With its 2010 redesign, the Subaru Legacy is finally ready and able to compete with the big dogs among mid-size cars - Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Chevrolet Malibu, Nissan Altima, Ford Fusion, Hyundai Sonata and Mazda6.
The '10 that went on sale in the middle of last year has new styling, lower prices, better materials and more cabin room than ever. Add in standard all-wheel-drive and the Legacy becomes a serious player. In fact, among the rivals we've just named, only Ford competes with AWD.
Then there is this: The 2010 Subaru Legacy is now a proper-sized mid-size sedan with a smaller base price ($23,995), a bigger interior, more power, a new rear suspension and a far less quirky design.
Also a help are safety test scores. Like all other Subarus, the revamped Legacy is a Top Safety Pick by the U.S. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Better pricing for a right-sized Legacy that goes faster and drives to please? We've seen this coming, actually. Subaru has been steadily trying to move the Legacy into the mainstream since 2004, when the model shed its weird styling for a more streamlined and upscale appearance. It was a move in the right direction, but not quite enough.
The new Legacy looks aggressive - taller, with a wide stance and a strong front end. The wheel arches are aggressively flared and the tail is properly finished, too.
There are also new transmissions, including a continuously variable transmission (CVT) for better fuel economy. A more powerful, range-topping 3.6R six-cylinder engine uses regular fuel, too. The four-cylinder engine is strong and the turbocharged version is powerful.
You can also get a Legacy with a rear back-up camera, voice-activated global positioning system and a Bluetooth wireless connection. The range tops out at $38,395 for a loaded and potent (265-horsepower) turbocharged GT.
The budget model, the sub-$24,000 (to start) 2.5i (170 hp) has a six-speed manual gearbox. A CVT automatic transmission adds $1,200 to the price.
The racy GT ($38,395), meanwhile, has that turbocharged 2.5-litre boxer four-cylinder. The six-cylinder car, the 3.6R, has 256 hp.
The four-cylinder without the turbo is very good and, unless you're really loaded up with people and cargo, the go-power is just fine. In driving, the car is solid, comfortable and poised going fast or slow. The key here is the new rear suspension.
The Legacy feels more responsive yet more planted thanks to new steering and a new double-wishbone setup at the rear. Handling? The rear end stays low and flat in aggressive cornering. Very nice. Ride quality is better, too.
Then there is the cabin. It feels pretty luxurious thanks to higher-quality materials. The plastics, in particular, look and feel richer than what you'll find in the bulk of the competition. Bigger front seats have better back support and the dash layout is simple yet functional.
The market seems to think this Legacy is a breakthrough.
2010 LEGACY 3.6R LIMITED
Type: All-wheel-drive mid-size sedan
Engine: 3.6-litre, horizontally opposed, six-cylinder, DOHC
Horsepower/torque: 256 hp/247 lb-ft
Transmission: Five-speed automatic
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 11.8 city/8.2 highway; regular gas
Alternatives: Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Chevrolet Malibu, Mazda6, Hyundai Sonata, Nissan Altima, Dodge Avenger, Kia Magentis