everyone has one, conservative styling, some find center stack controls confusing
Commentary: In this class it is only the Accord that really offers up competition to the supremely well rounded 2010 Legacy. But to be quite frank, the Honda specializes in offering up different family car values in comparison to the Legacy. The Honda feels light, agile and sporty where the Subaru feels solid, comfortable, safe and stylish. The Subaru is sort of like the Audi to Honda’s BMW.
What Makes Subaru Different as a Car Company?
No other automaker in the world can match Subaru’s real commitment to both philanthropy and innovative environmental endeavors. For instance, the Indiana plant where my Legacy 2.5i Limited was assembled not only produces 0% landfill waste but it was also the first auto manufacturing site to be designated as a wildlife habitat.
Subaru also partners and sponsors a number of charitable organizations including “Pets and Paws” which aids abused, abandoned or neglected pets, the ASPCA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals), various AIDS organizations, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association that helps people with hearing or speech disabilities, a number of environmental causes as well as the Street Safe Driving Academy which teaches safe driving techniques to people of all ages and experience levels.
How Dog and Kid Friendly is the 2010 Subaru Legacy?
Subaru sponsors the ASPCA and I don’t think there is anything more “dog friendly” than that. The interior of the 2010 Legacy is also made up from very premium feeling materials so they should be easy to clean and relatively scratch/tear resistant.
To my way of thinking Subaru should be selling at least as many Legacy sedans as Nissan is selling Altimas. From the way the turn signals click with deliberate solidity as you press them to the deep “thunk” noise the doors and trunk lid make when you close them, the 2010 Subaru Legacy is perhaps the most German car that has ever come from a Japanese automaker.
Yet the 2010 Legacy still retains the utterly unique character that never lets you forget that at its core it is still a Subaru. The world is a better place because the 2010 Legacy exists and if you are looking for a value laden, fun to drive, well built, safe and stylish family car you may have just found your next set of wheels.
Vehicle Tested: 2010 Subaru Legacy Limited 2.5i CVT
Base Price: $24,995
Price as Tested: $29,511 (including destination)
Options on Test Vehicle: Option Package 08 ($2,995): includes power moonroof, navigation, back-up camera, USB/iPod port, hands free Bluetooth, Sirius satellite radio ($461), trunk cargo net ($65).
Engine: 2.5 liter Boxer 4-cylinder Engine
Power: 170 horsepower/170 lb. feet of torque
Transmission: CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission) Automatic
Drivetrain: Active Torque Split AWD (sends power continuously to wheels that need extra grip)
0-60: 9.4 seconds (estimated)
Fuel Economy: 23 city/31 highway
Trunk: 14.7 cubic feet
Safety: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) “Top Safety Pick” for 2010
Warranty: 3 years/36,000 miles bumper to bumper
5 years/60,000 powertrain