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2019 Subaru Legacy 3.6R Review: End of an Epoch

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As fate would have it, I wrote up this review on the very day of winter 2019’s very worst snow storm of the year (so far). And as I wrote, fate further had it that it was no longer the Subaru Legacy 3.6R sitting in my driveway, but a 2019 Toyota 86 TRD edition. Now that car is certainly fun to drive in wintertime, but it doesn’t have the drivetrain needed to get itself out of a snow bank sitting on a sheet of sheer ice.

Needless to say at that point I would have preferred to get that Legacy back for a day, if only to avoid having to shovel my morning away trying to get the 86 out.

2019 marks the arrival of a “new” direct rival to the Legacy. I’m referring to Nissan’s Altima, which isn’t new of course but does now come only with all-wheel drive in Canada.

Photo: V.Aubé

That new threat, and the fact that the Legacy is showing some serious signs of aging, makes it all the more propitious for Subaru to give it a full overhaul – which it will, in 2020. That new edition just got its big reveal at the recent Chicago Auto Show.

But while we await that next-gen Legacy, the current edition is still alive and kicking among, continuing on its merry way as discreetly as it’s always done. Maybe even more discreetly in fact, as we know how many Subarus sold these days are utility models!

An everyman shape
Let’s put it this way: the design department over at Subaru has never been known to harbour the zaniest stylists in the domain. For the Japanese automaker, discretion is the better part of valour, and the Legacy exemplifies this philosophy. The 3.6R Limited, by the way, is the most expensive version in the product line.

I should also mention that the upcoming next generation, scheduled to hit the market in fall 2019, is visually a close cousin – very close – of the 2019 Legacy. As it has ever been, thus, you don’t drive a Legacy if you want to be noticed around town. For many, this is one of its most appealing traits.

Photo: V.Aubé

I should take a moment to go into the distinguishing features of the Legacy 3.6R, which comes with a flat-6 engine that leads eventually to that distinctive pair of exhaust pipes sticking out the back, as well as an identifying badge on the trunk. Anything else setting it apart? Not really. This Legacy, while offering more oomph under the hood, follows the company line. Discretion and valour and all that, remember…

A flat-six engine soon to be retired
The recent reveal of the new 2020 Legacy in Chicago confirmed one thing: the 3.6L H6 engine is going away. This gentle flat-six is unique in the industry, not just for its horizontal arrangement but also because of its position on the platform. The only other flat-six engine to be found on the market sits in the Porsche 911, behind the rear axle.

The mission given the Subaru H6 is worlds away from that of the Porsche model, of course. The “big engine” of the Legacy – and of the Outback by the way – is tailor-made for highway cruising, its linearity making it a smoother travel companion that the 4-cylinder engine.

Fuel consumption considerations also come into play here, and in that regard the H6 is not the ideal choice. It official rating might be 11.3L/100 km in the city, but I never got it below 14L/100 km. All the stops and starts of urban traffic combined with the frigid temperatures certainly didn’t help my cause.

The presence of the CVT transmission does help reduce consumption. A bit. Back in the day the 6-cylinder engine was mated to a 5-speed automatic transmission. The switch to the CVT has helped improve fuel economy, though no doubt the addition of a new 2.4L flat-four turbo in 2020 will help even more.

Photo: V.Aubé

And the interior?
If you want confirmation of the aging condition of the current Legacy, all you need do is take a gander at the dashboard. Not that it’s badly put together, not at all – it’s just a little bit austere. The entire centre part of the dashboard is given over to the infotainment touchscreen and, just below it, the climate control commands. That’s fine, but the size of the buttons can be problematic, especially if you’re wearing gloves.

The steering wheel is pleasant to the grip, although some of the commands mounted on it are a bit difficult to use as well. Driving position is excellent, as is the comfort level of the seating in both rows. Needless to say, the heated-seat function was put to good and ample use during my test week.

I also put the Legacy to the test in a more mountainous environment. On our day trip into the mountains, we were three adults and two children and let’s say it was a bit... intimate! Those are the situations where you are reminded why SUVs have become the first choice of so many families. Second-row space is just too restricted to accommodate three people, especially when there are car seats for little ones to fit in, as was our case.

Photo: V.Aubé

The Legacy, fun?
The Subaru Legacy 3.6R is not exactly a sporty car, even though icy surfaces can make for some spirited controlled skidding. The all-wheel-drive system of the Legacy is simply brilliant in winter – no need to wonder why you see so many Subarus on Canadian roads – even if the anti-skid system can’t be fully disconnected.

The CVT box also works very well in partnership with the 6-cylinder, the distinctive sound of which serves to remind you you’re driving a car with an out-of-the-ordinary powertrain. Standing starts are brisk and accelerations relatively dynamic, but at high RPMs the engine does lose its breath somewhat. Subaru also makes it possible to manually change the pre-programmed shifts, but it’s unnecessary to use them for moments of more-spirited driving.

The chassis has a pleasant stiffness to it, and this translates to confidence-inspiring road grip. The steering is at once heavy and a bit loose, which seems to be a common feature across the Subaru product range. As a rule, the Legacy 3.6R is more satisfying to drive than it is to look at; that said, the midsize sedans offered by Honda and Mazda, for example, deliver superior driving experiences.

Photo: V.Aubé

Last point that merits serious consideration: the price point. At $36,795 (before delivery/prep), the Legacy 3.6R is a rare bird on our roads. For one thing that cost puts it out of reach of many budgets, but also the utility segments continue to eat away at the market shares of sedans. Still, for those diehards who swear by cars and want all-wheel drive, the Legacy is worth a close look.

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