$4,995 - $10,314

2009 Subaru Legacy Performance Review

Note: This performance review was created when the 2009 Subaru Legacy was new.


Performance: 8.7

The 2009 Subaru Legacy is unquestionably a performance-oriented family car. With a choice of three powerful engines (two of which accelerate like little else in its class), sure-footed all-wheel drive to hold it to the road in tight corners, and power-assisted steering to make taking those curves easy on the arms, it's sportier than most of its peers. The standard all-wheel drive is not just for spirited driving, either -- it gives the Legacy an advantage over many other choices in foul weather. The 2009 Legacy could even be considered an option for buyers stepping down from an SUV into a more efficient sedan. But, as sedans go, it's not particularly fuel-efficient. The Subaru ranks near the bottom of a very large class in terms of fuel economy.

  • "We drove the turbocharged 2.5 GT Limited sedan with a five-speed manual transmission and enjoyed it very much...With a light steering effort and small turning circle, the Legacy is pleasant around town and in a parking lot. Likewise, highway ride is well within the range of comfortable." -- Kelley Blue Book
  • "I could drive the Legacy 2.5 GT Limited with 5-speed automatic in a leisurely or aggressive manner, and it was happy to oblige, either way." -- MSN
  • "A blue-blooded sport sedan the Legacy is not. Still, the Legacy has enough power to entertain, if not enthrall." -- Motor Trend
  • "Behind the wheel, the Legacy is notable for its sporting demeanor, an unusual trait in this generally conservative segment. Other than perhaps the Nissan Altima and 2009 Mazda 6, no midsize family sedan can match the Legacy's combination of sharp steering, sure-footed grip and -- particularly in 2.5 GT and 3.0 R trims -- enthusiastic acceleration." -- Edmunds

Acceleration and Power

Subaru builds "boxer" engines -- meaning cylinders are laid flat opposite one another instead of in a single line or a V shape -- which are known for their smoothness. Reviewers invariably compliment the smooth acceleration of even base model Legacy sedans. A 2.4-liter four cylinder, a turbocharged version of the same engine and a 3.0-liter six-cylinder boxer engine are available. But the 2.4-liter engine is the budget choice. Most reviews focus instead on the turbocharged four-cylinder. That engine is the sweet spot for most buyers -- spending the extra money for the six-cylinder only buys you two additional horsepower. 

Legacy 2.5i models come with the choice of a five-speed manual transmission or a four-speed automatic. Legacy 2.5 GT and R models are available with the same five-speed manual, or a five-speed automatic with steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters for those who occasionally want more control. That transmission wins praise from driving enthusiasts. The performance-oriented 2.5 GT spec.B comes with a six-speed manual, and can't be bought with anything else.

Because of the wide variety of engine and transmission choices, there are many fuel economy ratings for the Legacy. The most efficient models manage an EPA rating of 20/27 mpg city/highway. The least efficient models net only 17/24 mpg.

  • The turbocharged model "spoils a driver with its quick power, and thanks to the automatic all-wheel-drive system, there's no tugging of the steering to one side or the other, as happens in some other turbocharged cars." -- MSN
  • "The base engine provides adequate acceleration, but serious drivers will want to go for the turbo motor and its vast reserves of power -- trust us, you won't miss having a V6." -- Carz Unlimited
  • "Even the entry-level power plant is pretty peppy for its class." -- Edmunds
  • The turbocharged four cylinder "worked like a hopped-up V-6. Very nice." -- Sacramento Bee

Handling and Braking

The 2009 Subaru Legacy's steering is a highlight of the car. Its power-assisted steering wins over most reviewers, while many competitors can't seem to build an electric assist system that pleases everyone. The Legacy's suspension tends toward sport tuning, which means it absorbs road bumps too harshly for some tastes.

  • "Steering was quick to respond to moves of the steering wheel, but not so much that it was twitchy." -- MSN
  • "One of the boxer's advantages is its lower center of gravity that promotes better handling." -- Kelley Blue Book
  • The suspension is "tuned well for aggressive driving but doesn't get harsh over bad pavement." -- CNET
  • "Quick steering on the GTs can hinder straight-line tracking on highway. Their handling is composed, with little body lean in fast corners." -- Consumer Guide

All-Wheel Drive

Subaru's symmetrical all-wheel drive system is standard on every Legacy. Manual transmission models have continuous AWD, while automatics have an active AWD system. The difference lies in how torque is distributed to the wheels. Whereas the torque distribution in a manual Legacy is configured at a 50/50 front-to-rear split, automatics distribute power where it's needed the most -- depending on driving/road conditions. The system impresses nearly every reviewer.

  • "With all-wheel drive and grippy tires on the Legacy, I tracked confidently around curves at good speeds and even managed an emergency maneuver around debris without fuss.  At 50 miles an hour, the Legacy swerved, quickly returned to its path and never bobbled." -- MSN
  • "For our countrified lifestyle and the constantly changing weather conditions here in Michigan, the all-wheel-drive Legacy makes an awful lot of sense." -- Detroit News

Performance Options

Drivers who want more performance will be interested in the Legacy's GT and R trims, which are equipped with Subaru's SI-DRIVE Performance Management System. It allows drivers to select from three sets of performance characteristics: Intelligent, Sport and Sport Sharp.

  • "The SI-Drive system is novel...It's a useful system, with Intelligent mode feeling best in normal driving (while giving up to 10-percent-better fuel economy, according to Subaru) and Sport Sharp feeling much more satisfying when carving up a winding hillside road." -- Motor Trend
  • "The SI-Drive, which is available on all turbo Legacy and Outback models, is the sort of gee-whiz, technological performance enhancement expected from German manufacturers like BMW, Audi and Mercedes-Benz. Nevertheless, it is not surprising coming from Japan's Subaru because Subaru has been working to mold itself somewhat in the image of BMW." -- Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

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