The parking lot was crowded as I walked off the beach that last day of the summer season when a sense of mild panic invaded my tranquil mood as I scanned the rows of sun-baked Japanese sedans and American SUVs.
Where was my car?
As it turned out, there had been no reason for alarm. The Subaru Legacy sedan I'd driven that day was hiding in plain sight, camflauged within the horde of Toyotas, Hondas and Nissans it was desgined to emulate. There was a time when Subaru's cars were easy to identofy due to their quirkiness. There was always something, be it a spare tire roosting atop the engine under the hood or rear windows that cocked at an odd angle as they rolled down. (My own '87 Subaru GL wagon is one of the underhood spare tire variety). Those days are over.
The Legacy exudes the sort of sobriety that comes when practicality is placed before all other priorities. It's a fuel efficient, reasonably roomy car with a decent-sized trunk, and its styling is neither exciting nor offensive. Even the interior was unremarkable – albeit well laid-out and uncluttered.
But beneath its innocuous skin, the Legacy had something those hordes of Camrys, Accords and Altimas can't boost: Suburu's symmetrical all-wheel drive. Before shedding its quirkyness, the automotive division of Fuji Heavy Industries made a name for itself building sure-footed cars capable of handling the worst Mother Nature could throw at them.
In the old days, Subaru's four-wheel drive and all-wheel drive cars were also known for turning in less-than-stellar fuel economy numbers, but that has changed, too. The Legacy I tested was subjected to a variety of different driving conditions – highways, country lanes, the pockmarked potholescape that New York City calls roads – and, according to its computer, never dipped below 30 miles per gallon. Add that to a car capable of carrying five passengers and a fair amount of luggage. Solid fuel economy came at the expense of a CVT that turned what could have been sprightly engine response into patient acceleration accompanied by a flat buzz.
The infotainment system wasn't the best I'd ever tried – menus were clunky and not always easy to find and understand – and the driving dynamic wasn't exciting. But driving the Legacy left the parts of the mind usually reserved for worrying about what the car was doing free to contemplate other things.
Subaru's Eyesight adaptive cruise control works well (Apparently, the company has worked out the bugs found when it recalled Eyesight-equipped cars over the summer.). With the cruise control set at 65-mph on the highway, the car used automatic braking to slow itself to a 5-mph crawl when a knot of traffic popped up.
The Legacy may not be exhilarating, but it is safe, economical, smooth-driving and reasonably priced. For the pragmatist who demands good winter driving characteristics in a tidy package, Subaru's capable mid-size sedan is a good option.
By the numbers: 2015 Subaru Legacy 2.5i Premium
MSRP: $25,785 (includes $795 destination charge)
Power and drive wheels: 2.5-liter, 175-hp flat 4-cylinder engine, all-wheel drive
EPA fuel economy: 26/36 city/highway mpg
Safety: http://www.iihs.org/iihs/ratings/vehicle/v/subaru/legacy-4-door-sedan IIHS Top Safety Pick +
In showrooms: Now