Redesigned for 2015, the Subaru Legacy is a sensible and more refined family sedan that has the best fuel economy for the lowest starting retail price among America's all-wheel drive sedans.
Traction-improving all-wheel drive comes standard on the mid-size Legacy, which has a starting retail price of $22,490.
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Many other cars with all-wheel drive are from luxury brands such as Audi and BMW and carry much higher price tags. Even the mid-sized, 2015 Ford Fusion sedan with all-wheel drive has a starting retail price that's thousands of dollars more than the Legacy's.
The Legacy's top fuel economy rating of 24 mpg in city driving and 32 mpg on highways, for an average of 27 mpg, is at the top of gasoline-only, all-wheel drive sedans, according to the federal government. In comparison, the all-wheel drive 2015 Fusion is rated by the government at 22/31 mpg.
The new Legacy, which has a roomier and quieter interior than its predecessor, is a recommended buy of Consumer Reports magazine. Predicted reliability is better than average, according to Consumer Reports.
Best of all, the 2015 Legacy earned the top, five out of five stars across the board in federal government frontal and side crash testing and its rollover score.
The four-door Legacy now comes with eight standard air bags, including new front-seat-cushion air bags that help keep front-seat occupants properly positioned during a crash.
The price for a base Legacy is up nearly 7 percent from the 2014 model, because the base Legacy with manual transmission has been dropped.
All 2015 Legacy models come with a fuel-conscious continuously variable transmission (CVT) that a driver operates as if it were an automatic.
Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, for a base, 2015 Legacy 2.5i is $22,490 with all-wheel drive and base, 175-horsepower, naturally aspirated, four-cylinder engine. Note that the Legacy comes with steering wheel paddle shifters, too, so a driver can use the CVT in a programmed six-speed manual mode if he or she wants.
The starting MSRP, including destination charge, for a 2015 Ford Fusion with all-wheel drive, 240-horsepower, turbocharged four cylinder and automatic transmission is $29,150.
The top-selling mid-size family sedan, the Toyota Camry, is not offered with all-wheel drive. But the starting retail price of $23,795 for a front-wheel drive, 2015 Camry LE with 178-horsepower four cylinder and automatic transmission is higher than that for the base 2015 Legacy with all-wheel drive.
For 2015, Subaru restyled the Legacy inside and out. The exterior lost some of the Subaru quirkiness in the redesign and the car now looks quite mainstream. It's a pleasant look, but not distinctive. The tester, which was a mid-level 2.5i Premium, blended into other cars in parking lots and never received a second look from passersby.
One intriguing item, though, is that while the new Legacy is the same basic size as its predecessor, it's larger inside. Passenger volume is 104.6 cubic feet now, up from last year's 103 cubic feet. This is more than the 102.7 cubic feet in the 2015 Camry.
Rear-seat legroom now is a competitive 38.1 inches, which is similar to that in the back seat of the Fusion.
Trunk size in the Legacy has increased, too, to 15 cubic feet, and the cargo room expands when the 60/40 split rear seatbacks fold down. The Camry has a slightly larger, 15.4 cubic-foot-trunk.
The interior of the 2015 Legacy is more appealing than that of earlier Legacy cars. Materials, including plastics, in the test car looked attractive, not cheap. The redesign puts recognizable controls in logical places and within easy reach of drivers.
The audio system, in particular, is easier to use, and a touchscreen display that accommodates swipe and scroll motions is standard in all models. Just watch that large fingers don't accidentally change the radio station while using the volume knob just below the touchscreen. The screen in the tester was extremely sensitive to touch.
Additionally, in the test car, the trunk lid started to stick at its seal and required a bit of effort to lift.
Subaru engineers upped the horsepower just a smidge from 174 to 175 in the base Legacy engine, which is a 2.5-liter, double overhead cam, horizontally opposed four cylinder. Peak torque remains the same at 174 foot-pounds, but it comes on now at 4,000 rpm, instead of at 4,100 rpm.
The test Legacy didn't feel particularly sporty, but improvements in the CVT definitely made the car feel responsive and lessened the droning sounds that had been evident in the predecessor.
The Legacy got up to requested speeds in a steady, capable fashion, and the car was easy and comfortable to drive. All-wheel drive provided surefooted traction in the rain.
On highways, there were more droning sounds during merging and passing maneuvers. But the quieter interior kept the sounds from being obtrusive.
The test car, with a majority of city driving and a good amount of demanding acceleration maneuvers, averaged a decent 24.9 miles per gallon. This translated into a driving range of 460 miles. At today's average price for regular gasoline, filling up the 18.5-gallon tank cost just under $50.
For 2015, an "active grille shutter" that improves aerodynamics at the front of the car to maximize fuel economy is standard on all Legacy models.
The Legacy rode pleasantly, with most road bumps and many road vibrations kept away from passengers. There was some road noise conveyed to the passenger compartment, but these came primarily on the roughest road surfaces.
Subaru also offers a 256-horsepower, Boxer six cylinder in the Legacy. Starting retail price is $30,390.