2012 Subaru Legacy Driving Impressions

We've driven all versions. We tested both transmissions in the base Subaru Legacy 2.5i and recommend the optional Continuously Variable Transmission. The CVT makes driving effortless and gets significantly better fuel economy than the standard 6-speed manual gearbox. The CVT works like a regular automatic transmission: Just shift it into Drive and go. It comes with paddle shifters on the steering wheel allowing the driver to shift into different ratios when preferred. Subaru was an early leader in CVT technology and has been making CVTs some 20 years.

The Legacy 2.5i model uses a 2.5-liter four-cylinder boxer engine rated at 170 horsepower and 170 pound-feet of torque, with torque peaking at 4000 rpm. We challenged the engine and CVT during a day of driving in the Pacific Northwest, and only hot rodders will need more acceleration than this 30-mpg sophisticated midsize sedan offers.

The Legacy 2.5GT comes with a 6-speed manual gearbox. The 265-hp turbocharged engine, with its large turbocharger that sits low and near to the exhaust, is capable of pulling 258 pound-feet of torque, available from 2000 to 5200 rpm. And there's no lag. The Subaru Legacy 2.5GT pulls off a 0-to-60 acceleration time of 5.9 seconds, much better than the 3.6R's pokey 7.1 seconds. The Legacy 2.5GT is good fun and an excellent choice for driving enthusiasts who want all-weather capability in a four-door sedan.

The Legacy 3.6R feels like a more expensive car, thanks to its smooth power train, lovely perforated leather and the standard nine-speaker, harman-kardon sound system. The 3.6R offers the same 265 horsepower as the hot-rod 2.5GT, delivered more smoothly with a sweet 5-speed automatic transmission, while getting an EPA-estimated 18/25 mpg on regular fuel. But as we mentioned before, it's not going to beat the competition in a drag race. It shines when driving around town or in traffic on the freeway when frequent speed changes are needed.

All three models have Subaru's Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive, but they are different systems. The manual transmission uses continuous AWD with a viscous-coupling locking center differential to distribute power 50-50 at all times; the 2.5i with CVT uses Active Torque Split AWD that electronically varies the front-rear distribution; and the 3.6R model uses Variable Torque Distribution which sends more power to the rear wheels but adjusts to the front when it senses the need. Subaru has been a leader in all-wheel drive engineering for a long time and they all work well.

The chassis features a front subframe with a cradle that allows the engine to sit relatively low. Subarus handle well because of the inherent excellent weight distribution offered by the front-mounted boxer engine. Combined with standard all-wheel drive, there isn't a better design for stability on the road in the midsize sedan segment.

Other technical features contribute to the Legacy's comfortable driving dynamics, including a suspension system that uses MacPherson struts in front with double wishbones in rear, and a responsive steering ratio that put a smile on our faces, even with the base 2.5i model. The brakes feel good and inspire confidence.

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