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 Ч 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 Ч or just want to save $1,000 Ч a six-speed manual comes standard.

The all-wheel-drive system provides a confident grip Ч 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 Ч 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 Ч mostly its numb, lollygagging highway steering Ч 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 Ч the 256-hp six-cylinder with a five-speed automatic or a 265-hp, turbo four-cylinder with a six-speed manual Ч 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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