2020 Subaru LegacyPerformance • Comparisons
Then, the mid-sized Legacy was added to the lineup for the 1990 model year, with sights set on the sedan market dominated by the Camry, Accord, and Taurus. It’s been seen as a quirky and unique alternative to those sedans in the 30 years since.
What’s New for 2020?
The 2020 Subaru Legacy and its tall-wagon variant, the Outback, are all new for 2020. The prior generation was seen as a competent, if boring, midsize sedan whose major advantage was Subaru’s Symmetrical AWD system. Both the sedan and wagon now sit on the Subaru Global Platform, a chassis structure and design that underpins all Subaru models. With over a billion dollars invested in research and development, Subaru has made significant advances to its chassis design.
In the powertrain arena, the base engine still displaces 2.5 liters but it’s a new unit, first introduced last year in the redesigned Forester. The biggest news powertrain-wise, however, is that the 3.6-liter boxer six has been dropped for 2020. Both the Legacy and Outback now get the turbocharged 2.4-liter four-cylinder from the Ascent. The new turbo-four is tuned to produce four more horsepower and 30 more lb.-ft. of torque than the discontinued six.
The Pros and Cons of the 2020 Subaru Legacy
✅ It’s the Best Legacy Yet
The 2020 Subaru Legacy is a strong contender in the midsize sedan market. While compact crossovers have essentially killed less competitive midsize sedans, the ones that are still for sale are getting better. The Legacy is no different. Subaru says the new Global Platform improves torsional and lateral stiffness for better handling, ride quality and safety. Despite being stiffer and safer, the new Legacy is about 40 pounds lighter than the outgoing model.
The base 2.5-liter flat-four is all-new, and should be a reliable soldier of an engine. The new 2.4-liter turbo boxer four, however, is a gem. The tuning of the turbo allows for a surge of low-end torque that the high-winding flat-six didn’t provide.
✅ Symmetrical All-Wheel-Drive
Since 1996, every Subaru except the BRZ has been all-wheel-drive. The best crash protection is crash avoidance, and Subaru has used their Symmetrical AWD systems to ensure safety. The best description of how Subaru’s all-wheel-drive system works is from their commercials back in the 1990s: “From the wheels that slip to the wheels that grip.” By sending engine power to the wheels that are gripping the road, the system allows drivers better control of the vehicle, especially in emergency maneuvers.
✅ More Power, Less Gas
The 2020 Subaru Legacy has a whole new 2.4-liter engine with a turbocharger that bests the old six in power, torque, and towing capacity. It also uses significantly less gas. EPA fuel ratings are better by four miles per gallon across the board for the new model. The base 2.5-liter engine is part of the “FB” engine family, and has more power from a higher compression ratio and direct injection. Despite the power increase, the 2020 model still gains two miles per gallon in city driving, and one highway.
✅ It’s Bigger Inside
Headroom, leg room, and shoulder room are excellent in the Legacy. It’s got over an inch more front headroom than the next nearest competitor, the Camry. While it’s just in the middle of the pack for front leg room, tall drivers will never feel cramped. Its rear leg and headroom are mid-pack, but the back seat is perfectly adequate for full-size adults. It’s also got a commendably large trunk, perfect for carrying lots of junk.
✅Look at That Touchscreen!
All trim levels except the base model come with a huge 11.6 inch touchscreen mounted vertically like the famously large control panel in Tesla models. The 2020 Subaru Legacy also has actual, physical knobs for volume and tuning. Having physical knobs that turn for those controls is important, as many drivers still prefer turning a knob for volume.
The infotainment system also gets good marks for having large display icons, easy to learn menus, and quick response. It even has a split-screen mode that allows both navigation and radio to be displayed at once.
❌ That #[email protected]*&% Stop-Start
The 2020 Subaru Legacy, like almost any other car for sale today, has an automated stop-start system to save fuel by reducing idling time. Many of these systems feel seamless. Subaru’s stop-start is not. In heavy traffic, it’s downright obtrusive. The car shakes, shudders, and convulses with each restart. There’s no excuse for this, especially when so many other automakers can do it right.
❌The Base Engine is Slow
The new 2.5-liter four-cylinder is a welcome upgrade, because its direct injection allows for better fuel economy and more power at once. Despite the increase in power, the 2020 Subaru Legacy falls behind rivals in acceleration due to the emphasis on fuel economy. The transmission is a CVT that generally works well, but feels as though it’s sapping power rather than transmitting it to the wheels. Honda’s CVT, like the best automatic transmissions, works without the driver noticing it. The same can’t be said about the CVT in the Subaru.
Configurations / Trim Levels
The 2020 Subaru Legacy has trim levels that range in equipment from basic family sedan to luxury touring car. The base model is still well-equipped at a starting price of $22,745 plus destination charges, and the top-level Touring XT caps the range with an MSRP of $35,895.
All Legacy models are equipped with symmetrical all-wheel drive, the Subaru EyeSight® suite of driver assistance features, and a STARLINK® infotainment system with Apple CarPlay®, Android Auto®, and SiriusXM satellite radio. That’s a good bit of equipment for a car that starts under $23,000.
The Base Model
Subaru calls their base model the Legacy, eschewing letter designations for different levels. The base car has a starting MSRP of $22,745 but it’s not stripped down like many base models of the past. It’s got EyeSight driver assistance standard, dual 7-inch touch screens for the infotainment system, and a four-speaker stereo. The stereo is adequate, but for an extra $599, a Rockford Fosgate stereo upgrade is available with better speakers and an amplifier.
Base models come with 17 inch steel wheels with plastic covers, but most buyers will likely spend the extra $350 for the handsome machine finished alloys that are standard on the Premium model. It’s available in five exterior colors, and the interior comes in gray cloth no matter which color is chosen.
Both driver and passenger seats are manually-operated, but locks, mirrors, and windows are all electric. Subaru keeps safety an important part of their reputation, so the front windows are auto-up/down with pinch protection. Advanced adaptive cruise control is included, as are LED headlamps.
The Premium model of the Legacy is likely to be the highest volume trim level. It adds a package of features that most buyers will want, while only adding about 10% to the purchase price. Starting at $24,995 before delivery charges, this model adds two exterior and two interior colors to allow buyers more choice.
Inside, the driver seat gets power controls, the steering wheel and shifter handle are covered in leather and the excellent 11.6-inch touchscreen is standard. Included with the infotainment unit is also the STARLINK Safety system, with advanced telematics including emergency SOS, automatic crash notification, and enhanced roadside assistance. Not just for safety and emergency services, the system also has 4G LTE and WiFi hotspot capability. The stereo adds two more speakers for a total of six. The climate control system is upgraded to an automatic dual-zone unit, and heaters are added to the front seats.
On the outside, exterior mirrors are body-color instead of black plastic, and gain turn signal indicators. 17-inch alloy wheels -- optional on the base Legacy -- are standard, and the additional colors include the handsome Crimson Red Pearl.
Two option packages are available on the 2020 Subaru Legacy Premium, although they’re not named. The first package adds blind spot detection, cross traffic alert, keyless entry and LED fog lamps. At $1,000 it’s doubtful that many buyers will spring for just this package. The second package costs $2,595 and adds navigation and a power moonroof. The navigation package is definitely a better buy.
The 2020 Subaru Legacy Sport starts at $26,945 and has a unique, blacked-out appearance. LED fog lights and unique black-finish 18-inch alloy wheels are included, and the grill trim, and exterior mirrors are finished in Crystal Black Silica. A body-color spoiler is added to the trunk lid to round out the sporty look.
Inside, the seats are trimmed in two-tone cloth and vinyl with red contrast stitching. It’s handsome, and the red stitch adds a bit of sporty flair. The Sport has one option package available, adding navigation and a power moonroof. On the Sport, however, it only adds $2,245 to the window sticker, and includes reverse automatic braking for additional safety and convenience.
The Limited model, starting at $29,745, shifts to luxury. Gone are the black exterior trim and grill accents, replaced with chrome finish. The side mirrors are painted the same color as the body, and the spoiler is now a $368 option. LED fog lamps are standard like the Sport and the LED headlamps add steering response to light up tight curves at night. The wheels are still 18-inches in diameter, but have a premium machined-face design more in line with the luxury countenance that the Limited projects.
Inside, the cloth is replaced with genuine leather with perforated inserts for a posh look. Rear seats are also equipped with heaters, so back-seat passengers don’t have chilly cheeks on cold days. The six-speaker Subaru audio system is gone. In its place is a premium Harmon-Kardon stereo, with a 576-watt-equivalent GreenEdge® amplifier and 12 speakers.
One option package is available with the Limited. Like the others, it includes the power moonroof and navigation, but it also includes a heated steering wheel and the DriverFocus™ safety system. This option package adds $2,045 to the price of the Legacy Limited.
The designation XT has been used repeatedly in Subaru parlance. Since the introduction of the second-generation Forester in 2003, XT means turbocharged. With a base price of $34,195 it’s a big jump from the Limited, but it includes the powerful and efficient 2.4-liter turbo boxer four. All of the equipment in the Limited’s option package comes standard in the XT Limited, and the extra punch provided by the turbocharged engine is a welcome addition.
For a detailed comparison of these trim levels, see our recent research into the 2020 Subaru Legacy Trim Level Comparisons and Configurations. ›
Driving Impressions and Performance
The 2020 Subaru Legacy should feel familiar to anyone who’s driven a Subaru in the past decade. Seats are comfortable, knobs and buttons are placed conveniently, and the car’s character is a portrait of dichotomy. It’s either dowdy like an old horse, content to putter around town at low speeds, or eager like a puppy just out of the bath.
The 2.5-liter engine is hampered by the CVT, but it’s adequate for daily use. The 2.4 turbo in the XT models makes a significant difference. 0-60 in the base car takes a leisurely 8.0 seconds, meaning that high-speed interstate entry ramps might need planning. The XT Touring manages 0-60 in just 6.1 seconds. That 1.9 seconds accelerating to highway speed is huge.
Fuel mileage is excellent in all Legacy models, with the 2.5 delivering an EPA-rated 30 miles per gallon overall, with 27 city and 35 highway. The 2.4 turbo is rated at 27 miles per gallon overall, with 24 city and 32 highway. This is on par with its front-wheel-drive competition despite the extra weight and driveline drag from the all-wheel-drive system.
Most Legacy buyers won’t be likely to tow a trailer with their car, but its wagon sibling the Outback can’t say the same. With the turbo engine, a Legacy can tow up to 3500 pounds on a trailer equipped with brakes. That’s enough to pull a race trailer with a Bugeye WRX to the rally course, or a camper up into the woods.
Handling is better than its predecessor largely because of the new Global Platform chassis. The electric-assisted power steering feels slightly numb but gets the job done. Models with 18-inch wheels deliver crisper cornering but the ride stays comfortable due to excellent seats across the entire model range. Braking is adequate and panic stops are uneventful.
The stop-start system, however, is annoying. In heavy traffic, it gets in the way of the creeping that drivers must often do. It can wear on a driver’s patience and disabling it requires digging deep into the menus on the driver information system.
Subaru packs its cars with safety features, even including side impact airbags on the inside cushion of the front seats. All models of the 2020 Subaru Legacy include the EyeSight® suite of driver assistance features.
Subaru advertising materials state that it’s “like having an extra set of eyes on the road,” and it includes pre-collision braking and throttle management, lane departure assist, and adaptive cruise control to help drivers avoid collisions. Systems like EyeSight have been shown to reduce the rate of rear-end crashes with injury in real-world data.
Available on the Limited and higher trims is the DriverFocus™ system. This system was developed because so many crashes are caused by driver distraction. DriverFocus™ is designed to alert the driver if it detects attention wavering from the task of piloting the vehicle.
A review of Subaru cars wouldn’t be complete without mentioning their boxer engines and symmetrical all-wheel-drive system. Currently the only car manufacturers using boxer engines are Subaru and Porsche. The design is compact but wide, and allows for a lower center of gravity in the vehicle. The lower the center of gravity, the better it handles. In addition, this helps keep the car from nose-diving under heavy braking.
The symmetrical all-wheel-drive system is also part of Subaru’s safety signature. Engineers could geek out on things like viscous couplings, torque vectoring, and the finer details of electronic traction control algorithms, but that’s not helpful to someone driving home from work on a stormy day with bad roads. The system works by reading wheel slip and transferring power to the wheels with the most traction. This is beneficial for keeping control of the vehicle in adverse conditions.
The interior of the 2020 Subaru Legacy is a nice place to sit, even in lower trims. The seats have a good balance of firm and soft, and finding a good seating position is easy. Upper trim levels have an adjustable knee rest on the driver’s seat -- an excellent addition for long-legged drivers.
The 11.6-inch infotainment system gets talked about a lot, but it’s really that good. It looks like something from a much more expensive car and works well. Menus are easy to navigate, although changing some driving settings can take some digging. Rear seats are adequate for all but the tallest passengers.
Subaru’s factory leather has been hit-or-miss in the past. The leather in the Limited and XT Limited benefits from their cooperation with Toyota. It’s a higher quality than they’ve offered before. The Nappa leather in the XT Touring is gorgeous. It’s caramel-tan, and butter-soft. Ventilated seats keep dress shirts dry on hot summer days, and the heaters in all models are excellent.
Exterior Color Options
For the most part, Subaru has had a good reputation for quality. The last-generation Legacy received an 81/100 rating from J.D. Power for owner issues, quality, and reliability. Buyers should expect the new model to be as good or better. The new 2.4-liter engine is part of the FA engine family that’s been powering the BRZ since 2013 and WRX since 2015. The CVT and electronics systems have been used in the Forester and Outback, and show good reason to stay reliable for years to come.
How Does It Compare
2020 Subaru Legacy vs 2020 Honda Accord
From its 2018 redesign, the Accord is often the paradigm for midsize sedans in the American market. In a word, it’s excellent. The newest generation of Accord is proof positive that sedans don’t have to die out if they’re good enough.
It bests the Legacy in driving dynamics but it’s noticeably louder inside. The big 19” wheels on the Sport and Touring models definitely contribute to the noise. The lower-level models are still very good. The base LX comes with alloy wheels and an eager 1.5L turbo four shared with the Civic and CR-V. It also starts at an MSRP about $1,000 higher than the Legacy.
While the family sedan market is not one known to attract enthusiast drivers, Honda also offers its Sport model with cloth seats, a six-speed manual and the 2.0t engine from the Touring. So equipped, the Accord Sport is a hoot to drive, like the Civic Si’s dad.
The take rate for the manual and the 2.0t is low, but there’s also an excellent 10-speed automatic to take up shifting duties with that engine. Subaru may do well to introduce a Sport XT model in the future.
2020 Subaru Legacy vs 2020 Subaru Outback
The 2020 Subaru Outback is a mechanical twin to the Legacy. The Outback started as a lifted Legacy wagon in the 90s, and became its own nameplate soon after. While they’re mostly identical, the Outback is a higher-volume model and has more variety in its trim levels.
It’s only available as a wagon, and only available lifted about 7 inches taller than the Legacy. It’s also about $4,000 more than a similar Legacy. In comparison, the Legacy is a bargain for buyers who love Subaru but don’t need the outdoorsy aesthetic that comes with the long-roof version.
2020 Subaru Legacy vs 2020 Toyota Camry
The Camry is the sales leader in the midsize sedan segment, and for good reason. Toyota’s reputation for quality is unmatched, and the newest Camry, introduced in 2018, is an excellent car. The SE and XSE models are actually stylish, and the red SofTex synthetic leather is bold and beautiful.
The Camry beats the Legacy in both power and fuel mileage with the base engine and all-wheel-drive, but to equip a Camry with AWD means about a $3,500 premium.
2020 Subaru Legacy vs 2020 Mazda6
The Mazda6 is nearing the end of its current model cycle, but it’s still a beautiful car. It’s comfortable inside and with the exception of all-wheel-drive it’s an even match for the Legacy. Handling in the Mazda is excellent at the expense of the ride. Sport-tuned suspension means that bridge joints and bumpy roads jostle occupants in a way that many would find unacceptable.
The leatherette in the Touring model has a tendency to delaminate after a year or two, so it might be best to either stay with the down-market Sport or move up to a model that has genuine leather. A new Mazda 6 is coming soon, with an all-new inline six, all-wheel-drive and lots of upmarket features. Stay tuned.
2020 Subaru Legacy vs 2020 Subaru Impreza
The Subaru Impreza is a fine car. It’s the basis for both the WRX and Crosstrek, and delivers decent room for the compact class with either the five-door or the sedan. The Sport has funky black and red interior trim and 18-inch wheels, the Limited feels premium inside, if just a bit small.
Fuel economy suffers, though. The smaller Impreza delivers similar numbers to the Legacy even with the advanced CVT, less curb weight, and a smaller engine. The 2.0-liter boxer four in the Impreza is noisy and feels underpowered. And why is a car company in 2020 offering a manual transmission with only five gears? That may be another reason that the Impreza lags behind its competition in fuel mileage. Buyers of the Legacy and Impreza may cross-shop simply because they’re on the same lot, but the cars are different enough to not even be in the same class.