January 24, 2019

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Subaru has never been shy about getting weird in public. Witness its decades-long commitment to the boxer engine, its history of producing slightly off-kilter models, and its stewardship of the sensible station wagon through the onslaught of the gargantuan SUV, all of which bolster the company’s reputation by coloring outside the lines. Yet the 2018 Subaru Legacy 2.5i Sport tested here shares few of the automaker’s contrarian attitudes, instead trying to blend in with the popular crowd. Which is a little weird—for Subaru, anyway.

a mild refresh for 2018 that adds a little contemporary spice and brand identity to the Legacy’s front fascia. (The Sport trim tested here was added for 2017 to sit above the Base and Premium and below the Limited and Limited 3.6R.) Otherwise, it could hide on most dealership parking lots without fear of being discovered. Likewise, the updated interior with a new center console and steering wheel put it in the same chapter of the modern design book as its rivals, if not the same page. What sets the Legacy 2.5i apart, however, are the keys to virtually all Subarus: standard all-wheel drive and a flat-four boxer engine.

In the case of our Legacy, that four makes 175 horsepower and 174 lb-ft of torque, the latter at 4000 rpm. Output travels through a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) to a Symmetrical AWD setup, which is Subie-speak for an electronically controlled and continuously variable hydraulic transfer clutch capable of delivering torque to the axle with the best grip. It’s a sturdy combo, but acceleration is not high on its list of priorities. The zero-to-60-mph run consumes a full 8.6 seconds, with the quarter-mile requiring 16.7 seconds.

While these numbers might have been typical family-sedan fare just a decade ago, we now live in a reality where a 2018 Honda Accord EX-L 1.5T CVT can do the same tricks in 7.3 and 15.7 seconds (or even more quickly with a manual), and the naturally aspirated 2018 Toyota Camry XSE V-6 can fly through the tasks in 5.8 and 14.4. True, the comparison may be tilted in favor of the Accord via forced induction and the Camry via cylinder count, but to paraphrase the urban poets of the ’90s, don’t hate the players, hate the game. Subaru faithful interested in keeping pace are free to explore the Legacy Limited 3.6R trim with its 256-hp flat-six, but the privilege will cost an additional $5600 over the $27,205 base price of the Legacy 2.5i Sport tested here.

Overall, the Legacy demonstrates a tight, solid, and rattle-free structure. Directional changes are reasonably stable, but sharp turns at any speed reveal moderate understeer and body lean; pushed on our 300-foot skidpad, the Subaru pulled 0.85 g of grip. That’s just a couple of ticks behind the 0.87 g generated by the max-sporty Camry XSE V-6 and the 0.89-g figure posted by the surprisingly grippy Accord EX-L 1.5T.

Adding all-wheel drive to any vehicle can adversely affect its fuel economy, but Subaru doesn’t make a two-wheel-drive Legacy, so the EPA’s city/highway 25/34 mpg estimates are the baseline. Unfortunately, our observed 25 mpg doesn’t come close to the EPA’s 29-mpg combined mark, but then we’re not known for being light on the throttle. By comparison, that’s 1 mpg better than the 24 mpg we recorded for both an Accord Sport 1.5T with the six-speed manual and an Accord 2.0T with the 10-speed automatic. This Legacy returned 34 mpg in our 75-mph highway fuel-economy test, exactly matching the EPA’s estimate.

The sole option on our test car was a $2095 package that bundles Subaru’s EyeSight driver-assist technologies, including blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, lane-departure and sway warnings, and pre-collision automated emergency braking. Seamlessly integrated and deftly calibrated, Subaru’s EyeSight safety systems perform better than those found in some premium brands. What’s more, the package also includes the Starlink infotainment system with an 8.0-inch touchscreen, navigation, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability, satellite radio, voice-activated controls, Bluetooth, and more. The as-tested price of $29,300 slips between the $26,670 Honda Accord 1.5T Sport CVT and the $30,860 Accord 1.5T EX-L CVT. In that context, the Legacy’s secret value weapon is the inclusion of the navigation system in the aforementioned package. Adding nav to the Accord bumps the EX-L 1.5T’s price tag up to $31,860, and it can’t be had in the Sport 1.5T.

Even compared to Subaru’s current lineup of increasingly mainstream vehicles, the Legacy 2.5i Sport feels as if much of its inherent Subaru-ness has been stripped from its soul in order to catch the attention of mid-size-sedan buyers conditioned by years of Accord and Camry ownership. While we understand the desire to connect with the common man, we think Subaru is most appealing when it’s getting a little funky.

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