If you’re reading this, the Subaru ‘lifestyle’ probably appeals to you in some way. Buying one of these is sort of like joining a club – there are a lot of “Subie” devotees out there who adore their cars, flaws and all. While I appreciate brand loyalism, most of those who go with the Legacy typically do it for utilitarian purposes: they want an affordable mid-size AWD sedan and don’t want to buy a clunky SUV, trendy crossover SUV, or an Outback (which to me is still a “station wagon”) to drive its legendary traction control. It’s a great car in theory, but in my opinion, not up to the hype that I found online and in my community. I’ve had my 2016 Legacy 2.5i Limited for 13 months.
First, the good stuff:
The 2016 Subaru Legacy is the most affordable AWD sedan in the mid-size class. And for a 3,600 pound car with AWD, it also boasts 36 mpg on the freeway, which by itself is impressive.
The Legacy is essentially an Outback in car form (or as I like to call it, the “Subaru IN-back”). This car is much bigger than it looks – lots of interior room, enormous trunk, and a 18.5 gallon tank. With mixed mileage of 32 mpg over the first year of owning the vehicle, that’s approx. 590 miles per tank. On several occasions with gentle driving I managed to squeeze out up to 620 miles on one tank, or about 34 mpg mixed. I drive 100 miles per day, 2/3 of it on the interstate. The trunk is so large, you’ll probably need a tote or cargo net to secure grocery bags or they will fall over and slide around (I have the durable trunk liner, so those who opt for the carpeted trunk might have better luck with those Velcro cargo storage inserts). I can fit four large suitcases in there with a garment bag on the top without reservation. I’ve driven the car with a co-worker of mine who is 6’2” and over 200 lbs and he can sit comfortably in the back or the front. The interior of the vehicle is above average for what you pay. I have the Limited edition, and the “pleather” seats are comfortable, and the heaters in them are quick to warm up.
In terms of performance, the 2.5i engine has come a long way. It used to be sluggish and under-powered, but no more. When jumping off the line from a dead stop, the Legacy isn’t as peppy as other Subarus (probably due to its weight), but above 3,000 rpm the engine is snappy, responsive, and powerful. The car’s six speed transmission is virtually unnoticeable especially on the freeway when passing or going up hills – the change from gear six to gear five is seamless. In fact, it’s not really a six speed, the “shift points” you’re feeling are the variable transmission behaving like a standard planetary gear automatic transmission. You can drive this car without the fake shift points to feel its variable transmission. From a dead stop, don’t push down more than about 20% on the accelerator (or, don’t go above about 2,000 rpm), and just hold your foot in that position. The car will accelerate at what I consider an average pace all the way up to freeway speed and you will never feel a single shift point, and the tachometer needle will remain still at 2,000 the entire time. In terms of ‘classic’ transmission, it drives like anything else that doesn’t have CVT if you accelerate more aggressively than this. And for coming down hills, the steering wheel mounted shift paddles are wonderful, especially when driving in inclement weather, and this will allow the car more traction and less strain on the braking system. You can also drive in “semi-automatic” mode by leaving the main gear shift in “Drive,” and still downshift/upshift the gears with the paddles – the car will put itself in the gear of choice, and then once you’re back to flat road, drop itself into “Drive” automatically. I found this to be super helpful while descending I-70 out of the Rockies. And of course, you can put the main gear shifter into “Manual” and the car will remain locked in the gear you choose with the wheel paddles, just like it would any other automatic transmission. So having full CVT, semi-automatic, and manual transmission options is a luxury to me, and one of the ways Subaru beats its competition.
The car is quiet, much quieter than the Accord and the Camry, but not as quiet as a luxury sedan, obviously. Perhaps once my warranty is up, and if I still own the car, I’ll buy some Dynamat padding, open up the interior, and line it further to get the interior noise down to a whisper. Regardless, interior noise isn’t that bad – the XV and Forester (which I drove for 500 miles each) are noisier than the Legacy. Despite weighing in above average, I’ve never felt like the car was overly heavy or unable to throw its weight around, and I’ve had a few instances where I need to quickly dodge an accident.
It almost goes without saying that Subaru’s AWD system is one of the best in the world. There are countless YouTube videos showing how its intelligent AWD can get the car out of nearly any wheel slippage more intelligently than the AWD systems in the leading competitors. That said, this car is a beast in the snow. I drove 50 miles one day in near white-out blizzard conditions and the only other cars on the road were 4×4 pickups and Subarus. Not once did my car slip, and I saw several vehicles which had slid off the road, waiting for help to come. The toughest part of that day was getting up my driveway, and traction control was preventing me from getting up the slope. So I easily disengaged traction control from the left-side console, and the car leapt into the garage without a hiccup. If you live in an area where road conditions are heavily affected by weather, you can’t go wrong with the Legacy. I suspect those people driving in mountain states and perhaps the northern midwest would really benefit from from owning a Legacy for that reason alone.
The Limited edition features are hit or miss. First, I’m an audiophile – I demand lossless quality music (mp3s sound terrible to me – my library is FLAC), and opt for the CD whenever I can. The Harmon/Kardon system in the Limited edition is quite impressive for a factory-direct option. There is very little need to upgrade the speakers themselves, except maybe the tweeters. The low-end will give you what you need, unless rattling license plates obnoxiously is your shtick. The car comes with a year of free SiriusXM satellite radio, which I played around with out of curiosity, but the sound quality and channel options turned me off to it (no pun intended), so I never really used it. I’m satisfied with the audio system. For those who are not interested in lossless music (or don’t know what that is), and who have an extensive lossy/mp3 library already built up, go buy a very low profile USB drive with plenty of space (I think 128 GB is the max – I have this one), put all your music on it, and then plug it into the USB drive that’s behind the door in your front dash or inside the center console. You’ll have all your (lossy) music on a tiny little USB drive and since it’s so low profile, it will be essentially out of the way of virtually everything else, and it will interface with the car stereo just fine (you have to give it a few minutes to boot up though – I don’t think the head unit supports music file indexing…). Despite being a lossless audio quality listener, I still down-sampled my entire library to mp3 and then onto this USB drive in case I still want to hear some of my music in lesser quality. It seems to do the trick.
The navigation system is okay – the 7” screen is nice and big, and complaints by others that it isn’t quick enough are unwarranted. It seems to work fine for me. There are a few things that bother me about it: searching for nearby gas stations isn’t accurate within about one mile, which is odd because it’s pinpoint accurate for everything else for which you have the full address. The second thing that bothers me is the inability to search for destinations by voice command, despite the car coming with a voice command system for all the other functions. Regardless, it’s not a bad GPS, but I have seen better. It can get finicky at times, but in driving the car 30,000 miles in the first year, only about three times has the bluetooth connectivity not worked properly, and in the end, it wasn’t the car’s fault – a simple phone reboot had everything going again. There are minor issues with the head unit that bother me, but they’re not show-stoppers: there’s no way to disable Gracenote album covers, which are frequently either wrong outright or don’t come up at all (unless you listen to EXTREMELY popular music), you can’t turn off the radio when the backup camera is on (but you can turn the volume all the way down), the “Info” section has some neat options in it, but most of them are rather uninformative (the most informative display is the digital readout between the analog tachometer/speedometer dials), and the Subaru Starlink phone app is nothing shy of a joke. You don’t need it – you can do everything via Bluetooth that Starlink offers – but the fact that a proprietary option is available and offers little benefit in my mind is tantamount to just removing it altogether and saving on production costs.
The voice command system is okay – it requires a few minutes of driving time to boot up, so don’t expect to be able to use it by the edge of the driveway. That said, the voice commands can allow you to do just about anything you want with the car, but I find it easier just to push the button or turn the dial to do what I want. Honestly in the last year I’ve accessed voice commands maybe ten times total, most of that out of curiosity not ease of use.
The EyeSight system is the real highlight of the Limited edition. With adaptive cruise control, you can set your car to be two, three, or four seconds behind the car in front of you (it’s based on time, not distance, so that’s why the same setting will vary the distance depending upon speed – it’s safer this way). I frequently feel appreciative that the adaptive cruise works so well. Having adaptive cruise enabled will eliminate the anxiety of driving behind incessant brake-tappers, because the Legacy will adapt to their closing speed, not their brake lights, (read: their pathological obsession with tapping the brakes at anything that moves). Lane keep assist is interesting – theoretically, if the car’s cameras can see the lines on either side of your lane (and it will show you if it can within the digital display between the analog dials), it will correct the steering to keep the car in the lane. I even let go of the steering wheel for a while and the car kept itself aligned properly in the lane the whole time (it will flash a warning and sound an alarm after a few seconds if it does not detect your hands on the steering wheel). The anti-collision system built into the EyeSight function is superb. Only once did it force me to prematurely brake when the car in front of me was merging right to make a right turn. The only function I keep disabled is the alarm for lane drift – when your car drifts out of its lane, an alarm will sound. I’m nearly always touching the left line in the fast lane to look around the person in front of me (why people go the speed limit or less in the left lane on the interstate is beyond me), so I disabled the alarm. However, all the car’s safety features can be disabled if need be. The EyeSight system is one of the many reasons why the Legacy continues to be rated one of the safest cars in America. Lastly, the Limited has side-dimming mirrors (an option pretty much only available on luxury Mercedes vehicles, as far as I know), and while I’m one who points my side mirrors into the areas where my rear-view mirror does not already look (most people do it wrong and point their side mirrors where their rear-view mirror already sees – which is redundant), the auto-dimming feature in the side mirrors is a nice added touch when I’m being passed by taller vehicles like pickup trucks. The mirrors also have an amber colored icon built in them which warns you if it detects a car in your blind spot, or a car that’s coming up on you with excessively fast closing speed.
Now, the not-so-good stuff:
It is rumored that the 2.5i engine in the 2015-2017 production run is having problems with its oil pressure system, and my car was one of them. It’s complicated to describe, but one Subaru mechanic described it to me like this: the oil pump is over-pressurizing the system, causing oil to run behind/around some of the seals and then burn off wherever the added oil pressure has broken a seal. Think of it like “internal bleeding.” My broken seal happened to be positioned near the exhaust manifold heat shield, so when the engine would ooze oil from too much pressure, it would leak off onto this heat shield, saturate it, and then burn it off. I didn’t notice at first, except the cabin air intake manifold is nearby, and the car was pulling in burnt oil smell through the cabin air vents when I was stopped at a light when the air around the car wasn’t moving. It was so heavy at one point that it was causing headaches, sore throat, and mild dizziness. I took the car in for repair three times because it kept recurring, despite two different dealers telling me everything was fixed. That’s when I went to corporate. I told them everything – even took pictures of the leaks and sent it to them. They arm-wrestled the dealer and asked them to pull out the entire engine and replace all seals and gaskets for the FOURTH repair. This doesn’t fix the oil pressure problem, but since the last repair attempt, I haven’t noticed the issue recur. They did note on the work order that they replaced some of the rocker gaskets, head gaskets, and re-sealed everything in the area where I saw leakage. This doesn’t mean it won’t leak again, because it’s only been two weeks since the last repair, and the new heat shield might not be fully saturated with oil before the burning smell starts to reenter the cabin again. They also did nothing to adjust the car’s oil pressure if indeed that’s the source of the issue. (Think of these repairs like a cold medicine attacks the symptoms, but not the virus, which is the true cause). So I’ve got my fingers crossed that this last repair was the final repair, and that my car is truly a lemon and not all Legacy vehicles are experiencing this issue. It’s safe to say that Subaru has lost all its profit on my individual car from four consecutive warranty repairs for the same issue. Some internet searching revealed that there are other Legacy/Outback owners who have a similar problem, but it hasn’t caused enough of a rumble at corporate to warrant a full recall.
Minor issues that have popped up – the passenger side floor ventilation fan started squeaking about 10 months into ownership. It still blows air fine, it’s just creating a soft whistling sound that it shouldn’t. The passenger side LED light bulb under the automatic door lock button also will not illuminate. This happened after I had the dealer install the footwell illumination kit (super cool if you can buy the kit on discount, but don’t install it yourself – have the dealer do it), so maybe the whole electrical system is acting up from when they put the kit in there. Also, make sure you have glass coverage or that you adequately self-insure because if you live in a state with snow plows that also drop sand/salt, your windshield will get chipped and the windshield for this car with installation runs about $350-$400, and you’ll need to replace it so the EyeSight cameras can do their job adequately. That’s about two-fold more than I was paying for a new windshield on all my former cars over the last 25 years.
Don’t let this stop you from buying a Legacy. They are among the safest cars money can buy, and my car might be a lemon with isolated problems. One person at work told me “If you can get through the first 50,000 miles of a Subaru, you’ll get 200,000 miles out of it, at least.” This is the opposite of most other car makers out there, where the first 50,000 miles seem fine, and the worry begins on the back-end of the warranty period. With the problems I’ve had (and corporate was good in terms of customer service), the AWD that I thought I needed for where I live isn’t all that necessary after all, and so this Subaru will probably be my last, and the issues I’ve had make that decision a little bit easier. It is a utilitarian car for utilitarian personalities. I consider myself a utilitarian in most respects, but when manufacturing quality control rolls out a brand-new car with the major drivetrain issues I’ve had and misses this sort of thing, it does cause some remorse and reflection when dropping that type of money into a vehicle I was convinced I could get 10 years from. I also drive about 100 miles per work day, or about 28,000 per year, so I am willing to let my desire for an AWD go in lieu of Honda’s reborn Accord Hybrid (48 mpg mixed), once I’ve paid this car off. Again, it’s a good car IN THEORY, so if you go with the Legacy, hopefully you don’t get a lemon like I did.