HENRY PAYNE

Payne: Shy Subie Legacy steps up

Henry Payne
The Detroit News

I feel like a TV infomercial pitchman when I tell folks about the Subaru Legacy.

If I told you you could have an all-wheel-drive, midsize sedan with a V-6 engine and the biggest cargo room in class what would pay? $34,000? But wait, that's not all! This car has all that and more! Heated seats, blind-spot assist, nav screen, torque vectoring! So NOW what would you pay? $36,000? But wait, there's more! Not just FRONT heated seats, but rear heated seats, too, plus keyless entry and wood trim that you would expect in a luxury German car! So now what would pay? $38,000?

Well, folks you can have all this in the stylish new, 2015 Subaru Legacy for just $32,500! You heard me, just THIRTY-TWO FIVE!

Subarus are autodom's bargain kings. Their fans are legion – including my Impreza-disciple wife. They make you question brand hierarchy. Why should I pay $30 grand more for an AWD, BMW 5-series when I can get the same package in a $30k Subie Legacy? Including lane-change assist and rear cross-traffic alert (this nifty innovation saved me a kick in the can when backing out of my claustrophobic, neighborhood service station). Would you pay $40 for filet mignon at Fleming's if you could get the same steak for $20 across the street at Outback?

What's that? Of course, presentation matters.

That Fleming's steak will taste better if it's drizzled in Merlot sauce in a private booth – rather than dropped on a table next to a flustered family at wit's end with their rugrat. Like restaurants, like cars. Upscale brands ooze style and substance.

But the latest Legacy – nay, the new generation of mainstream sedans – are punching above their weight.

Consider styling. Led by the sultry Ford Fusion and Chrysler 200, midsize sedans aren't the vanilla-mobiles of old – even sales leader Toyota Camry has gotten an extreme makeover. In the past Subaru has tried to push the style envelope with frightening results. Remember the 2006 Tribeca? It looked like a refugee from Planet Ork.

Smartly, Subie designers decided to conform the new Legacy to the latest styling trends rather than blaze new trails. The result is quite pleasant (and distinguishes the sleek sedan from its more-popular-but-homelier Outback cousin). Trendy, hexagon grille (see Ford Edge, Hyundai Santa Fe). Coupe-like roofline. Creased flanks. Hooded headlamps like a 5-Series.

Go on. Park it next to the midsize Bimmer. Years ago, you would have perished the thought. In fact you would have hidden the Legacy on the other side of the restaurant lot from Bavaria's finest. You couldn't bear the humiliation. Like Billy Joel dating Christie Brinkley, it violated nature's order.

But my new 'Ru in Ice Silver Metallic is Pygmalion's sculpture. She belongs. The eyes are dazzling, the shoulders defined.

On the dance floor, you might notice the difference. If you're Fred Astaire. But like driving, most people are content with the basic waltz. The Legacy's 3.6-liter, Boxer 6 packs plenty of oomph – even when mated to a continuously variable tranny. Want to slam through the gears? Paddle shifters are at your fingertips. Unless you're an adrenaline-guzzling, speed freak like me, you'll likely never push the limits of a sedan chassis. And even if you do you'll find the Legacy's torque-vectoring, all-wheel drive system a marvel in wet or dry.

AWD is Subaru's DNA, of course. As standard on every Subie as a kidney grille on a BMW. No one else can say that.

The interior is what separates Fleming's from Outback. Mid-size from lux. Legacy from 5-Series. The Subaru's instrumentation is practical, not fancy. Though not as innovative as a 200, the Legacy nevertheless learns from the best-in-class Chrysler console with intuitive knobs, large buttons and useful storage space. Most useful is a phone cubby, which, paradoxically, exposes the Legacy's biggest weakness: Connectivity.

It's a challenge for any automaker in the smartphone age. With giant phones like the iPhone6 and (my) Samsung Note 3, the small Legacy cubby is outdated. As is the car's Bluetooth system (which repeatedly failed to understand my voice commands perhaps because the Legacy interior is not as quiet as competitors) and the nav system which pales next to the latest Google app. Which means I wanted to use my phone navigation . . . um, if I could fit my phone in the cubby.

Details, details. She's still a steal.

What if I told you this stylish sedan has the best interior room in class! Just THIRTY-TWO FIVE! Order now!

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.

2015 Subaru Legacy

Vehicle type: Front-engine, All-wheel drive, five-passenger sedan

Price: $23,285 base ($32,585 Limited as tested)

Power plant: 3.6-liter, boxer 6-cylinder

Power: 256 horsepower, 247 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: Continuously variable transmission

Performance: 0-60 mph, 6.4 seconds (Car & Driver est.)

Weight: 3,662 pounds (as tested)

Fuel economy: EPA 20 mpg city/29 mpg highway/23 mpg combined

Report card

Highs: 21st century design; AWE-some AWD

Lows: A-pillar wind noise; poor connectivity

Overall: ★★★

Grading scale

Excellent ★★★★

Good ★★★

Fair ★★

Poor ★