While there are lots of midsize sedans, if you’re looking for one with all-wheel drive, your choices shrink dramatically. In fact, outside of the luxury brands, there are only two: the Ford Fusion and the Subaru Legacy. Ford offers all-wheel drive on the premium-spec Fusion, the Titanium, which is equipped with the top engine, Ford’s 2.0-liter EcoBoost turbo four. At Subaru, all-wheel drive is standard on the Legacy, as it is on every Subaru save the BRZ. Thus, you can get an all-wheel-drive Legacy with either the base 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine or the optional 3.6-liter six.
A Four and a Six
For this match-up, we chose the Legacy equipped with the six-cylinder. Why? Because Subaru’s normally aspirated 2.5-liter four, despite being slightly larger than Ford’s 2.0-liter turbo, is seriously down on power (with 173 hp) compared with the Ford four, which produces 240 hp. The Legacy’s 256-hp, 3.6-liter six is a much closer match. Pricewise, the Legacy 3.6 R, even in Limited trim, is also closer to (and still cheaper than) the AWD Fusion Titanium.
Not Cheap, but Lots of Goodies
With both cars rolling in their most resplendent finery, standard fare for each includes leather, keyless entry and ignition, heated front seats, power seats, and, on the Fusion, a backup camera and Sync. To that total, our tested Subaru adds navigation, a moonroof, and a backup camera, along with some lesser bits, for a total of $32,382. The Fusion you see here is loaded up with navigation, adaptive cruise control, active park assist, blind spot warning, lane departure warning, automatic high beams, rain-sensing wipers, 19-inch wheels, and metallic paint, sending the bottom-line price all the way to $37,670.
Styling is No Contest
The Ford is the more expensive car, and it looks it. If we were awarding style points, the Fusion would garner them all. The new Fusion has a very dramatic design for a midsize sedan. In contrast, Subarus have never been known as style setters, and the Legacy does nothing to upset that tradition.
Inside as well, the Fusion is very of-the-moment. Not so much in the cabin materials, which are rather ordinary, but in the large, colorful LCD screens in the instrument panel. Of course, there’s MyFord Touch, with its huge screen, but there are also the configurable color screens flanking the speedometer. Compared with the Ford, the Subaru looks a generation behind. Its instrument cluster has real instruments (with only one small LCD screen that doesn’t do a whole lot), its center stack uses actual buttons, and its navigation graphics look like they’re from the aftermarket. The Legacy is a Blackberry to the Fusion’s iPhone. Like a Blackberry, however, the Subaru might lack visual pizzazz but is actually easier to use, with its physical buttons rather than Ford’s touch-screen and flat-panel design.
Life as a Passenger
In the same way, the Subaru’s more upright greenhouse and boxier, sedan-like roofline isn’t as rakish as the Ford’s profile, but there are benefits to the driver and passengers. For the driver, the Legacy’s large, upright windows provide an excellent view out. As for rear-seat passengers, the Ford just barely carves out enough space for two adults, while the Subaru has room to spare. Up front, the Legacy’s wide, soft seats feel fine, but their support melts away during spirited cornering. In the Fusion, the Titanium spec buys you better seats than you get in lesser versions, and they have a lot of lateral support—something you’ll appreciate when you attack some corners.
On the Road
Attacking corners is something the Ford does particularly well, and the Subaru does better than before. When the current Legacy debuted in 2010, its suspension setup prioritized pillowy ride comfort, and the car could be ponderous and floaty on the highway. A revised chassis for 2013 features a thicker rear antiroll bar and firmer springs and dampers. The suspension tune-up has quelled the float and improved cornering, and the ride quality hasn’t suffered too much, although the wheels do trod heavily over bumps. We don’t mind the Legacy’s fairly high steering efforts, but the helm is somewhat wooden and can be lazy about self-centering.
The Fusion won’t need to go in for a suspension upgrade anytime soon. Ford has done an extremely good job with this chassis. The ride is composed, and the car dives into corners with confidence. At the same time, the Fusion shrugs off broken pavement with a stoic thump—even while wearing its high-fashion nineteen-inch wheels. Finally, the Ford’s electric power steering is progressive and nicely weighted.
Powertrains, All-Wheel Drive, Fuel Economy
The Legacy’s 2013 updates extended to the powertrain—but only the base engine. A new version of the 2.5-liter four-cylinder is more efficient and is now paired with a CVT automatic (or a six-speed manual in base models). There are no powertrain changes to the six-cylinder 3.6 R, which continues to use an automatic with only five speeds. Subaru offers three different all-wheel-drive systems on the Legacy, depending on the transmission selected. For the 3.6 R, the AWD system combines a center differential and an electronically controlled hydraulic transfer clutch; interestingly, this unit’s default torque split is 44/55, so it has a slight rear-wheel bias. The Fusion shares its all-wheel-drive system with seven other Ford vehicles, including the Escape, Flex, and Taurus. In its steady state—almost all of the time—the Ford system will motivate only the front axle. Depending on driving conditions, though, the system can kick in and send between 40 and 55% of torque to the Fusion’s rear axle.
Fords 2.0-liter EcoBoost four is the most potent of the three available non-hybrid powerplants. Responsive and well mannered, this is definitely the engine you want in your Fusion. Not surprisingly, its EPA figures trounce those of the Legacys much larger six. The Feds rate the Fusion at 22 mpg city and 31 mpg highway, versus 18/25 mpg for the Subaru. However, Fords EcoBoost engines have been criticized recently for delivering real-world mileage that falls far short of their EPA figures. Anecdotally, our experience says the same: when we take the Fusion on a four-hour day trip that is a mix of Interstate and two-lane highway, we get an indicated 25 mpg.
And the Winner Is...
The Subaru Legacy is a nose-to-the-grindstone sedan that does a good job delivering midsize sedan virtues with the added bad-weather capability of all-wheel drive. In this match-up, it tallies its points in all the more practical categories. It’s more attractively priced, undercutting the Fusion by more than $3000. Its cockpit, although dowdy, is easier to see out of, and the controls are easier to use. For those who regularly carry more than one passenger—and if you didn’t, why would you be buying a midsize sedan?—the Subaru’s back seat is notably more spacious.
The Ford Fusion is more impressive at first glance. Larger and more stylish, it’s also packed with the latest tech. And while we acknowledge that some of those aspects have their downsides, it’s nice when a midsize sedan aspires to something a bit beyond just taking you to work. The Ford pulls ahead because it’s also more compelling from behind the wheel. Its chassis is a standout in this segment, and it delivers lively performance from its small engine. A midsize sedan may not have to reach you on an emotional level, but we like it when it does. The Ford Fusion is our winner in the AWD midsize challenge.