The 2020 Subaru Legacy is a near-perfect car if you’re looking for solid transportation and extensive safety technology across all trim lines. Every Legacy has all-wheel-drive, and enough driver-assist technology to be virtually self-driving on highways while protecting pedestrians in town (called Subaru EyeSight), track and alert inattentive drivers (DriverFocus), and call for help in an accident (Subaru Starlink).
The new, 2020 seventh-generation Legacy also has front cupholders deep enough to not spill a 32-ounce Big Gulp, were the car capable of a 4-second 0-60 run (it’s more like 7 to 9 seconds, depending on the engine). The engine’s “boxer” technology, similar to what Porsche uses, lowers the car’s center of gravity. The front and back rows are spacious and the trunk is enormous. Highway mileage is in the upper thirties.
So what’s not to like? Not much. This Subie won’t move the excitement needle quite like Mazda or Honda does among midsize sedans. It’s not as dazzling as the 2020 Hyundai Sonata. There’s less ground clearance than the similar Subaru Outback crossover. The new infotainment system and navigation had a few quirks, the kind a firmware upgrade typically cures, and stop-start twisted the steering wheel and my thumb a couple of times (more below).
The Car for Inattentive Drivers?
You say you’re a good driver; I say I’m a good driver. Yet surveys find the majority of Americans self-describe themselves as above-average drivers, which is statistically impossible. And yet, we also know people close to us whose driving skills or cognition worry us: teenagers and others in their first few years of driving, aging parents, a spouse or partner who’s had a couple of fender-benders that were the fault of “the other guy,” and people who text or create on-the-fly playlists even when they know it’s unsafe.
Subaru is a leader among automakers in making virtually all its safety technology standard across every one of the six trim lines, or model variants, of this new 2020 car. Buy any Legacy Base, Premium, Sport, Limited, Limited XT, or Touring XT and you get:
- A dual front-facing camera system, Subaru EyeSight, to keep you in your driving lane, warn of / brake for possible forward collisions, detect and brake for pedestrians at speeds up to 20 mph.
- Full-range adaptive cruise control as part of EyeSight.
- An active driving assistance system that controls speed and lane centering, pacing any car in front of you, also part of EyeSight.
- LED low and high-beam headlamps with automatic high-beam control.
- All-wheel-drive for extra grip in snow or rain, or on gravel roads.
Any Legacy other than the base model has safety telematics (called Subaru Starlink) standard. Blind-spot warning is available, optional on two trim lines and standard on three; it also includes rear cross-traffic alert and automatic braking while backing up. An excellent eye-tracking driver distraction system, DriverFocus, is standard on the top two trim lines and optional on a third.
One feature not offered is a surround-view camera array that primarily improves tight-spaces parking, but it also protects you (if you watch the screen) from running into kids’ tricycles or kids on tricycles. Rear auto-braking provides that protection.
Legacy on the Road: Mostly Smooth Sailing
I drove the top-of-the-line 2020 Subaru Legacy Touring XT, about $37,000 including shipping, with warm brown Nappa leather, moonroof, an 11-inch portrait-orientation center stack LCD, vented front seats, heated fronts and rears, onboard navigation, and immense amounts of back-seat legroom and trunk room.
With the new, 2.4-liter turbo engine of 260 hp and continuously variable transmission on the Limited and Touring XTs, it was quick, hitting 60 mph in 6-7 seconds. Highway miles went by quickly. Under foot-down acceleration, there wasn’t much noise from the CVT transmission; some testers have noted it on the non-turbo Legacy that has to be pushed harder to get up to highway speeds.
Most four-cylinder-engine cars have an inline design. Most Subarus including the Legacy have horizontally opposed, flat or boxer engines. They are effectively V engines where the angle is 180 degrees, not the 60 or 90 degrees of V6 or V8 engines. The engine is more compact, has less inherent vibration, gives the car a lower center of gravity, and allows for a lower hood and better driver sightlines. Against that, the engine requires two cylinder heads. Porsche also uses flat-six engines in the 911, Cayman, Spyder, and Boxster. The term boxer alludes not to the small crate it fits in, but rather the in-out motion of the two adjacent pistons that looks like a boxer’s fists.
Pedestrian Detection Saves Another Jaywalker
Highway driving was enjoyable with the driver assists, a nicely sound-insulated cabin, very good Harman Kardon premium audio, Wi-Fi on Starlink telematics cars, and USB jacks for four people. In town, the driver assists work well; a jaywalker who popped out mid-block was picked up and the car came to a quick (sudden) stop. But spirited back-roads driving was not as much fun as some other cars in its class, notably the Mazda6 and Honda Accord. The 2020 Subaru Legacy is based on the same new platform as the 2020 Subaru Outback crossover-almost-wagon. But the Legacy’s ground clearance is 5.9 inches to 8.7 inches for the Outback. So the Legacy is fine in the rain, snow, and on gravel roads, but not the first choice in Subarus if the road to your country cabin is deeply rutted.
Subaru has rudimentary self-driving capabilities utilizing EyeSight, although Subaru doesn’t consider it to be formal self-drive tech and has no Eye-something shorthand name such as, say, EyeDrive. (BMW might not be amused.) Once activated, it centers you on a highway and proceeds at a pre-set speed, slowing for cars in front of you. It combines Subaru’s Advanced Adaptive Cruise Control feature with Lane Centering. As with other vehicles, activation is a multi-step process.
DriverFocus: Big Brother Is on Your Side
Subaru DriverFocus, an eyebrow module at the top of the center stack, contains a camera and IR illuminator to track where the driver is looking, and rats you out after 10-15 seconds of not looking ahead. GM’s highly regarded Super Cruise self-driving technology uses eye-tracking also.
Some driver-attention monitors count the micro-movements a driver continually makes as he or she drives.
I had two concerns with my test car: I was startled a couple of times by the gas-saving stop-start system. Occasionally as the engine came to a stop at a traffic light, the steering wheel on my test car abruptly turned a couple of inches and twice caught my thumb that was loosely holding the wheel next to the spoke. After the second time, I decided to keep my thumbs off the thumb grips once this car stopped at a light.
The infotainment system had trouble parsing some spoken commands, wanted to drive me to the intersecting street with the same name plus “Extension” at the end, and occasionally would not connect an iPhone using two different Apple cables or with Bluetooth. On sunny days, the LCD was sometimes hard to read and the brushed chrome-look trim strip around the center display reflected the sun’s glare.
EyeSight Is Improved, Still Unique
Subaru says EyeSight has been improved and I sensed that both in the ability to pick up a car ahead from a greater distance and to be less affected in the rain. In some ways, EyeSight in snowy conditions may be better than radar in that windshield wipers clear the paths in front of the two cameras. If snow blocks the radar sensor, you have to get out and scrape it off with a brush or your gloved hand, assuming the driver knows where the sensor is located in the grille. Also, snow and rain reduce the effectiveness of radar to some degree.
Safety Features Abound
Even if you are a statistically good driver, a car such as the Legacy improves your odds of staying safe. It also improves pedestrians’ odds: A 2019 Insurance Institute for Highway Safety study found Eyesight-equipped Subarus reduce pedestrian-injury claims by 35 percent. IIHS also found Subarus with second-generation Eyesight did better than first-generation systems dating to 2010. IIHS said it found no significant self-selection bias, meaning the idea that safety-conscious good drivers might seek out safe-seeming Subarus and Volvos. Separately, IIHS found Subarus with EyeSight had up fewer rear-end collisions and passenger injuries.
How solid is Subaru on driver assists and safety technology? Here’s a rundown:
2020 Subaru Legacy Key Safety Technology, Driver Assists
|Lane departure warning||Std||Std||Std|
|Lane centering assist||Std||Std||Std|
|Blind-spot warning||—||$ / Std||Std|
|Adaptive cruise control||Std||Std||Std|
|Forward collision warning||Std||Std||Std|
|Auto emergency braking||Std||Std||Std|
|Safety telematics (Starlink)||—||Std||Std|
|Driver-assist package (EyeSight)||Std||Std||Std|
|Driver monitoring (DriverFocus)||—||— / $ / Std||Std|
|Active driving assistance||Std||Std||Std|
|The table shows features as standard (Std), optional ($) or not available (–) on entry (Legacy base), middle (Premium, Sport, Limited, Limited XT) and top (Touring XT) trim lines.
Should You Buy?
The 2020 Subaru Legacy is a solid midsize car for people who don’t need a status symbol. The Legacy wins a lot of awards but not all of them. Consumer Reports has it as the best midsize sedan and one of only 10 CR Top Picks among 300 models for 2020. In contrast, Car and Driver put the Legacy eighth behind the Honda Accord, Hyundai Sonata, and the Mazda Mazda6, among others. Guess which publication favors safety features and comfortable ride versus spirited handling? The Legacy is also a 2020 IIHS Top Safety Pick+, which means good ratings in crash tests, advanced or superior ratings in available front crash prevention, and (the plus part) acceptable or good headlamps standard.
We like the Legacy a lot, even if within Subaru this is an outlier, a sedan in a company known for outdoorsy crossovers and SUVs: Crosstrek, Forester, Outback, Ascent. The Ascent had arguably been the best midsize SUV until the Kia Telluride / Hyundai Palisade came along last year. The Legacy had been unique in offering all-wheel-drive, but the Nissan Altima and Toyota Camry added it for 2020.
Subaru is a relatively reliable brand. The car is eminently practical. From the side, though, it’s hard to distinguish from a half-dozen other brands. Fuel economy is good, an EPA combined rating of 23 mpg for the turbo models, 29 mpg for the non-turbo. Real-world mileage should be several mpg higher, and with judicious driving, the non-turbo could approach 40 on the highway.
If you’re shopping Subaru for max safety, we’d suggest: Move past the Legacy base ($23,645 with freight) because you can’t get blind-spot warning / rear-cross-traffic alert or safety telematics, and past the Legacy Premium ($25,895) because you can get BSW / RCTA, but not reverse automatic braking (RAB). Blind-spot warning matters: Not all young drivers know to check side mirrors and look over their shoulders; older drivers may know, but may not have the dexterity to turn their heads sideways.
The Legacy Sport ($27,845) lets you get BSW-RCTA-RAB in a $2,245 options package, along with a power moonroof and onboard navigation, for $30,090 total. Or for $30,645, you can get the Legacy Limited that includes BSW-RCTA-RAB, and the one options package, $2,045, gives you the moonroof again, a heated steering wheel, and DriverFocus. The top two trim lines, the Limited XT ($35,095) and Touring XT ($36,795), give you nice and nicer leather, DriverFocus, and the moonroof. So the sweet spot may be the Legacy Sport plus the options package, or the Legacy Limited, at about $30K each. Cross-brand shoppers comparing front-drive-only midsize competitors should attribute about $1,500 of Subaru’s price to AWD.
The Subaru Legacy should be at the top of your consideration set along with the Hyundai Sonata, the ExtremeTech 2020 Car of the Year. If you want a sporty car, look to the Mazda6, the Honda Accord, or – this is not a joke – the segment best-seller Toyota Camry with the TRD Sport, as in Toyota Racing Division.