Two other cars kept coming to mind during my week with the 2013 Subaru Legacy 2.5i. The first was the 2010 Subaru Legacy 2.5 GT that we tested for a full year in our long-term fleet, and the second was the new-for-2012 Toyota Camry, the indisputable best-selling car in the US and assembly line sibling of the Legacy. The two cars are built side-by-side at Subaru's assembly plant in Indiana.
Our long-term Legacy 2.5 GT wasn't universally loved, but I had a fondness for it after my wife and I spent two weeks with it road-tripping through New England, including a particularly exciting crawl up Mt. Washington. It wasn't a true sports sedan, but unlike most midsizers with manual transmissions, neither was it saddled with an anemic base engine. The 265-horsepower turbocharged boxer four-cylinder engine was game to play and the six-speed stick at least kept me engaged. The 2.5 GT model, however, has been axed, leaving this 2.5i model and a more expensive, more powerful 3.6-liter six-cylinder model.
As for the Camry, it's the midsize sedan against which all others are judged, not because it's necessarily the best, but because it manages to consistently outsell the competition no matter how good they get. Score one for momentum and marketing, but there are a number of midsizers I personally rank above Toyota's new Camry - most, actually. So as I drove Subaru's refreshed Legacy 2.5i, I kept wondering, is it better than the ghost of our long-termer, and does it, too, deserve the hollow credit of being better than the segment's best seller?
This Legacy has surprisingly communicative and nicely weighted steering. With so many vehicles switching to electronic power-assisted steering mechanisms for fuel savings, I originally wondered if Subaru had struck upon a magic ordering of 1s and 0s. Nope, it still carries a hydraulic power steering system that just feels more natural in one's hands.
The Legacy exhibits noticeably high ground clearance that reminds me of a lady hiking up her skirt to cross a puddle. Maybe it's to accentuate the all-wheel-drive system and go-anywhere character of Subarus, but the visibly large gap between tire and fender doesn't help an already awkward design that was tweaked for 2013.
Alas, our 2.5GT was the last of the Legacys to come with a manual transmission. The 2.5i models are only available with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) now, and it's a droner. I normally ignore paddle shifters in non-sporting vehicles, but actually used the appendages in this 2.5i to put the engine speed where I wanted it, efficiency be ****ed.
The 2.5-liter boxer four-cylinder is actually new for 2013, but only produces three more horsepower and four more pound-feet of torque than the prior 2.5-liter engine. It is an adequate engine for buyers who care little for performance, but otherwise is taxed by the Legacy's weight and strain of its AWD running gear.
The Legacy has an enormous capacity for rear seat passengers. Rear leg room is 37.8 inches, and as you can see in the pictures, no one's knees will be touching any seatbacks.
New for 2013 is Subaru's EyeSight system, a pair of cameras that allows for advanced safety tech like adaptive cruise control, pre-collision braking and lane departure warning. Most vehicles that offer those features use radar hardware mounted in the front fascia somewhere. EyeSight, however, locates its cameras inside the car on either side of the rearview mirror. You don't really notice the cameras until you notice them, and then you can't stop noticing them. Subaru, however, says its system costs less than others, and it's progress to see these features available on a car costing $30k.
Subaru needs to up its infotainment game, or at least license better navigation and entertainment tech from its suppliers or another automaker. The Legacy's system feels at least 2-3 years behind the segment's best in terms of its user interface and features.
Whereas our 2.5 GT long-termer was eager to play, this 2.5i is as docile and sedate as an old dog. It actually struck me as being a better Camry than the Camry. For shoppers who care only about traveling between A and B in a comfortable and safe sedan, the Legacy's AWD assuredness and pre-cognitive safety tech makes it the Indiana import to choose.