A large four-wheel drive estate car, the Subaru Legacy has long been a firm favourite among rural types with things to haul and places to go. It’s also popular with nerdy engineering types who appreciate a bit of quirkiness and who like owning a car that’s a little bit different. The oddball factor in this case is Subaru’s continuing to fit flat-four “boxer” engines: 2.0-litre and 2.5-litre petrol units, and stranger yet, a 2.0-litre diesel to the same layout. Beat that, Volvo XC70 or Audi A6 Allroad.
The merits of these make good talking points, at least, if not actually offering any great on-road advances; the petrols are competent (though thirsty) and it’s really only the diesel (which does up to 49.6mpg in S-spec) which is in any way distinguished. This is smooth, strong and free-revving, though not quiet, and it makes for the best all-round solution. The 2.5i petrol is a bit livelier but comes with CVT transmission only. Since this range was launched in 2009, the Legacy has come in estate form only: choose from the relatively conventional, lower-riding (and cheaper) Tourer or the higher-sprung, body-kitted Outback (now the only variant still on sale new). The Outback was briefly offered with a six-cylinder, 256bhp 3.6-litre petrol engine, though again, the diesel’s the best bet. Apart from lower ground clearance, the Tourer loses little by way of off-roading ability to the Outback; the diesel adds a limited-slip differential to the standard all-wheel-drive, and makes for a decent tow car (up to 1700kg; the 2.5i can pull 1800kg).
Equipment levels are high, with even entry-level S models getting automatic climate control, xenon headlamps, automatic wipers and lights, MP3 and Bluetooth connectivity, and heated seats; further options include sat nav and reversing sensors, while SE models add sportier suspension, sportier interior trim, a sunroof and larger alloys. Safety kit includes six airbags and stability control, and the Legacy Tourer achieved the full five stars in the EuroNCAP crash tests. Insurance, parts and servicing can be dear, however, and some versions are in high tax bands; the Legacy’s not a cheap car to run.
The cabin feels quite cluttered and a shade old-fashioned, but it is spacious, the seats are supportive, the driver’s seat is multi-way adjustable and three adults can happily squeeze into the back. It’s a comfortable place to spend a long journey, although the noise levels can get a bit tiring. There’s up to 1,726 litres of load-space with the rear seats folded, too (1,677 in the Outback). It’s more about the driving experience in a Subaru, however. The Legacy was once the company’s rally contender, before the days of the all-conquering Impreza Turbo, and while this model is the softest-sprung yet, and rather large and unwieldy, it’s not too big a stretch of the imagination to see the legacy of its lineage.
What to look out for when buying a used Subaru Legacy or Outback
The Legacy has traditionally been very tough and reliable, with many long-term owners clocking up 200,000 miles-plus of heavy towing. When it does finally wear out and break down, it tends to do so very expensively, however — it’s not a cheap car to repair. That said, owners consistently rate the personal service they get from Subaru dealerships (many of these are small family-run concerns rather than big multi-brand franchises) and plenty go back for car after car; Subaru was ranked 11th overall in the 2012 Auto Express Driver Power survey, though it has performed below average in studies such as JD Power in the US. There have been recalls for this 2009-on model in the UK to rectify fluid leaks from the 2.5i’s CVT gearbox and for potential brake failure.
The One to Buy
Legacy 2.0 D Sports Tourer RE
- 1998cc, four cylinders
- 148bhp @ 3600rpm
- 258lb ft @ 1800rpm
- 6-speed manual
- 0-62mph in 9.6sec
- Top Speed:
- 47.9mpg combined
- Road Tax Band:
- L 4775mm, W 1780mm, H 1535mm: