On the Road

Today's four-cylinder family cars are hardly the dogs they used to be (my point of reference being the mid-90s Accord I drove in high school a car that won me few stoplight-revving contests and even fewer dates). The Legacy gets up and goes without protest, with around-town oomph that's comparable to a four-cylinder Accord or Toyota Camry. At highway speeds, Subaru's continuously variable automatic transmission takes a while to serve up the passing power you asked for, and the same is true on hills. If you prefer to shift your own gears or just want to save $1,000 a six-speed manual comes standard.

The all-wheel-drive system provides a confident grip six-cylinder models get a more sophisticated all-wheel-drive system that's supposed to give the car a more rear-wheel-drive-like experience and the steering wheel carves corners with admirable precision. Unfortunately, those same maneuvers cause excessive body roll, like you'd expect in a Camry. Subaru says suspension tuning is the same across all variants.

Ride quality is good and wind noise is low, but road noise with my test car's 17-inch wheels seemed loud. Above 70 mph, crosswinds can make the steering wheel a bit jittery. I spent a good chunk of time on the interstate making minor corrections to stay on course. The Camry has its own problems mostly its numb, lollygagging highway steering but the Accord feels more settled than the other two.

Four-wheel-disc antilock brakes are standard, with turbo and six-cylinder models getting beefier discs. My Legacy's brakes worked well, with a linear pedal feel and decent stopping power.

Gas mileage, at an EPA-estimated 23/31 mpg city/highway with the CVT, is better than last year's four-speed automatic Legacy, but it trails segment leaders like the 33-mpg Camry and Chevrolet Malibu and the 34-mpg Ford Fusion. Subaru's standard all-wheel drive adds weight. With that in mind, its mileage is hardly below par: The all-wheel-drive Fusion's best mpg numbers are 18/25 mpg (though that's with a V-6 engine). Ford doesn't offer all-wheel drive with the four-cylinder, so the Legacy's price of entry for an all-wheel-drive midsize sedan is roughly $8,000 less than Ford's, with 5 mpg of fuel savings to boot.

The Legacy's gas mileage with a manual transmission and non-turbo four-cylinder is 19/27 mpg. Trade the 170-horsepower four-cylinder for either of the more powerful drivetrains the 256-hp six-cylinder with a five-speed automatic or a 265-hp, turbo four-cylinder with a six-speed manual and mileage drops to 18/25 mpg.

Horsepower fans, take note: The turbocharged Legacy requires premium fuel. Other drivetrains use regular gas.

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