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Subaru Legacy tackles a winter wonderland

Subaru has gone full mainstream with the exterior design of the latest incarnation of the Legacy sedan. But underneath that is a sensible car that proved its worth one snowy Friday afternoon.

Though the Subaru Legacy gets just minor exterior updates for 2018, it continues in a less groundbreaking direction.
Though the Subaru Legacy gets just minor exterior updates for 2018, it continues in a less groundbreaking direction.Read moreSubaru

2018 Subaru Legacy 2.5i Sport: "Sport" means a sporty ride for the snow?

Price: $29,300 as tested (including $2,095 for EyeSight, which features adaptive cruise, emergency braking, lane keeping, and more. A base model starts at $22,195 but would certainly be missing a great deal of what this model enjoyed.)

Conventional wisdom: Motor Trend likes the "spacious interior and trunk, good quality materials, all-wheel drive is standard" but not the "weak base engine, anonymous exterior design, abrupt throttle tip-in."

Marketer's pitch: "It's not just a sedan. It's a Subaru."

Reality: Well, it's certainly a ride for the snow. For sporty, try the WRX.

What's new: Subaru says the Legacy gets a revised look in front and rear, so it's not a complete redesign, but it takes a long look to notice any differences. Some suspension components are tweaked as well, for a better ride and handling, Subaru says.

Outside: Subaru has gone full mainstream with the design of this model. I passed one on the highway while driving this and mistook it for a first-generation Chevrolet Cruze. That is not a styling cue to follow.

Up to speed: Acceleration from the 175-horsepower 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine is modest at best. The optional 3.6-liter V-6 should add a lot of power.

But the pancake four-cylinder does make for a delightful sound, if your ear is attuned to old air-cooled Volkswagens like mine.

Shiftless: Subaru's CVT works at varying levels depending on the model. The Legacy, unfortunately, is one of the less impressive of the units, mainly because of the underpowered engine. I could floor the accelerator and not get much more performance than at half throttle, but with a lot more engine noise. It was reminiscent of a Plymouth Reliant I'm embarrassed to admit I once owned.

Subaru does offer six "gears" that drivers can access using the shift lever or paddles. This makes the drive slightly more satisfying, but the shift lever doesn't have a great deal of feedback.

A manual is not available, sadly.

On the road: Handling was very Subaru-y — steady, controlled, but not a lot of fun.

In the snow: One couldn't ask for a better car to have during a Friday afternoon rush-hour snowstorm. Though only a few inches fell, traffic backed up impressively, turning a half-hour commute into a two-hour trek. Sturgis Kid 4.0 and I watched other cars slip and slide on curves and hills, but the Legacy just plodded ahead. I never even felt a slip.

Driver's Seat: The standard cloth seats offer equal amounts support and comfort, although the seat back did punch the old kidneys a bit.

Friends and stuff: Rear-seat passengers enjoy some legroom and foot room, as long as they're not in the middle seat. The hump there is quite large, as it has the all-wheel drive components to push through. Headroom is the snuggest part, all things considered, but it's still adequate for 5-foot-10-inch Mr. Driver's Seat.

Cargo space is a modest 15 cubic feet in the trunk.

Play some tunes: Stereo sound in the Legacy was impressive, about an A-.

The stereo offered some nice buttons for changing source in the ebony bezel around the screen, and a pair of knobs controlled volume and tuning. Other functions, however, could be buried inside the touchscreen. In particular, changing bass, treble, and midrange took two screens, and the adjustments were on-screen sliders, impossible to move on the fly.

Two USB ports up front and two in the rear keep everyone connected.

Keeping warm and cool: Large dials control temperature for driver and passenger. Buttons control the rest of the operations.

Night shift: Overhead lights are nice enough — not the best I've seen, but not the worst. The headlights illuminate the road well.

Fuel economy: I averaged a rather low 26 mpg in my testing, but that included a 27-mile, two-hour trip in the snow, dragging the numbers way down, I'm sure.

Where it's built: Lafayette, Indiana

How it's built: Consumer Reports predicts the Legacy's reliability will be 4 out of 5, and the model has received 3s and 4s in the last four years.

In the end: The Legacy offers the usual Subaru practicality and impressive wintry-weather performance. I wish the car maker hadn't given up its unusual styling, though.