Midsize Sedan Battle - The AWD Division

Patrick M Hoey

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.

I've had many cars -- including Fords, as well as Audi, BMW, Buick, Honda, Jag, MGs, Plymouth, etc. -- but none as satisfying for all-around use as when my son & I each bought early Subaru Forester XTs with stick trannies in 2003.  I still have mine (and my great little S2000 for pure recreation).  The newer ones are slower.  Just love the maniacal acceleration.  Living in the Northwest, Subaru's superlative AWD and reliability are essential features.  It's even great on deeply rutted forest roads, as well as for highway cruising.  Other highs are its exterior compactness coupled with tremendous inside space, great outward visibility, precise steering, tight turning radius, simple and logical controls, standard heated seats. OK... it doesn't look like a rocket ship, or a brothel's boudoir, but those things are immaterial to me. 
Kevin Lee Osborne
The ford!
When an Audi A4 with quattro, 6 speed manual and 2 of the popular comprehensive packages is priced nearly the same (MSRP $38,495) as the fusion, how can anyone dismiss the Audi. Still, given only these 2 choices, Subaru hands down.
Willian Dagua
Steve Yelich
There used to be a saying that to appreciate a Subaru you needed to own it for at least 10 years or 100K miles. It still seems to be true. I have never owned one, but both my kids have owned four different Subarus, and they just kept driving them without problems; just service and drive them. Unfortunately, although I like Fords I can't say that about any of the Fords I have owned, although a T-Bird I used to own came close. I must have missed a reference to the reliability of the two cars, which is really important to owners. Perhaps Ford was rating the better mileage figures based on time riding on a tow truck, but we don't know that. The new Fusion's look is great, and really appealing. It seems to be a wash though when compared with Subaru's stellar reputation for reliability. It guess it comes down to appealing appearance v. appealing reliability.
For sure the 'Aston Fusion' has the looks. But I'd probably opt for the Legacy but not with the six cylinder. The four with a six speed manual would be my first choice. Our 2006 Forester has been problem free, super good in snowy mountain passes and has a very balanced feel that is hard to imagine driving without.
Van K
Not sure why price is even mentioned after you admit that the Fusion included expensive options not available on the Subaru.
Working Hard in MO
Not sure where to start....I have owned many brands and rented many more (40+ per year for many years)...Not sure how the Fusion ended up as the winner...but my son has a 2008 Outback, my daughter-in-law has a 2013 Outback, my daughter has a 2011 Legacy, my wife has 2011 Forester and I have a 2011 Outback. We do not live in New England and all of us transitioned from other brands...my previous was a 2007 Toyota Avalon Touring model. All of us test drove multiple brands/models before purchase.Our cars are not perfect, but I am always happy to return back to my own car! Very few of my rentals match the overall experience...many come close, but miss in ways that frustrating and sometimes scary.By the way, one of the deciding factors was the listing of owners in the Subaru Dealer service bay with cars exceeding 200k in miles. Also, we do not wear plaids and stripes together...must be the glare that  you are experiencing from riding in the tow truck while we drive by in cars that look new and operate like new after many, many years.
Subarus look like they were designed by elementary school students during art class.  The only way I'd take the Subaru is if I was blind.  OBTW you Subaru owners need to quit mixing stripes with plaids.
Dinesh Lancer-Evo
It seems, the "Lancer evo 10 and Aston martin" have gang raped the Ford motors and gave birth to this poor ford focus. F**k
Robb Stillman
Chuck KidneyPain Lowery
Subaru is losing its edge in my opinion
Chuck KidneyPain Lowery
Tim Lucas
@Davy. Please read the article before commenting. You will find out the Fusion is the sportier driving car and has a more communicative chassis and responsive engine. I wish the 2002 Impreza I once owned was as reliable as Subaru fans say they are.
We're on our fifth Subaru, a 2006 Outback 2.5XT, with 250 HP, and a five-speed manual transmission. It will probably be our last Subaru, so I hope it will last forever. These days, you can have luxury combined with practicality, and you can still occasionally find a car that's fun to drive. Unfortunately, you can't seem to get it all in one package any more.  Both the six-cylinder Subaru and the AWD Fusion, fine cars for most folks, I'm sure, come only with automatic transmissions. I prefer to shift for myself, thank you, so I and other driving enthusiasts are out of luck once again.
Alex S Lui
Subaru for sure
Subie is the obvious winner, yet you still find a way to pick the Ford.  I guess integrity really is lost in journalism these days.
Balbir Singh
this is to good
Davy Secondclasscitizen Beam
Subaru, hands down, every time. a compleatly different driving experience, one where a driver actually senses the feelings the road and car are supposed to communicate to a driver. plus, they last until the wheels turn square. a Ford, not/never so much.
Balbir Singh
ye h mere kaam ke chige becouse i am a engg
Hayden Lorell
Suby... wouldn't drive american if you gave it to me...
Josue Rodriguez
If your are needing a 4 door sedan (why else buy one) then the Subie is the obvious winner. If driver enjoyment is your primary goal, get a Miata. 
Troy Henson
@Josh Philips you may be right (IDK). But that doesn't make ford right.
Miles Ransom
Craig Stishenko
A4? Anyone?
Larry Krainson
For newness and looks the Fusion is striking but the Subie has it all over in it's tank like reliability, superior awd system, ease of use. We've had 3 subies in the past 20 eyars and they never die, they keep on running. If you keep a car for more than 3-5 years, the subie keeps on running while the Fusion will be long forgotten in a junkyard. Subaru's are everywhere here in NEw England and for a good reason. They are excellent cars, ones that will still be running 10+ years after purchase. Where will the ford be?
Adding up the interior look & feel, the tech features, and beautiful overall design (for the price)...our vote goes to the Fusion!
Bob Powell
"The Fusion’s all-wheel-drive system is"  Is what?  It seems the editors have snipped out the most important section of the review.  How close does the Fusion's front-biased AWD come to matching the Subaru's rear-biased system in the snow?  Has Automobile Magazine's exodus from Ann Arbor left them unable to report handling in the slippery stuff?  Also, how does the turbo four of the Fusion compare to the Subie's big six in acceleration on dry pavement?  Please complete this review!
Craig D
@paullavelle An A4 is a compact vehicle, while the Fusion is mid-sized.  You'd have to compare an A6 to a Fusion to be in the same class.  Good luck getting one that comes anywhere near the price of a Fusion.  Also, load up that A4 with the same options as the tested Fusion and you're in the mid 40 grand range.  The Subbie is a solid option - if you' re okay with yesterday's tech.  A 5 speed auto transmission in 2013?
@theoldcarfan That's really funny, because the Fusion is KNOWN for stellar reliability. Even the 2006's- the first year model of the Fusion- they were the least problematic vehicle in the class that year and after.
@Van K Subaru could have included Eyesight for an additional $1295 and been almost equal.  Having driven both cars myself, I will say the Ford is impressive for a domestic but it is still a Ford.  I'll take a Subaru anyday.
@carnut122 To buy the Ford, you would not only have to be blind, but deaf and dumb as well.  The stripes/plaid comment indicates how out of touch you are with what many consider the best overall manufacturer in the industry.
@Chuck DangerZone Subaru is the number one selling AWD car in 7 mountainous states, and the #1 selling car overall in some of those like Colorado, Montana, etc., and right on the heels of Honda in some major markets. They have won almost every award and accolade there is in the last 4-5 years and are #1 in so many categories like resale, longest first term owner, the only manufacturer with 100% Top Safety Picks on all models, 4 straight years of record breaking sales, # 2 brand at Consumer Reports barely losing out to Lexus, and the #1 best overall manufacturer for the 4th straight year.  The Legacy is in it's 4th year and will be redesigned in '15.  The Ford was just updated.  The advantages of the perfectly balanced, low center of gravity Boxer engine and Symmetrical AWD are too much for a transverse engine drive train that has to redirect the drive 4 times to reach the rear wheeels.  It is the law of physics.  The WRX & STi are leading edge technology and dominant in their class on and off the track.  Although everyone is welcome to their opinion, it helps to be informed. 
@Tim Lucas Your problem is that you're interpreting your issue(s) with the 2002 Impreza you owned as something that every other Subaru owner experienced.  That probably wasn't the case.  Just because one owner (or even several) have bad experiences with a certain brand doesn't mean that the brand is crap.  Factor in the total number of models sold against the number of people experiencing the same issues that you did the total number of affected car will more than likely be less than 1%.  I've also seen people thrash Subarus to death then blame the car (car had ZERO oil in it, hardly ever serviced, never flushed coolant, never changed diff fluid...stuff like that).  As well, I've had a bad experience with a 1989 Ford Mustang, but I'm not about to tell the world that Ford's current gen cars are crap.
@Hayden L Cook @Hayden L CookThen you are a moron and/or 14 years old.
@nknorka The BRZ runs circles around a Miata.
Van K
@nknorka Some folks have kids AND want to enjoy the drive. Your decision matrix does not match everyone else. Buy whatever fits YOUR needs best.
@Craig Stishenko No to A4.  European cars are a totally different playing field (and will raise the pricing as well).
It's interesting hearing Americans talk about how reliable Subarus are; I've lived here in Japan for 19 years and I've never heard the words "Subaru" and "reliable" used in the same sentence. Their reputation here is close to the bottom in reliability, along with with Suzuki and Mitsubishi - even Daihatsu is ranked higher.
@Bob Powell Or on a steep hill.  The weakness of the front drive oriented system is getting enough drive to the rear when needed.  Put both cars on a 40% incline and the Subaru will go up without spinning a wheel, stop halfway up and start again with no wheel spin.  I have not seen another AWD car with that capability.
@Bob Powell Obviously the Subaru is going to have the better AWD system because it's a much more sophisticated system. I don't think anyone is arguing that.That being said, merely having a good AWD system does not a good sedan make... 
@Bob Powell Agreed.  I was going to post about the unfinished paragraph regarding the Fusion's AWD system as well.  You also brought up a great point about their engine selection.  When I was looking for Subarus a year and a half ago, I saw options for turbo fours in the Legacy...wondering if they don't offer a turbo four for that car now (which would be odd).  Both of these questions would help explain how the Fusion got the nod as the winner of this comparison.  As it reads, it is a very unfinished comparison (been seeing a bit of these lately, which is sad, especially if you're paying for a subscription).
President Barack Obama
@Craig D @paullavelle  Yes, an Audi A4 is a compact car, but in the same class as the midsize mainstream cars. An A6 is mid-sized, but is comparable to full-size mainstream cars. Luxury cars are different compared to mainstream cars. Compact luxury cars are usually based on midsize cars, which compare with midsize cars, and so are midsize luxury cars, which actually compare with full-size (non-luxury) cars (e.g. an Impala or LaCrosse, 300 or Charger, Taurus).
I think it is upon Automobile magazine to demand that the cars be equal.  If they couldn't get a Subaru with an Eyesight, then they should've went back to Ford and told them to take off an equivalent tech package.  It is up to the comparison organizers to keep things equal, IMO.
@percynjpn The driving experience of Japan and the varied experiences of the U.S. are rather different. How many cars in Japan make it to 200,000 kilometers? Given the cost of inspections and their rather stringent policies, so few cars stay on the roads that what Japanese complain about is going to be rather different from what we would complain about.
@percynjpn Well, get used to it.  Subaru has been steady here for a long time and now is a rising star.  They have won about every award and accolade possible over the last 4-5 years.
Larry Krainson
@percynjpn I replied to this but the post vanished. So I try again....When I was growing up my parents had american cars as my dad refused to buy anything else. They were all crap, breaking down regularly, bad design issues, needing to be serviced all the time. Up until he died, my dad refused to buy foreign and refused he logic when I compared 20 years of my buying japanese against just one year of his chevy/ford/chrysler....Fast forward to now, with my own wife converted from chevy to Subaru, which is night and day more reliable than her old Chevy's. Her first Legacy wagon (a 97) she cried when we sold it 6 years ago and my friends that bought it, still drive it daily. My 99 Forester was a rock, her 09 Impreza is quite good too. BUT, none of them can touch the reliability of my 07 Honda Ridgeline. There is nothing I have ever owned that approaches the reliability of the Ridgeline. But if Subaru had a vehicle capabile of towing 5000 lbs, I would probably be driving it as I originally thought the Ridge as too expensive. My Subies have been more reliable than Mazda's and Toyota's that I've owned in the past. Just my personal experience.
@reffuots"That being said, merely having a good AWD system does not a good sedan make..."I big to differ.  The comparison pointed out that these cars are both AWD...they should evaluate the merits of each system and take the findings into account, because that's what they did with other aspects of both cars, right?  They shared which car they thought drove sportier...if they can do that, they can certainly evaluate which had the better AWD system (especially if they named the article "the AWD division".  That being said, merely having sporty handling does not a good sedan make...especially in an AWD sedan comparision.
Larry Krainson
@JJS @Larry Krainson Well I have nearly 108K on my 07 Ridgeline and it so far has been awesomely reliable, unlike any other vehicle I have ever owned. My son is entering college in the fall. If the Ridge lasts another 4 years I'll give it to my son and buy something new. That would make the Ridge my first vehicle I kept beyond 5 years. I'll be watching to see what Subaru comes out with as well as Honda. Maybe a diesel for a newer Ridgeline? That would be awesome!
@Larry Krainson Being intimately familiar with both Honda and Subaru, they are both great car companies although Honda has slipped in the last few years.  The new CRV and Accord are good examples of them finding their way back.  However, Subaru is on a roll over the last 4-5 years.  Subaru will have a larger SUV in the near future.

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