Sometimes, being different is a good thing. Among midsize sedans, the 2012 Subaru Legacy certainly carves out a niche for itself. But some of what makes it unique also serves to limit its appeal.
Much of what's different with the 2012 Legacy relates to what's under the hood. While nearly every other midsize four-door goes with the sure-fire formula of front-wheel drive and a choice of either inline-4 or V6 power plants, the Legacy keeps on rocking its standard all-wheel drive and horizontally opposed four- and six-cylinder engines, including one that's turbocharged. Then there's the Legacy's styling, which has always stood out from the crowd for better or worse.
On the downside, the Subaru Legacy's weight and reduced efficiency from routing power to all four wheels results in less favorable fuel economy numbers. Its road-holding prowess in inclement weather is a plus, for sure, but if you live in milder climates, it may be harder to justify. Furthermore, the sporty 2.5 GT Limited is not available with an automatic transmission, and a rather fussy navigation system is an option only for the range-topping trim levels.
Given the competitiveness of the family sedan segment, we think there are better choices for most buyers. Top models like the Honda Accord, Hyundai Sonata, Nissan Altima, Toyota Camry and Volkswagen Passat (http://www.edmunds.com) offer select advantages regarding fuel economy, features, handling and design. And if you want all-wheel drive, the Ford Fusion is worth checking out. Yet if you're the sort of person who doesn't automatically follow the crowd, the 2012 Subaru Legacy is a solid, non-conformist choice.
The 2012 Subaru Legacy is a five-passenger sedan available in seven trim levels: 2.5i, 2.5i Premium, 2.5i Limited, 3.6R, 3.6R Premium, 3.6R Limited and 2.5GT Limited.
Every 2.5i comes with 16-inch steel wheels, automatic headlights, air-conditioning, cruise control, a height-adjustable driver seat, tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, full power accessories and a 60/40-split-folding rear seat; the standard features list also includes a four-speaker stereo with a CD player, auxiliary audio jack and steering-wheel controls. An optional Alloy Wheel package adds 16-inch alloy wheels and an All Weather package adds a windshield wiper de-icer, heated side mirrors and heated front seats. Bluetooth is available as a port-installed system that relies upon its own small speakers rather than the stereo system.
The 2.5i Premium trims include 16-inch alloy wheels as standard, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, an eight-way power driver seat, an auto up/down driver window, Bluetooth phone and streaming audio, and a six-speaker sound system with a CD player and a USB/iPod interface.
The 2.5i Limited adds 17-inch alloy wheels, foglights, a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), the All Weather package, a four-way power passenger seat, dual-zone automatic climate control and a nine-speaker Harman Kardon sound system with satellite radio. This stereo is optional on the Premium CVT trims. The 2.5GT Limited adds a turbocharged four-cylinder engine, a six-speed manual transmission, 18-inch alloy wheels with summer tires, bigger brakes, a hood scoop, a sunroof (optional on all other trims but 2.5i), leather upholstery and unique interior trim.
The 3.6R models are essentially the same as the 2.5i models, but gain a horizontally opposed six-cylinder engine, bigger brakes and 17-inch alloys for all models. The Premium also gets the All Weather package. Optional on the Limited trims is a Navigation System package, which adds a touchscreen interface, voice controls, a rearview camera and an auto-dimming rearview mirror.
The Subaru Legacy's interior design is sleek and sophisticated, but some might find the overabundance of silver paint unattractive. Though the interior plastics look upscale, most of them are hard to the touch and lack a premium feel found in some competing models.
The seats are comfortable, with plenty of headroom and rear seat legroom. In terms of technology, iPod control and streaming Bluetooth audio are available, but not on the base models. We've found that the nav system's functionality is hampered by fussy controls and small touchscreen icons; also noteworthy is the poor sound quality from the base audio system. We highly recommend the Premium trim or available Harman Kardon upgrade if audio quality is a priority. Trunk space is an average 14.7 cubic feet.
All 2012 Subaru Legacy models come with all-wheel drive as standard, and buyers have a choice of engines and transmissions. The base 2.5-liter horizontally opposed (a.k.a. "boxer") four-cylinder engine produces 170 horsepower and 170 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed manual transmission (which includes a hill-holder feature) is standard on the base 2.5i and 2.5i Premium, while a CVT is optional on those models and standard on the 2.5i Limited. With the CVT, the 2.5i can be had with Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle (PZEV) certification in states with California emissions standards.
A CVT-equipped 2.5i that we tested went from zero to 60 mph in a mediocre 9.4 seconds. Estimated fuel economy is 23 mpg city/31 mpg highway and 26 mpg combined with the CVT. The manual is notably worse at 19/27/22.
The 3.6R features a 3.6-liter boxer six-cylinder good for 256 hp and 247 lb-ft of torque. A five-speed traditional automatic transmission is standard. It takes 7.1 seconds to go from zero to 60 mph, which is slightly below average for the class. Fuel economy is an estimated 18/25/20.
The 2.5GT gets a turbocharged version of the base model's boxer-4 and produces 265 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed manual is the only transmission choice. It goes from zero to 60 mph in a rapid 5.7 seconds. Estimated fuel economy is 18/25/21.
The 2012 Subaru Legacy provides a smooth ride and respectable handling. Drivers expecting the 2.5GT model to be a sleeper sport sedan will be disappointed, though, as its suspension tuning is the same as all other Legacys. The base 2.5-liter engine is adequate, but outright acceleration trails that seen in some of the speedier family sedans. The 2.5GT's turbocharged engine is much more of a thrill, though the mandatory manual transmission will limit its appeal. That leaves the new 3.6-liter flat-6 as the main draw for those wanting some punch.
Every 2012 Subaru Legacy comes standard with stability and traction control, antilock disc brakes, front side airbags and side curtain airbags. In Edmunds brake testing, the 2.5i turned in a good performance, coming to a stop from 60 mph in 121 feet; the 3.6R was in the same ballpark. The 2.5GT stopped in an excellent 111 feet.
In government crash tests, the Legacy earned an overall rating of four stars (out of a possible five), with four stars for overall front crash protection and four stars for overall side-impact protection. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the Legacy its perfect score of "Good" in the frontal-offset, side and roof strength tests.
Besides a new audio system for upper trim levels and some minor shuffling of features, the Subaru Legacy returns largely unchanged for 2012.