2012 Subaru Legacy 3.6R Limited Road Test

Is the 2012 Subaru Legacy 3.6R Limited more Camry than Camry?

What It Is
All-wheel drive midsize sedan for the non-conformist.
Best Thing
More nimble than it appears.
Worst Thing
Barge-like seats and Windows 95-like touchscreen aren't even last decade...
Snap Judgment
Transformation to all-wheel drive Camry: complete.

Once upon a time, the Subaru Legacy was a small, all-wheel drive sedan with sporty intentions. Then Subaru built a smaller, sportier sedan and the Legacy grew into an older, larger, wiser all-wheel drive sedan. The Legacy became the story-telling older brother that never forgot its youth, but which comfortably slid into, with each successive generation, a smoother, comfier, more luxurious all-wheel drive sedan.

Today, the Legacy is Subaru's flagship model, a premium sedan that has never quite played well with popular midsizedom, but which offers, on paper at least, most of the things Americans want in a midsize sedan: interior amenities and space; reasonable power; not-going-to-kill-the-wallet fuel economy; and most importantly, safety.

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Of course, the 2012 Subaru Legacy also offers something that the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Volkswagen Passat, Ford Fusion, Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima, Nissan Altima, and Chevrolet Malibu do not have: all-wheel drive. This is very important to parts of the country where inclement weather strikes often, as all-wheel drive offers superior traction and stability compared to two-wheel drive cars. But how useful is all-wheel drive in Los Angeles? Does the extra drivetrain weight adversely affect a commuter's fuel economy? In what other ways, if any, does the Legacy stack up to the more popular, and better-known competition?

What We Drove

The 2012 Subaru Legacy is mostly three distinct vehicles: The base model 2.5i is the affordable family hauler that rates up to 32 mpg highway; the 2.5GT is the sporty turbocharged model; and the 3.6R is the luxury-lite range-topper. Our tester was the $28,595 3.6R Limited and came loaded with the $2,995 option package "08," denoting power moonroof, voice-activated control, premium Harmon/Kardon audio system, and a rear view camera. Price as tested, including destination, was $32,340.

At that price, you'd expect the Legacy to have some nice features, and it does: heated and leather-trimmed seats; tilt and telescoping steering wheel; dual-zone automatic climate control; and Bluetooth audio. Safety features include: class-exclusive all-wheel drive; vehicle dynamics control (traction and stability control), and brake assist; side-curtain airbags; and the usual, government-mandated LATCH points, antilock brakes, and tire pressure monitoring sensors. Comparatively speaking, our tester clocked in at about $2,000 more than a similarly-loaded Toyota Camry and a mere $600 more than a similarly-equipped Honda Accord -- both of which are only front-wheel drive.

The Commute

I know a guy who owns a previous generation Legacy 2.5GT. He likes to say, "it's just a Camry with a hood scoop." This model -- the 3.6R Limited -- does not have a hood scoop, but is it similarly Camry-like? If by Camry, he or you mean unassuming, comfortable, soft, and deceivingly quick, then yes. But too often, enthusiasts use the Camry moniker derisively. Step away from the enthusiast bent, and an objective lens reveals the Camry to be an extraordinarily successful car for doing many things exceptionally well. So, is this praise for the Legacy deserved?

We had mixed opinions. In our time with the Legacy 3.6R Limited, we felt the Legacy was an attractive midsize package that could play a greater part than its modest, niche role, especially as a commuter.

The two biggest complaints we had concerned the interior: the "optional" navigation screen is surely a joke, right? It works mostly well, but so do VCR's. The terrible 16-bit graphics and Windows-NT-like interface were woefully out of place in today's high-definition world. Secondly, by a unanimous margin, we couldn't stand the front seats. They were large, wide, flat, and soft, not unlike a leather-trimmed park bench -- which may have provided more lateral support -- and this is coming from a variety of shapes and sizes.

Aside from these two gripes, the Legacy interior is spacious and well apportioned. It isn't flashy or even particularly attractive, but neither is it dull like a Camry or stiff like an Accord. For the commuter on the go, the upgraded Harmon/Kardon audio package is, under the right audio settings, a punchy-sounding and welcomed distraction from traffic.

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The Grocery Run

The 2012 Subaru Legacy doesn't look like a small car, but its spacious size grows on you the more time you spend behind the wheel. So, although it looks like a typical midsize sedan (none of them are all that interesting looking), it feels large inside, especially the backseat, which has more head- and legroom than both Camry and Accord despite having a shorter overall length and wheelbase. This also means the Legacy has a generously sized trunk for all your junk -- the same 14.7 cubic feet as the Accord, and just a tad less than the Camry.

In the parking lot, the Legacy's all-wheel drive and power steering are good for an exceptionally tight turning radius. And it's easy on the arms, too. Of course, parking is a breeze, even when backing in, despite large bumper overhangs and the toyishly malevolent navigation screen dulling an otherwise superb backup camera.

Around town, the Legacy's 3.6-liter flat-6 purrs like a domesticated house cat, but from stoplight to stoplight, the unleashed snarl rumbles such that only a Subie owner can appreciate. The five-speed automatic transmission isn't particularly suited to city driving, as evidenced by a lackluster 18-mpg city rating, but it is a simple and rewarding experience for those who wish to simply put the car in drive, and go.

The Weekend Fun

Shoppers interested in the Subaru Legacy's version of fun should consider the 2.5GT. That car is lighter, tauter, and more powerful than the 3.6R Limited. But, hey, we're not discussing that car, and the 3.6R Limited is no slouch, either. Its big six-cylinder engine makes excellent off-the-line power and accelerates rather briskly for a car its size and weight. Plus, you know, it also has superb all-wheel drive traction. But is there more here than just a big engine and four drive wheels?

The Legacy is tall. The gaps between the fenders and the tires are rather large, and the suspension seems more Buick than Subaru. These are not desirable traits for sports sedans, but the livable traits of a sedan with sporty attributes. Strut the Legacy 3.6R down a curvy road, though, and it manages to more than hold its own. And by that, we mean that it's deceivingly nimble and decidedly tossable. The brakes are OK: you won't stop on a dime, but neither will you slide past the crosswalk on a late yellow.

As for the power, freeway speeds come in at a tick over 6 seconds from a standstill. Which is enough to shame all the beat-up Civics you see with loud mufflers buzzing beside you. That's good for a smile, right?

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The 2012 Subaru Legacy 3.6R Limited does everything that every other premium, midsize sedan in America does, except with all-wheel drive. Perhaps its worst attribute, though, is its mediocre fuel economy, no doubt due to its aging five-speed automatic transmission and extra drive wheels. But if fuel economy is all that matters to you, and you still wanted the all-wheel drive, save some coin and opt for the base model 2.5i Limited. That model gets up to 32 mpg highway for $3,000 less, but it does so with two less cylinders and a lot less power.

Here, then, the Legacy 3.6R Limited is a premium sedan with the same packaging and the same price plan as virtually every other top-of-the-line six-cylinder sedan in America. At $32,000, the Legacy 3.6R has the goods to justify its inclusion into nearly every midsize-shopping conversation. It isn't the best looking, it isn't the most refined, and it doesn't get the best fuel mileage. But with a broad range of above average traits in every category that matters, plus one standout, segment-exclusive trait, the Legacy 3.6R Limited is the midsize segment's most well-rounded contender: basically, a Camry with all-wheel drive.

Spec Box

Price-as-tested: $32,340
Fuel Economy
EPA City: 18 mpg
EPA Highway: 25 mpg
EPA Combined: 20 mpg
Estimated Combined Range: 333 miles
Intellichoice Cost of Ownership Rating: Below Average

Notebook Quotes "The Legacy is a bigger car, but it can easily be maneuvered into a street parking spot since the backup camera is not too distorted like other backup camera systems." -Trevor Dorchies, Associate Editor
"The center screen is one of the biggest interactions consumers have with a new car these days -- other than steering and accelerating the thing, which worked fine -- but there's a huge priority on this infotainment and connection stuff. Ford got pilloried for its MyFord Touch. At this point, I think I like Ford's system even more than Subaru's. - Blake Z. Rong, Associate Editor
"The Legacy's center dash color combination was a little weird with the black, the long-standing very fake-looking wood, plasti-aluminum, and the bluish plastic right around the CD player. I wasn't sure what to make of it, and I'm not sure Subaru does either." - Jacob Brown, Associate Editor

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