2013 Subaru Legacy is reliable but misses badly on design

The 2013 Subaru Legacy gets an estimated 24/21 The 2013 Subaru Legacy gets an estimated 24/21 mpg and retails for $21,065. Photo Credit: Subaru/Cars.com

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The 2013 Subaru Legacy is like the neighborhood restaurant you took your high-school sweetheart to years ago that's still around the corner or the movie you watch on cable over and over.

The 2013 Subaru Legacy is a consistent midsize sedan that you'll be glad you have, even if it doesn't knock your socks off every time you pull it out of the driveway.

Subaru updated the 2013 Legacy's grille, headlights and bumper, but I was let down that the changes aren't obvious. On the one hand, I like an automaker to dazzle me with an update that has significant punch. On the other, I respect Subaru's subtle, understated approach that won't polarize its loyal fans. But can't I have my cake and eat it too?

The Legacy has power, no doubt. My test car's optional 3.6-liter six-cylinder engine is solid and quite responsive. If you want to make the drive feel sporty, you can use the paddle shifters.

Yes, I'm happy about the standard all-wheel drive. Of course I like the engine, and I'm pleased it has a navigation system, backup camera, and a couple of fancy safety systems. Obviously, I'm happy with the price tag: The 2013 Legacy starts at $21,065, including a $770 destination charge, and my test car a top-of-the-line 3.6R Limited cost $33,677. But please, Subaru, can you just amp up the looks, just a little? Even the eatery on the corner added some hip cocktails and fresh linens this year.

EXTERIOR

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The 2013 Legacy looks like a basic sedan, and its overall style is somewhat noncommittal. It's not turning heads. The lack of major styling chops prevents it from looking dated just a year from now. What style does exist is there in the form of a sporty front end with vents and fog lights. The rear is rectangular and needs more attention in the next update.

But is it functional? Yes. It has lightweight doors and a low step-in height that won't trip up your toddler. It does have that rear floor hump that can become a hurdle for kids during school drop-offs and pickups.

The trunk is on the smaller side at 14.7 cubic feet, but its 65/35-split backseat can fold to create more cargo space when needed. The levers that fold the rear seats are at the top of the trunk opening, making them easy to use. There's a shallow tray in the trunk's floor for storing smaller items; it's perfect for first-aid kits and emergency supplies.

The Legacy has a standard 173-horsepower, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that gets an EPA-estimated 24/21 mpg city/highway when paired with a continuously variable automatic transmission. A six-speed manual is standard on the base trim. My test car had the 256-hp, 3.6-liter six-cylinder engine and a five-speed automatic. It got 18/25 mpg. Both engines use regular unleaded gasoline.

SENSE AND STYLE

Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Fair

Fun-Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove-On): Some

INTERIOR

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The Legacy's interior hasn't changed much. The silver-colored plastic center stack remains. The stack's buttons and knobs are easy to use and clearly marked, but the same cannot be said for the touch-screen's buttons.

They're so small and close together that I worried I'd have to use only my pinky finger to access them. Also, the optional multimedia system isn't intuitive and its screens are cluttered. As with most multimedia systems, it was OK after I got used to it with the one exception being the sound screen. There's no simple treble/bass/mid/balance/fade setup here. I had a full-on equalizer at my fingertips, along with preprogrammed sound selections. I didn't like the preprogrammed offerings and wrestled with the equalizer to get it where I wanted it.

The leather-trimmed front seats are comfortable, though not overly sporty or bolstered. I easily adjusted the driver's seat and found that everything was within reach. The front row has two cup holders with spring-loaded flaps to accommodate whatever I put in there. There are bottle holders in each door, too. I liked the large cubby in front of the gearshift; it easily handled small items such as gum and a pack of tissues. There's also a roomy center console with a power outlet, an MP3 jack and a USB input.

Rear passengers have plenty of legroom in the Legacy, and in the top-of-the-line Limited trim, there's backseat air vents. There are two cup holders in the armrest, but there's only one netted seatback pocket.

IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT COUNT

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Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Ample Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Fair-Ample

SAFETY

The 2013 Legacy has been named a Top Safety Pick+, the highest honor from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. It received the top score of Good in moderate-overlap front, side, rear and roof-strength crash tests and the second-highest score of Acceptable in the new small-overlap frontal crash test. It also earned an overall safety score of five stars out of five from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. It received five stars in front, side and rollover tests.

The Legacy has standard all-wheel drive, four-wheel-disc anti-lock brakes with brake assist, an electronic stability system, traction control, active front head restraints and six airbags, including side curtains for both rows.

My test car had the optional EyeSight Driver Assist system. It bundles adaptive cruise control, precollision braking and a lane departure warning system and uses two cameras located on either side of the rear view mirror. The system is part of a $3,940 optional package that also includes a navigation system. A backup camera with rear parking sensors is also optional.

The Legacy has two sets of lower Latch anchors in the rear outboard seats. The bench was flat, making it easy to get a good fit with the child-safety seats. A rear-facing infant-safety seat fit just fine with the front seat adjusted to my 5-foot-5 frame.

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