2011 Subaru Legacy 2.5 i and 3.6R Limited Review

Front 3/4 view of 2011 Subaru Legacy

Rear 3/4 view of 2011 Subaru Legacy
Subaru has made its place in the automotive world the past 35 years or so by being the Japanese SAAB. Quirky, yet loveable...attracting a small but devoted following.

Attempting to go mainstream is part of what very nearly killed SAAB, so there's precedent for concern every time Subaru gets a bit more normal.

Except that Subaru's managed it quite well...first with the Outback, then the Forester, and now with the Legacy.

The Legacy is stepping up in size and refinement, becoming for the first time a logical and direct alternative to Honda Accord and Toyota Camry.

Interior of 2011 Subaru Legacy

And to show just how good the basic product is, Subaru sent us a no-frills Legacy 2.5i. Not a single option (but with 17-inch alloy wheels, 4-wheel anti-lock disc brakes, air conditioning, AM/FM/CD, an auxilary audio jack, XM/Sirius capability, a multifunction trip computer, an outside temperature gauge, cruise control, tilt/telescoping steering wheel, power windows, door locks and mirrors, a remote keyless entry system, and map and courtesy lights all standard, it's a complete package without any options).

Even though the Legacy is bigger now, it's lighter than the competition...handles better...and don't forget...it's a Subaru, so all-wheel drive is part of the deal.
And the power from the 2.5 liter engine (170 horsepower), teamed with a smooth 6-speed manual, is more than adequate.

That six-speed is a help for the fuel economy...the EPA says 19 city, 27 highway.

And the price?

Well, the price had me reminding myself to think Subaru for my next family sedan: $19,995.

Remember the deal about no options? That's right...apart from $695 delivery charge, $19,995 is the base and the bottom line. There's a Camry a few hundred bucks cheaper, but not as satisfying, and the least-expensive Accord is $21,055. That's compelling math for a car that no longer has to be explained. The Legacy has arrived.

Japanese TV viewers got this commerical, with Robert DeNiro at the wheel of the new Legacy:

UPDATE: I chose to repeat the above review because the base Subaru Legacy is just so darn good.  But recently, I had a week in the top-of-the-line 2011 Subaru Legacy 3.6R Limited.  And it, too was a revelation...just for different reasons.

Regular TireKicker readers know that I believe you can too easily goop up a good car with add-ons and lose the basic flavor. But Subaru swings for the bleachers with the 3.6R Limited and hits a home run.

First of all, the engine....the 170 horses of the base car jumps to 256 in all three flavors of the R (R, R Premium and R Limited)...which puts the performance of the Legacy into another league entirely. The six-speed manual gets swapped for a five-speed automatic, but the extra power, the lack of a clutch and one fewer gear end up extracting the smallest penalty...18 city, 25 highway (as opposed to 19/27 for the base model).

And then, the creature comforts: Dual-zone automatic climate control, Bluetooth, a 440-watt Harmon Kardon 9-speaker audio system, leather-trimmed seats (including a 10-way power adjustable driver's seat and a 4-way power adjustable one for the front passenger)....all standard. In fact, the only option on our car was a power moonroof ($995)...running the base price of $28,295 to an as-tested (with $725 delivery charge) $30,015.

There are absolute bargains. The 2.5i is that. There's no other way to describe that much car for under $20,000.

And then there are bargains based on the comparison of content and price. And that's where, for a shade more than 8 grand more, the 3.6 R Limited earns its bargain status. Subaru has built a car that can run with a significantly pricier pack..and, as with the 2.5i, if it were my money...it would be an immediate contender.