Subaru's Legacy mid-size sedan grew for 2010, but its price tag didn't.
In fact, the newly styled and enlarged five-passenger Legacy has a starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, of $20,660 and ranks as the lowest-priced, mid-size, all-wheel drive sedan on the U.S. market.
The 2010 Legacy also is noteworthy for its fuel mileage rating of 23 miles per gallon in city driving and 31 mpg on the highway when equipped with continuously variable transmission. This CVT adds $1,000 to the base price.
The fuel economy estimate from the U.S. federal government is an improvement from last year's Legacy and makes the new 2010 model the best mid-size, all-wheel-drive sedan in gas mileage in the country.
Many buyers might overlook Subaru when looking for a family sedan because they don't live in wintry climates and figure they don't need all-wheel drive, which is standard on all Subarus.
But with Subaru pricing the Legacy competitively against mid-size sedans that don't have this feature, it makes the argument of "why pay for all-wheel drive when I may not need it" virtually moot.
Consider that a 2010 Toyota Camry with power going only to the front wheels, not all four wheels, has a retail starting rice of $20,145, or just $515 less than a base Legacy. The two cars have nearly the same horsepower from their four-cylinder engines -- 170 horses in the Legacy and 169 in the Camry.
There's also the fact that all-wheel drive isn't just for snowy roads. It can provide better traction on rainy surfaces and in other low-grip situations.
Subaru actually has three all-wheel drive systems for the Legacy, and each is tailored to work with different Legacy engine and transmission combos.
For example, the test Legacy 2.5i Premium with base, 170-horsepower, 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine and CVT came with an all-wheel drive system where a continuously variable transfer clutch was electronically managed to distribute power among the front and rear wheels as driving conditions warranted.
I didn't have to do a thing, and there was no indication -- other than reliable traction -- that the system was working.
The Legacy is the top sedan of the company, but it had been a bit snug inside over the years, particularly in the back seat compared with the top mid-size sedan sellers such as the Camry.
2010 Subaru Legacy 2.5i Premium
- BASE PRICE: $19,995 for 2.5i base model; $20,995 for 2.5i Premium.
- AS TESTED: $22,660.
- TYPE: Front-engine, all-wheel drive, five-passenger, mid-size sedan.
- ENGINE: 2.5-liter, single overhead cam, horizontally opposed four cylinder engine with AVLS.
- MILEAGE: 23 mpg (city), 31 mpg (highway).
- TOP SPEED: NA.
- LENGTH: 186.4 inches.
- WHEELBASE: 108.3 inches.
- CURB WEIGHT: 3,384 pounds.
- BUILT AT: Lafayette, Ind.
- OPTIONS: Continuously variable transmission with manual mode $1,000.
- DESTINATION CHARGE: $665.
This has been addressed for 2010. The new model rides on a new platform and has a wheelbase that's 3.2 inches longer than its predecessor. The car also is 3.2 inches taller and 3.6 inches wider.
But in an interesting exercise at restraint, Subaru designers made sure to keep short the parts of the sedan body that extend past the wheels front and back. As a result, the overall length is just 1.4 inches longer than last year's model so finding a parallel parking spot in the city is still doable.
At the same time, the improved interior dimensions plus scalloped front seat backs add four inches of rear-seat legroom to the Legacy, which already had superior front-seat legroom of some 43 inches. This is more than the 41.3 inches in the front seat of the Camry.
In the back seat, legroom measures 37.8 inches, which is closer to the Camry's 38.3 inches. The Legacy's rear-seat headroom is 37.5 inches, which is 0.3 inch shy of that in the Camry, and shoulder room is improved, too.
Even the Legacy's trunk is bigger -- a full 14.7 cubic feet vs. 15 cubic feet in the Camry.
The tester rode smoothly, with only slight vibrations transmitted to passengers when the car traveled over road bumps and uneven pavement.
The interior, revised for 2010, looked good and was relatively quiet. I didn't notice much wind noise, and the most prominent engine noise was when the car was accelerating hard and the engine was in the high rpms.
Torque peaks at 170 foot-pounds at 4,000 rpm in this model, and while the car didn't thrust strongly forward, its power came on steadily and with good response.
Subaru revised the engine slightly for 2010, and combined with the new Lineartronic CVT, the powertrain does a fine job of providing acceptable power plus good fuel economy. In combined city/highway travel, I managed 27 miles per gallon in the test car.
Note the fuel tank has grown for 2010 from 16.9 gallons to 18.5 gallons. This means a driver can go nearly 500 miles before needing a fill-up in a Legacy with four-cylinder engine and CVT.
The odd thing is the CVT, which optimizes mileage by operating without set gears and instead has infinite variability among gear ratios, comes in the Legacy with standard paddle shifters on the steering wheel. So a driver can get a sort of sporty feel by "selecting" up and down shifts electronically.
The interior is a nice upgrade from last year. Fabric on the seats had a pleasing appearance in the tester, and the plastic atop the interior of the doors had a subtly soft touch.
I just wish the 15.5-foot-long Legacy had a more grown-up car horn rather than the little "beep-beep" small car horn it retains.
And the exterior styling, while attractive, reminds me of a Camry. No one took a second look at the new car as I drove it, and in shopping center parking lots this new Subaru blended in easily with the Camrys.
Consumer Reports predicts better than average reliability on the 2010 Legacy.