First Drive: 2010 Subaru Legacy

2.5i

The entry-level Legacy is powered by a 2.5-liter Boxer four that produces 170 hp and 170 lb-ft of torque. A new-for-the-U.S. six-speed manual is paired with a viscous center differential that splits power equally between the front and rear wheels. Those opting for the CVT will get a slightly more sophisticated AWD system that uses a slip-clutch and fancy electronics to determine which end of the car needs more torque. Subaru informs us this is the first application of a CVT with a Boxer engine. A mere 170 hp does not do much to raise the enthusiast's pulse, but it provides enough thrust for getting around town and feels particularly refined when paired with the CVT. Those considering the 2.5i will likely be most interested in the standard AWD at its $20,690 base price. Equally impressive is the 31-mpg highway rating for cars equipped with the CVT.

2.5GT

Enthusiasts will be most interested in the 2.5GT trim level. The turbo four produces 265 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque solely through a six-speed manual. Subaru uses the same AWD system here as on the 2.5i with a six-speed manual. A functional hood scoop, 18-inch wheels, and an all-weather package separate the 2.5GT from the 2.5i, but the options and equipment otherwise match a 2.5i Limited or Premium trim level. Think of the 2.5GT as a WRX for your growing family.

3.6R

Those buyers who are looking for more performance than the 2.5i offers but who are not willing to deal with a manual transmission will appreciate the Legacy 3.6R. As the name implies, power comes from a 3.6-liter, normally aspirated Boxer six engine. Power is rated at 256 hp and 247 lb-ft of torque, and the 3.6 runs on regular gas while the 2.5GT requires premium fuel. We found the 3.6-liter engine to be much more enjoyable than the 3.0-liter six it replaces, but the turbo-four cars were more fun on challenging roads. However, the six feels more refined and the automatic transmission adds smoothness to the package.

Behind the wheel

One of the biggest changes for the 2010 Subaru Legacy's ride is thanks to the double-wishbone rear suspension and front Macpherson-strut setup. If this combination sounds familiar, it's because all Subarus now use this suspension design. Body motions are well controlled, and the Legacy is stable going down the road thanks largely to its wider track and longer wheelbase. Sadly, the steering is overboosted but we found it offers good road feel as well as a quicker ratio. Braking performance has improved noticeably -- Subaru claims a 20% improvement in response from the new brake booster. Though the midsize sedan segment is hardly about superior driving dynamics, the Legacy is certainly fun to drive if you opt for the GT. Should fuel prices shoot up overnight, the normally aspirated four-cylinder model, particularly with a CVT, could be in demand. There's a smart mix of power, fun, and frugality available in the line, and all models, of course, have standard all-wheel drive.

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