2020 Subaru Legacy Limited Review: The Sedan-Shaped Outback Alternative

It’s no surprise to anyone that, in recent years, crossovers have become the new standard for family transportation. Sedans aren’t selling as well, though there’s still a market for them. Automakers are doing what they can to bolster sedan sales, whether it’s with hotted-up performance versions or simply increasing comfort and technology to meet higher standards. Subaru has chosen to take the latter approach with their 2020 Subaru Legacy Limited.

What Is It?

The Subaru Legacy is one of the sedans that can be credited with kicking off the modern-day crossover movement. Subaru initially took the Legacy sedan, turned it into a station wagon and called it Legacy Outback. In 2011, the Outback put on a pair of heels and took on a more traditional crossover ride height. Though Subaru sold far more Outbacks last year than Legacys (181,178 vs 35,063), the Legacy continues to be the sedan platform-mate of the more popular Outback sibling.

The 2020 Subaru Legacy rides on the all-new Subaru Global Platform, which Subaru says leads to the stiffest and quietest Legacy ever made. Most Legacy models are powered by Subaru’s 2.5 liter, naturally-aspirated four-cylinder boxer engine, making 182 horsepower and 176 lb-ft of torque. The Legacy XT offers a much-needed, turbocharged power boost to 260 horsepower. All Legacy models route power through a continuously-variable transmission and all-wheel drive.

My test car was a Legacy Limited, with the less-powerful engine option but otherwise fully-equipped, with a MSRP around $32,700. Though our traditional focus here is more on performance, the Legacy XT was not available in our local press fleet.

Driving the 2020 Subaru Legacy

Even if buyers choose the Legacy XT’s 260 horsepower, Subaru makes no claim that the 2020 Legacy is a sporty vehicle. They emphasize road manners, safety, and technology over anything. So, I embraced the slightly-normcore life for a week and drove the Legacy mostly as-intended. The distance I covered in the 2020 Legacy included a 250-mile highway trip, plus plenty of time around town.

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Standard 182 horsepower boxer engine does the job

Power-wise, the non-XT Legacy models make do with this 182 horsepower engine. There’s no getting around the Legacy’s weight – 3,500 pounds, ish – and while Subaru claims an 8.4 second 0-60 time, the car just feels slow. The CVT does its job well enough, but would rather emulate shifts (counter to the whole point of a CVT!) than hold the engine at its power peak of 5,800 rpm. Despite the sluggish acceleration, the Legacy cruised along at 75 mph easily and earned a respectable 30 miles per gallon, between highway and city driving. This falls in line with Subaru’s ratings of 27 city, 35 highway. We’d recommend most buyers drive both Legacy and Legacy XT to decide if 182 horsepower is truly enough.

Engine choice aside, there’s plenty to like about the Legacy, especially in Limited trim. The seats were fantastic, offering plenty of support for longer drives. Both front seats are height-adjustable, and the driver’s seat has a pull-out thigh bolster for those of us with longer legs. It’d be nice to see that bolster, first found decades ago in BMWs, be offered on the passenger side as well. Both front seats and the outboard rear seats were heated, and my Legacy Limited had an optional heated steering wheel. The heated seats were great, but the heated wheel didn’t get past “barely lukewarm” in my testing.

Though the new Global Platform leads to a stiffer chassis, the ride quality of the 2020 Legacy was excellent. The suspension is tuned for comfort, but feels composed through bigger sweeping curves. Tighter corners with higher entry speed are confidence-inspiring until the front tires break away into predictable understeer. You will not mistake this Legacy for a WRX STi, but… you’re not supposed to.

Technology in the 2020 Subaru Legacy

Subaru has partnered with Harman/Kardon in recent years for their sound systems, and much like H/K systems in other brands’ vehicles, the system in the 2020 Legacy is excellent. Subaru’s new Starlink infotainment system powers the speakers and offers TomTom navigation, alongside Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. My Legacy Limited had the more common, 11.6″ vertical touchscreen, though base Legacy models get a smaller 7″ horizontal screen.

Though I found Starlink a bit slow to boot up, it was easy to use and intuitive enough once running. The TomTom navigation worked well, although the voice guidance can be turned down but not disabled. So, even with the voice volume at zero, your music will still dip in volume for the length of time it takes to spit out the directions via voice. This quickly gets old when navigating through a city with multiple turns in quick succession.

Starlink also supports Apple CarPlay, which I tried after dealing with the TomTom voice guidance. My issue with CarPlay is not a Subaru exclusive, but covers all vehicles with vertical touchscreens (Ram trucks, Volvos, Subaru, some new Fords). CarPlay has no idea what to do with a tall screen, so it sits in a horizontal sub-section instead. The software can stretch horizontally for wider screens, so this omission is a bummer. Subaru’s aspect ratio of the Starlink 11.6″ screen is such that CarPlay buttons and text were very small and hard to use or read.

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EyeSight uses two color, stereoscopic cameras to help with guidance

Every Legacy includes Subaru’s EyeSight driver assistance technology. EyeSight bundles adaptive cruise control, lane centering, and pre-collision braking. Adaptive cruise control works very well, and I liked the ability to choose how aggressively the car accelerates back to the set speed after slowing down. Lane centering was not good on anything but the most perfectly-paved road, and often tried to pull the car toward the right side of the lane, unnervingly close to more moving traffic. I didn’t experience pre-collision braking (thankfully), but the car did apply the brakes in a full-ABS-panic several times while I was parallel parking at a typical, slow speed.

My test car also included the “DriverFocus” Distraction Mitigation System, which monitors the driver’s eyes relative to the road to ensure the driver isn’t texting or staring off into space. DriverFocus can also be used to identify up to five drivers and set their seat and mirror positions when they sit down. Unfortunately, the system never recognized my face in the setup process, despite multiple (well lit) attempts. On the move, DriverFocus worked but was quite sensitive, frequently flashing a “Keep Eyes on Road” message when I had glanced away to read an exit sign or street sign.

Does the 2020 Subaru Legacy Meet Modern-Day Standards?

This is a tricky one to answer, really. The 2020 Legacy is fundamentally, very good. It’s great on fuel, the seats and sound system are excellent, the ride is comfortable and the technology is, on the surface, competitive.

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Diving deeper, though, the 2020 Legacy is let down a bit by the lack of power and technology quirks. Though competitors don’t make much more power – Toyota’s Camry makes 203 hp and Honda’s Accord starts at 192 – it’s just a bit more, and both cars are just a bit lighter. The software behind Starlink and EyeSight isn’t bad, but feels like it was rushed to production in some cases. As driver assistance technology evolves rapidly, I’d be curious if Subaru and others can apply software updates to improve the systems currently on the road.

The 2020 Legacy is a solid offering in a very competitive family sedan market, and Subaru has nailed what most buyers will focus on the most. Though the car does have some quirks, they are outweighed by the considerable perks.

2 thoughts on “2020 Subaru Legacy Limited Review: The Sedan-Shaped Outback Alternative”

  1. I’m with you on wanting to feel ‘shifts’ as opposed to just a CVT wrapping up at high RPM. This sounds like a nice well-rounded sedan! I might have missed it, but what was the as-tested MSRP here?

    • It was about $32,700. Slots in-between Camry and Accord if similarly equipped so it’s priced competitively for sure.


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