2020 Subaru Legacy Touring XT Review: Thank Goodness for the Outback

A receding tide sinks most boats. But not this one.

You remember the 2011 Mediocrity, don't you? It was the star of a parody marketing campaign for the Subaru Legacy, in which the sedan segment was ridiculed as bland and boring. Nearly a decade later, however, thanks to landmark designs such as the 2011 Hyundai Sonata, 2014 Mazda 6, and 2018 Honda Accord, no longer is the midsize market a mélange of meh.

It's into the thick of this hypercompetitive field that Subaru is launching the newest Legacy. The 2020 model is the seventh generation of its "they still make that?" family sedan, which can answer in the affirmative only because every year Subaru sells roughly a billion Outback SUV/station wagons, split between each of the Portlands, Oregon and Maine, respectively. (Fact check: Through August, Subaru has actually sold 129,249 Outbacks and 23,791 Legacys in the U.S.)

The Outback is nominally based on the Legacy, but saying so is as off-point as telling the millions of kids streaming "Old Town Road" they ought to be listening to the Nine Inch Nails track that Lil Nas X raps over; the former has entirely eclipsed the latter, grandpa. Both vehicles are built on Subaru's new platform that now underpins most everything from Impreza to Ascent; it's called the—wait for it—"Subaru Global Platform." A short supply of creativity apparently extends even to Subaru's styling department, which penned the new 2020 Legacy to be nearly identical to the outgoing 2019 model.

Yet the Legacy's new bones can be felt immediately, whether you're slipping behind the wheel or climbing into the back seat—where there's now an extra inch-and-a-half-or-so of legroom. This Legacy feels more solid and far quieter than its forebears, and the attention to detail in the cabin is first-rate. The interior of the top-level Touring model rivals those in some luxury-brand cars, with a leather-wrapped dashboard and satin-metal-look trim.

The big feature is Subaru's new 11.6-inch touchscreen, oriented vertically as in a Tesla Model S, a Ram pickup, or a newish Volvo. The screen is quick to respond, and hard controls for climate functions and the audio system make this one of the more intuitive and ergonomically designed infotainment units currently available. The graphics aren't so pretty, but Subaru's low-res pixels are at least easy to see, enhancing function if not form.

The big feature should have been Subaru's new 2.4-liter boxer four, which is turbocharged to produce 260 horsepower and 277 lb-ft of torque, just as it is in the three-row Ascent crossover. But the Legacy XT—the XT suffix denotes the presence of the turbo—rarely seems like it has so many horses under its hood. The turbo engine is just ill-suited to cooperation with the Legacy's continuously variable transmission, which sometimes results in lazy throttle response. The CVT in and of itself is not so bad, doing a nearly perfect simulation of an eight-speed automatic, and can even be "shifted" manually with the gear selector or steering-wheel-mounted paddles. But the XT begs for a Sport drive mode like the one found in lesser Legacy models, those equipped with the old, naturally aspirated 2.5-liter boxer four.

The Legacy includes standard EyeSight, Subaru's safety suite with adaptive cruise control with lane centering, and higher trims unlock DriverFocus, a distraction-prevention system that uses facial recognition to tell when the driver isn't paying attention. Subaru's camera-based system may not be the absolute state-of-the-art in driver-assist technology, but it does what it promises, tugging at the steering wheel and beeping at you when your eyes veer too far from the road for too long.

When you're fully engaged, driving the Legacy is actually pretty rewarding, though still a step behind the Accord or 6. The steering is light but direct and the brake pedal feels nicely progressive. The suspension is tuned for comfort, although the structure feels like it could easily handle a stiffer setup. Maybe once Subaru moves the WRX to the new platform, it can pry free some of those engineers. Or not.

The Legacy represents the new dilemma for family sedans: A wave of crossovers has caused this once-dominant segment to suffer sales shrinkage. Annual counts for the three midsize leaders—the Toyota Camry, Accord, and Nissan Altima—are all down through August and dead weight is being driven from dealerships (see Chevrolet Malibu, Ford Fusion, et al. ). Yet other back-packers, Subaru included, persist. The Outback effectively gives the Legacy a staying power it deserves, even if it's not going to challenge the segment leaders.

2020 Subaru Legacy XT Specifications
ON SALE Now
BASE PRICE $35,095
ENGINE 2.4L turbocharged DOHC 16-valve H-4; 260 hp @ 5,600 rpm, 277 lb-ft @ 2,000-4,800 rpm
TRANSMISSION Continuously variable automatic
LAYOUT 4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, AWD sedan
EPA MILEAGE 24/32 mpg (city/hwy)
L x W x H 190.6 x 72.4 x 59.1 in
WHEELBASE 108.3 in
WEIGHT 3,779-3,790 lb
0­-60 MPH 6.1 sec (mfr)
TOP SPEED 149 mph (mfr)
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