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2021 Subaru Legacy Pros and Cons at TrueDelta: Surprisingly good and underconsidered. Giving regular and premium brands a run for their money. by michaelz08



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This is the 4th Subaru Legacy we've had since 2015. As with all those previous, I continue to feel that the car bests its competitors in many ways yet confoundingly remains an underperformer in sales.

Legacy Reviews: Chicago, IL

Interior Shot, Driver's seat

Reviewed: 2021 Subaru Legacy

4dr Sedan turbocharged 260hp 2.4L H4 8-speed shiftable CVT AWD

Compared: 2020 Honda Accord

No details available

Why the 2021 Subaru Legacy?

  Compared to the Accord
Interior styling
Interior styling: Much better Better Worse

The interior is a distinctly Subaru design, with the only aspect seemingly borrowed from any other automaker being the large portrait-oriented center screen. Materials are of notably higher quality than others in the class, with almost all surfaces armrest-and-higher being softly padded, stitched, and pleasantly textured. The Nappa leather and caramel color of the Touring XT is particularly upscale in appearance, looking and feeling like a car that would cost 10K more. The level of hard plastic/materials is seemingly lower than in more expensive cars like an Avalon. Honda should be ashamed that the (more expensive) Accord Touring's interior has much more hard plastic, as Subaru proves that it can be avoided at this price.

The rear doors are of the same quality as the front, unlike others in the class. The upper door sills, level of stitching and (faux) leather padding, and armrest are identical in quality to the front.
The only cheap-looking component in the interior is the plastic cover for the infrared camera that recognizes drivers. The feature is so novel, though, that I readily overlook this minor shortcoming.
The details that count: The glove box is lined with felt and the window switches in higher trims are nicely detailed with chrome. The passenger seat is full 8-way adjustability, not the 6 as in pre-2020 Subaru Legacys. Seatbelt dispensers on the B pillar for the front seat have textured metal to reduce friction, thus preventing black deposits on the plastic from occurring over time.

Feature availability
Feature availability: Much better Better Worse

The feature list is comprehensive and very competitive. Top-end trims rival luxury cars with ample features. There is one feature available on the Legacy that few other cars offer, both luxury and non-luxury.
Models with the turbocharged four-cylinder engine come equipped with an auxiliary electric cabin heater. The only other gasoline vehicles I've heard coming with such a thing are some Lexus models with Cold-Weather packages. The result is that in virtually any temperature, you will get actual heat coming from the climate control system in a matter of a few minutes, even if idling the entire time. This is a major deal for me, as someone who lives in an area that experiences some brutal winters.
Combined with the good heated seats and heated steering wheel, this car is a cold-weather master. The front heated seats remember their setting when the car is turned off, but can be remotely activated when remote starting the car via the mobile app.
Ventilated Nappa leather seats are available, which is not the norm for the class. Compared to an Accord Touring, the top-end seats in the Legacy have much softer leather and the ventilation is more effective.
Some have complained about the lack of a 360-degree camera. There's a rearview camera (standard) and a front-view 180-degree camera (on top trims), and while neither is the highest resolution they absolutely show you what you need to see. The front camera in particular is an asset at not hitting curbs, and regardless of resolution I'm glad to have it. The side mirrors tilt when in reverse, and that suffices for seeing curbs in parking. I'll take portrait/large-screen apple carplay over HD cameras any day, and I feel Subaru has balanced feature content/quality admirably well.

Ride smoothness
Ride smoothness: Much better Better Worse

The ride quality is sublime. Even with the largest OEM wheels, there's ample tire sidewall. In hundreds of miles of continuous driving there was not a single road imperfection on our notably poor roads that the car couldn't deftly handle. The suspension is wonderfully soft yet remarkably well-controlled. Easily one of the best riding cars I've ever driven. Considering I've driven cars from Bentleys to Kias, this is a remarkable achievement.

The vibrations from the turbo-four engine are higher than that of past Subaru Legacys, disappointingly. This is only notable under heavy acceleration and via vibrations that come through the brake while at a stoplight. Far from being intrusive, but the prior 3.6 boxer-six was Lexus smooth, and that trait has been lost in the newest generation.

Quietness: Better Better Worse

The Legacy's interior is very quiet. I have excellent hearing with no hearing loss, and am well accustomed to the isolation of an 7 Series or S Class. That's not to say the Legacy is as quiet as those cars, but only on the loudest concrete pavement does the road noise become loud, and even then that sort of pavement would be downright headache inducing in many other cars costing the same or more. Suffice it to say, road noise is well controlled. The front part of the cabin is quieter than the rear, as is the case in most non-luxury brand cars (though I have not ridden in the rear on the highway, so cannot comment how loud it is). Wind noise is well abated on trims with the acoustic laminated front door glass, and is better than previous Subaru's in all models overall.Note: the tires are thinner than other vehicles, so this is likely a factor in the noise levels.

Even the window motors have received attention from Subaru- not only are all 4 windows auto-open/close, but the windows also slow down as they approach the top of the frame so they close quietly. A small but remarkable detail, it's nice not to get a loud thunk when rolling up. I cannot recall which other brand does this, though I'm sure there is one.
In 2020-2022 models, the Limited XT and Touring XT have laminated acoustic side window glass in the front doors. This noticeably reduces wind noise to luxury car levels and mitigates highway noise from other vehicles.
The last Accord I drove was not a loud car by any means, but was certainly not as quiet as the Legacy in front.
Caveat: For 2023 the laminated acoustic side window glass was quietly removed in the refresh; however, Subaru forums note that the acoustic glass can be ordered separately at a modest cost and easily retrofitted as fitment has not changed. Personally, this would be a must-do were I to end up in a 2023+ model.

Front seat support & comfort
Front seat support & comfort: Better Better Worse

Front seats are softly padded in a way that is uncommon in modern vehicles. Driver's seat adjustments are above average, as there is an adjustable thigh support. Passenger seats lack lumbar adjustment and thigh support extensions, but have full 8-way power including seat-bottom tilt and height adjustment.
Some drivers complain the lumbar support is intrusive, while others complain it's too subtle. Remember to sit in a seat and get a feel for yourself, as it is very subjective.
The driver's seat has the option of a facial recognition system that is fairly reliable if used correctly and a useful feature that is not common in other cars. Memory buttons remain on the door for those that prefer them.
The details that count: According to the owner's manual, the facial recognition system's software is open-source and data remains in the vehicle.

Why Not the 2021 Subaru Legacy?

  Compared to the Accord
Controls and instruments
Controls and instruments: Worse Better Worse

Controls are a mixed bag. Some common controls, such as volume, tuning, temperature, and defroster, have hard buttons. Others, such as the seat heating and ventilation, are located in the center screen. This has been decried by many owners, myself included, as they are within a submenu and require multiple taps to access.

System Unreliability/Issues: While the infotainment system has been reported as buggy, laggy, and crash-prone in the past, continuous software updates have been addressing this. Personally, it seems like the criticism is being taken seriously by Subaru as the pace of updates has been more frequent than almost all other automakers (outside of Tesla). The bug fixes and changelogs for each update are long and detailed. Unusually, new features have been added to all vehicles via software updates after purchase, such as:
  • Relocating the auto-start-stopbutton to a more prominent location in the top-level of the center screen instead of a menu.
  • Apple Carplay was changed from a small landscape display to a large portrait display- the first car to implement it this way.
  • The navigation widgets in the upper center screen and instrument cluster can display navigation directions from Apple Carplay applications that use the Carplay information APIs (currently only Apple Maps does so).
  • A future update is coming, with the big feature being reorganizing the climate controls to alleviate consumer complaints about seat heating/ventilation buttons being in a menu instead of at the top-level of the system.
I have personally noticed the system being much more reliable after the 2022 updates, while still a little slow generally (particularly on start-up). At its current stage, I consider it to be a perfectly livable system. Subaru has committed to using the system in more vehicles for 2023, meaning there are still many years of updates to come that will further improve it.

Audio & nav systems
Audio & nav systems: Better Better Worse

The navigation system is visually pleasing, if nothing else. It is simple to use but hindered by such lag that it can be frustrating. Voice guidance is average for in-vehicle systems; that is to say, worse than the popular mapping applications on iOS and Android. Navigation duties are best left to Carplay or Android Auto, with the built in TomTom system remaining as a backup for when cellular service is unreliable.

The premium audio system is identical to those in previous Subaru Legacys, being from Harman Kardon. While the sound is generally good, this generation seems to suffer from a center channel speaker that is a little overpowered and can result in a narrower-sounding soundstage than previous iterations. Some owners have reported unplugging or muffling the speaker intentionally.
Nonetheless, it's still a better system than a Camry and Accord, which either offer an oft-maligned system (JBL) or no premium-branded system at all (Accord). Overall I find the system to be competent and generally pleasant for the price.
Unfortunately, ours has an issue with the dashboard tweeters badly distorting in very particular circumstances; a dealer visit is scheduled soon. I am hoping that it is resolvable and not a defect of the current design/software as our last 3 vehicles with this system had no issues.

Powertrain performance
Powertrain performance: Worse Better Worse

This pertains to the turbocharged 2.4L engine: If you like to floor it, you'll be disappointed in the powertrain. There's ample power, but the CVT does not deliver linear poerformance. As mentioned, the car has a smooth and compliant ride that shows it is not meant for track racing.

In normal driving, the powertrain is smooth and unobtrusive. The throttle programming takes adjustment, as power can come on unexpectedly if you're used to a traditional naturally asipirated engine with a normal transmission. Not the smoothest turbo engine tuning, but livable once you adjust.
There's more than enough power for all manuveaurs, and the exhaust note is better than other 4 cylinder turbos with a distinct boxer burble.
Nonetheless, the powertrain is not as smooth as a Camry V6 or the Accord Turbo-four.

Handling: About the same Better Worse

If you're looking for a sports car, look elsewhere. The Legacy is firmly a comfort-focused car.

Handling is not sporty, but the car always feels confident and planted. The OEM tires are mediocre in the winter, but with good tires the car imparts a safe feeling and can deal with snow adeptly.
The soft suspension does not permit the sort of body roll one would suspect; it is a modern driving experience. As comfortable as an old Cadillac without the boaty feeling. Nonetheless, you won't be taking this car to the track.
The brakes are smooth, strong, and good. Easy to modulate. No complaints at all.
Overall, the Legacy is a balanced handler but is not as precise as an Accord. I have no problem making this trade-off, though, as it is significantly better riding than any trim accord.

Reliability & durability  

The car feels durable and generally reliable, but expect some software glitches and likely more small issues than one may encounter in a Toyota. I still feel their cars to be more reliable than any American car though, and given the cars seem to have more thoughtfulness in their design/engineering I find this to be a worthwhile tradeoff.

Subaru seems to have struggled with their build consistency as demand for their vehicles has surged. Avoiding the first model years is a safe bet.
We have our first dealer visit next week for some defects that will be handled under warranty. Here's what that will cover:
  • Lane-keeping assist needs calibration, the car wants to keep too far into the right side of the lane.
  • Voice commands work fine in all other parts of the system except the navigation system. As soon as you get to anything where it asks for a location, it cannot process what you say no matter how simple it is. (Cannot even process a state name). It is not intermittent, it flat-out does not work. Only started after updating the maps via USB.
  • Shaking when braking on the highway, undoubtedly a warped rear brake rotor.
  • Weird distortion/electronic squeaking from dashboard tweeters in very specific circumstances (easily reproducible with the right songs).
I consider these all to be fairly minor issues and seemingly easy to resolve. Mechanically and build-quality wise the car has been great. 12,000 miles and there's only one intermittent rattle from the sunglasses-holder area.

Other Features of the 2021 Subaru Legacy

  Compared to the Accord
Exterior styling
Exterior styling: Better Better Worse

The exterior is handsome and understated, if a little generic overall. 2020-2022 models are elegant in the front and a little more aggressive in the rear, with a side profile reminiscent of modern Buicks. 2023 models have, bluntly, and ugly and unattractive.

The use of chrome on the side is more than in some cars, but still looks good and accentuates the right parts of the body. The front and rear of the car use chrome sparingly, and the top trims have satin-silver finish mirror cars lending them a unique look.
To be fair, the midsize sedan category is full of many ugly cars. I consider 2020-2022 models to be #2 in the segment in terms of styling, only behind the Mazda6. While the Accord is good-looking, I think the design will age poorly. Sometimes boring can be a virtue, as the car's simple design will age well.
The details that count: The side mirrors are integrated into the beltline via elegant chrome posts that is an unexpected attention to detail in a car of this price. The integration is highly reminiscent of the 2018-2020 Lincoln Continental.

Cargo capacity
Cargo capacity: Better Better Worse

The trunk isn't the most nicely finished in terms of carpet quality, but the hinges are at least covered and will not crush cargo. The opening is somewhat small, but the capacity is large and the seats fold down with a well-sized opening.

A complaint that applies to many sedans, but the protrusion from the speaker in the rear shelf can be annoying when loading taller items.
There's a spare tire, with the rare ability to fit a full-size spare if desired.
While the Accord has a slightly larger trunk, I give the nod to the Subaru for the covered hinges, the ability to fit a full spare, and the fact that it still maintains a very large gas tank (18.5 gal, 25% larger than the Accord) despite the large trunk and roomy interior.

Materials & workmanship
Materials & workmanship: Much better Better Worse

As mentioned, materials quality is very high for the price. It is a tactically pleasant car in the upper trims, but even the lower trims do not suffer from abundant hard plastic as others do (ahem, Accord and Camry). In the lower trims, some of the stitched (faux) leather are replaced with padded cloth; in no area is a soft material swapped with a hard one.

The workmanship is good overall, but expect some rattles to develop on the interior. These are exacerbated by the quietness of the car at speed, but the assembly of the car is Asian-car simple and efficient so the competent DIYer can easily resolve them without heading to the dealer. Owner's forums are well-populated and active with guides on resolving many small issues.


The Subaru Legacy is an example of the prowess of Subaru's engineers. As Subaru does not have a luxury brand, they are unencumbered when designing the Legacy and their effort in making it a truly nice car are evident.

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