2021 Subaru Legacy First Test: Honest and Decent


Subaru Legacy Full Overview

We rattle on about cars that go fast, crush trails, and look like—or literally cost—a million bucks. Those vehicles stir our enthusiast souls, but even though we love to drive, we aren’t every driver. The 2021 Subaru Legacy doesn’t have the attributes that typically make MotorTrend editors salivate, yet it’s a solid vehicle with satisfying comfort, a user-friendly approach, and an easygoing demeanor.

What’s more, some of the Legacy’s features aren’t just good for its segment—a few stand out regardless of size, category, or price.

2021 Subaru Legacy: Nice Price, Slow Going

While style is subjective, Subaru often jokes that it doesn’t hire expensive designers and passes the savings to customers. We can believe it, as the Legacy isn’t particularly stylish, and those sarcastic savings maybe do show up on the balance sheet after all: The 2021 Subaru Legacy includes standard all-wheel drive and has a starting price of $23,820, less than the wild-looking $24,585 Kia K5 or sleek $25,470 Mazda 6, both of which are front-drivers. Our Limited-trim Subaru, equipped with niceties like leather upholstery, a premium audio system, and push-button start, stickered for $30,820.

Like all current Subarus, the Legacy uses a flat four-cylinder engine. This one displaces 2.5 liters and produces 182 horsepower with 176 lb-ft of torque. It’s connected to a CVT automatic transmission that routes output to Subaru’s signature all-wheel-drive system. EPA-rated fuel economy measures 27/35 mpg city/highway, good but still thirstier than the Toyota Camry’s 2.5-liter I-4 or Honda Accord’s tiny 1.5-liter turbo-four. In terms of acceleration, the Legacy achieved a 0-to-60-mph time of 8.3 seconds, which trails most competitors. A 2.5-liter Camry can hit the same mark in 7.5 seconds, whereas a 1.5T Accord is capable of a 7.2-second run. Associate road test editor Erick Ayapana noted how the Legacy “jumps off the line, but unfortunately there isn’t much more after that.”

Look at its quarter-mile test for evidence: 16.4 seconds at 86.7 mph means it took nearly twice as long to add less than half the speed after hitting 60. Ayapana’s assessment plays out in the real world; the Legacy accelerates adequately around town, but freeway maneuvers require lots of throttle and runway. Subaru offers the Legacy with a turbocharged engine, but while those XT models are indeed quicker, the CVT—the only transmission in the Legacy line—means they’re simply not much fun for those who enjoy driving. In addition, our test car exhibited an odd little lurch forward as the speedometer dropped past about 10 mph. Minor as it was, it occurred consistently, the only blemish on the Subaru’s otherwise smooth feel.

In terms of braking, the Legacy’s 127-foot 60-to-0-mph stopping distance trails some competitors by two-thirds of a car length. Ayapana said the Legacy’s braking potential was let down by its efficiency-oriented tires, commenting that the vehicle nevertheless had “nice, responsive pedal feel.” Indeed, the short-stroke pedal feels firm at the top and also remains easy to modulate.

Subaru’s all-wheel-drive system makes a difference in everyday driving. Traction was never an issue even as rain fell on our typically sunny Los Angeles roads. Compared to its predominantly front-wheel-drive competitors, the Legacy’s all-wheel drive balances power between the axles and tightens up corners. Road test editor Chris Walton sensed it as he drove around our figure-eight course. “It was easy to trace a perfect arc using just the throttle and not the steering,” he said. “I could feel the all-wheel drive helping it exit the corner.” The 2021 Subaru Legacy’s figure-eight test results of 27.1 seconds at a 0.62 g average and its 0.85-g average on the skidpad indicate good lateral grip despite the green-leaning tires. Consider, too, that the ostensibly sportier Mazda 6 Turbo achieved a 27.3-second, 0.63-g average figure-eight result and pulled a 0.82-g average on the skidpad.

2021 Subaru Legacy: Honestly—Not Thrillingly—Executed

Of course, the Legacy’s handling-test acumen doesn’t mean it’s fun; rather, it feels relaxed and offers a chill vibe that even driving obsessives like us can appreciate. It rides comfortably, effectively minimizing choppy pavement and remaining stable at highway speeds. However, higher velocities cause plenty of wind noise around the side mirrors, this being probably the most unrefined thing about the Legacy.

Every 2021 Subaru Legacy includes the manufacturer’s EyeSight driver-assist system, which bundles features like adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist, and automatic emergency braking. In the right conditions, it brakes smoothly and accelerates to keep pace with traffic ahead. When the lane-keep function is on its game, it provides strong steering assistance, but it’s picky about the conditions it will operate in; it’s not great at detecting vague or faded lane markers. Despite that and its propensity for beeping at you, EyeSight adds confidence behind the wheel—as does knowing the Legacy earns an IIHS 2021 Top Safety Pick+ designation.

Like its exterior, the Legacy’s interior styling is simple. There isn’t much garnishment beyond some contrast stitching and a few soft-touch surfaces. Rather, the view is dominated by the 11.6-inch infotainment touchscreen that’s included on all trims above the base model. Subaru’s Starlink infotainment interface has some quirks, but how it coordinates with Apple CarPlay within that space is top notch. Whereas before the functionality was confined to an awkward rectangle, a 2021 update allows CarPlay to take up much more digital real estate. Subaru says it’s working on equivalent improvements for Android Auto.

Functionality elsewhere in the cabin is equally good. There’s space for daily-carry items in the cupholders and door panels, as well as the tray above the glovebox and a slot on the right of the transmission tunnel. The fact the shifter makes the bin below the touchscreen tricky to access is a small gripe. We really liked the 2021 Subaru Legacy’s driver’s seat, which offers excellent adjustability and support. Although even this higher-end Limited trim car lacked a sunroof, the trade-off was headroom more than sufficient for our tallest staffer (yours truly). Second-row space is satisfactory, with dedicated air vents and USB ports provided in the Limited trim. Loading cargo is a cinch thanks to the huge trunk aperture. For even greater cargo capacity, Subaru’s ever-popular Outback provides a similar experience in wagon-esque form factor.

2021 Subaru Legacy: Is It a Good Car?

Longtime MotorTrend readers know we’re unabashed enthusiasts. So how does it square that the Legacy places highly in our vehicle rankings? It’s just a good car. It drives with a confidence and ease-of-use that makes simple work of journeys short or long. Its roomy, comfortable cabin has useful features that operate with minimal fuss. So while it won’t set any hearts aflutter, the 2021 Subaru Legacy is a solid choice for those who get their kicks elsewhere than behind the wheel.

  • Spacious, comfortable, and easygoing
  • 2021 IIHS Top Safety Pick+ winner
  • Excellent Apple CarPlay integration

Looks good! More details?

  • Slow, staid, and unexciting
  • Standard driver-assist tech needs refinement
  • Lots of wind noise at highway speed
2021 Subaru Legacy (Limited)
BASE PRICE $30,820
PRICE AS TESTED $30,820
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door sedan
ENGINE 2.5L/182-hp/176-lb-ft DOHC 16-valve flat-4
TRANSMISSION Cont variable auto
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 3,552 lb (58/42%)
WHEELBASE 108.3 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 190.6 x 72.4 x 59.1 in
0-60 MPH 8.3 sec
QUARTER MILE 16.4 sec @ 86.7 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 127 ft
LATERAL ACCELERATION 0.85 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT 27.1 sec @ 0.62 g (avg)
EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON 27/35/30 mpg
ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY 125/96 kWh/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB 0.64 lb/mile



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