It used to be that when you thought of Subaru, you thought of the Legacy. In fact, as recently as five years ago it was the best-selling nameplate in the Subaru lineup. Then Subaru decided that the Legacy and the Outback needed to be distinct models, with the result that the Outback wagon now outsells the Legacy sedan by more than a two to one margin, which isn't hard to believe, because the Outback, with its wagon body style and more rugged demeanor, is a more versatile vehicle than the Legacy sedan.
Still, the Legacy does have its merits. The 3.5-liter flat six engine in our test vehicle -- a top-of-the-line 3.5R Limited model -- produces plenty of power throughout the rev range. Although the automatic transmission has only five speeds, gear changes are smooth. The seats are comfortable, the sightlines are good, and the suspension is compliant. Enthusiastic drivers might complain that it's too soft, but for most people most of the time, it provides a comfortable ride, lessening impacts with rough road surfaces with a minimum of float. And, like all Subarus, it has all-wheel drive, which is a positive when it comes to all-weather traction but can be a negative when it comes to fuel economy. If that's a concern, there's a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that returns 31 mpg on the highway (26 mpg in combined city/highway driving). And, if you want something sportier, there's also a turbocharged four-cylinder that can be paired with a six-speed manual.
Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor
Subaru is something of a dark horse in the American automotive landscape. Quietly but surely, the company has grown its market share and overall sales over the past several years. The Subaru Legacy is similar in that it maintains a relatively low profile yet is actually a satisfying and compelling vehicle. Compared with other mid-size sedans in its price range, the Legacy has character and style that make it stand out from the crowd.
The 3.6-liter engine in our tester is probably more powerful than necessary in the Legacy, but it is very smooth and makes for strong acceleration. The steering has much more feel and better weighting than I expect from the typically insulated systems one finds in the mid-size segment. Those two factors, along with a nicely sorted suspension, make the Legacy not merely a sedan that will get you from home to the office, but a compelling vehicle that provides an interesting experience for drivers.
Of course, there's one simple reason many people will be drawn to the Legacy: standard all-wheel drive, which is a boon in snowy parts of the country. Potential customers, though, should wait for the 2013 model, which has been treated to some new technology and a few mechanical updates.
Jake Holmes, Associate Web Editor
Aside from interior design that feels a bit outdated and some Atari-like infotainment graphics, the Legacy feels remarkably fresh considering that it debuted in late 2009. It drives very well, looks good, is comfortable, and has plenty of space for friends and luggage. I haven't noticed many Legacys on the road recently, but sales numbers have been hovering around 40,000 for the past couple years, which is highly respectable but still modest enough to not scare off nonconformists. It seems strange to me, though, that the similar but more rugged, taller, pricier Outback outsells this smart sedan more than two to one. Personally, I miss the old Legacy wagon.
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
We thoroughly enjoyed the 2010 Subaru Outback 3.6R that we spent a year with. It was spacious, comfortable, powerful, and versatile, but we did have one significant gripe about the driving experience: the suspension was too soft, the handling indifferent, and body roll pronounced. That's pretty much how I feel about this 2012 Subaru Legacy 3.6R. It's a unique car with lots to like, but a few small changes to the suspension could do a lot to improve it.
On the powertrain front, it's hard to do much better than this Legacy. Rather than a typical V-6, Subaru uses a horizontally opposed design with two banks of three cylinders laying flat in the engine bay. This arrangement makes the internal forces more balanced, which translates to a silkier, more refined engine. The six-cylinder is also complemented by a well-calibrated, five-speed automatic that swaps gears quickly and smoothly. Of course the real reason to choose a Subaru over any of the competition is an all-wheel drive that is better suited to the tough conditions. A Suzuki Kizashi and the Ford Fusion might suit you just fine if you get a couple of inches of snow a couple times a year, but if you're facing serious and consistent snow, the Subaru is worth every penny for the number of times it will get you to your destination when other cars wouldn't.
Eric Tingwall, Associate Editor
It's easy to see why the Legacy is an appealing offering to many, especially in the snowbelt. While the 2009 overhaul may have pointed Subaru's midsize sedan toward the mainstream market and away from the enthusiast one (the best example of this is the lack of an audible, raspy exhaust note from the flat-six engine) the Legacy has been aging quite gracefully and holds up well against much of its newer competition. The 3.6-liter is strong and the five-speed automatic is smooth; the downside to this combination of big engine (remember, Hyundai and Ford no longer even offer six-cylinders), antiquated transmission (most automatics in this class are now six-speeds), and all-wheel drive, means lower fuel economy numbers than the competition.
The Legacy's cabin is a pleasant place to be - the interior is very well executed and has aged well, which is good because the modest 2013 refresh does almost nothing to the Legacy's inside. Yes, there are hard plastics, but they are well-grained and do not look hard or cheap at first glance. What does look cheap is the laughably outdated infotainment system - it's hard to see how such a system with simple graphics and an ugly touch-screen interface is still around in 2012.
Donny Nordlicht, Associate Web Editor
This Legacy sedan has many merits, as my colleagues have described, most notable among them its spacious cabin and its smoothly powerful six-cylinder engine. I don't really care about those worthy attributes, though, because I don't really care about Subaru sedans. I know that Subaru wants a bite of the huge midsize sedan pie that is currently split among big sellers such as the Toyota Camry, Nissan Altima, Honda Accord, Ford Fusion, Hyundai Sonata, and the like, but if I want a Japanese-brand midsize sedan, there are plenty from which to choose, and the only reason to choose the Legacy is if you want or need all-wheel drive. For my part, if I'm gonna buy a Subaru, it's gonna be a hatchback, whether it's an Impreza, a Forester, or an Outback. Like Rusty Blackwell, I wish Subaru would build a non-Outback wagon again; the Legacy wagon that they offered not long ago had a willing engine, a nice manual gearbox, standard all-wheel drive, and superb driving dynamics. Now THAT is a Subaru I can get enthused about.
Joe DeMatio, Deputy Editor