Subaru Legacy Long-Term Owner’s Review (5th Generation)

I recently did a long-term owner’s review of my 3rd generation Suzuki Swift Sport, which you can check out here.

I thought it might be a good time to look at the other set of wheels in the garage (not counting my trusty eBike) and do a long-term owner’s review of my fifth generation Subaru Legacy. I haven’t actually taken many pictures of the car, so I’m using images of other cars for now, but I’ll be sure to update with my own pictures in the near future!

This is actually the “family wagon” that my wife primarily drives. We’ve owned it since mid 2020, and have put almost 40,000km on the car since then through a combination of city, highway and country road driving.

As with my Suzuki Swift Sport review, this article doesn’t go into much technical detail in terms of specific figures, but is more my general experience with the car in over two years of ownership and many thousands of KMs of driving.

About The Car

Here’s what you need to know:

  • 2009 Subaru Legacy
  • Ex-Japan import (we are the first NZ owners)
  • 2.5L engine (CODE) – this is the base spec, naturally-aspirated unit
  • CVT ‘Lineartronic’ gearbox
  • Totally standard apart from the installation of an aftermarket stereo and reverse camera

Why Did I Buy It?

At the time of buying, our old family car was a Daihatsu Sirion (no laughing – we got given it for free). However, the Sirion is not a particularly safe car, nor is it particularly practical.

We had just got ourselves a dog, so we wanted a station wagon that was practical enough to take her out for walks, have plenty of space for luggage for road trips, and also be able to do some light gravel road driving on ski fields etc.

If you’ve ever been to New Zealand – or at least the South Island – then you’ll notice fairly quickly that just about every second car seems to be a Subaru. There’s a reason for this … Subarus tick all the boxes for Kiwi conditions. You’ve got space to put your skis, bike, kids, dog, whatever, and then you have the dependability of Subaru’s legendary ‘Symmetrical AWD’ system to help prevent you from getting stuck.

We looked at a few different Subarus like the Forester and Outback, and in the end found a nice example of a fifth generation Subaru Legacy, albeit a very much “base spec” example.

With that fairly mundane explanation out of the way, let’s look at my long-term review of the fifth generation Subaru Legacy.

What I Like

Extremely Practical And Comfortable

I can’t stress enough just how comfortable and practical the Legacy is.

The front seats are spacious and comfortable, even on long trips.

Rear seating is generous, and we’ve travelled long distances with two, even three adults in the back with no complaints.

The ride is smooth and compliant, without compromising too much on handling.

The boot (trunk for our American friends) is cavernous, easily able to swallow lots of luggage or other items. With the seats down, there is even more space.

The blend of comfortable seating and acres of space is hard to beat, especially for the money.

Reasonable Performance And Fuel Economy

The 2.5L engine won’t set the world alight (I haven’t driven the 2.5 turbo, but I imagine it’s substantially more exciting) but despite the size of the Legacy it gets up and goes more than adequately.

We’ve done some big road trips on open roads, twisty mountain passes like the Crown Range in Queenstown, and even with a car full of passengers and luggage you’ve got enough power to pass when needed, get up hills and generally do everything you need.

However, at the same time we enjoy reasonable fuel economy, especially when cruising on the open road. It’s not the most efficient car out, but I don’t cringe at filling it or running it like I did with the Touareg.

I’d suggest that a higher spec 2.5L Legacy with the B-sport suspension tune would be a perfect blend of everyday drivability with enough handling prowess to have fun. Of course the turbo “GT” Legacies are better in the performance department, but come with much higher running costs and more reliability issues.

Good Reliability

Subaru has never been known as the most reliable Japanese car brand (that – of course – goes to Toyota. Learn here why Toyotas are so reliable).

However, we have had nothing but stellar service from our Legacy. It’s not broken down once in 40,000kms of driving, and you always feel like you can depend on it.

The only niggle that has developed is an occasional clicking noise from the AC vents, which we will get looked at.

We service the car every 12 months with a local Subaru independent specialist, and servicing is not particularly expensive.

Go Anywhere, Do Anything Nature

The main selling point of a Subaru is its ability to take you just about anywhere you’d want to go, and the Legacy simply does not disappoint.

We’ve been up ski field access roads (smugly grinning as we pass the chain fitting station for non-AWD/4WD cars), down unmarked gravel and dirt roads looking for exciting places to take the dog, and all over the country in this car.

My wife has once managed to get it stuck, when she accidentally drove over a steep grass bank that meant only two wheels were in contact with the ground … don’t ask me how.

Apart from that, the Legacy has done literally everything of it that we have asked.

It’s now covered in stone chips, dents and other battle scars, because it’s lived the life a Subaru should – getting you out in the great outdoors, seeing the world.

The only issue we’ve encountered has been that the ground clearance isn’t amazing. There’s a reason that many people prefer the Outback, and it’s because you get all of the same great components of the Legacy but the addition of more ground clearance (at a slight loss of handling competency).

What I Dislike

Vague Steering

I’m not the best at technically describing the driving characteristics of a car (I’ll leave that to professional reviewers) but I don’t love the steering feel of the Legacy. It’s got a vague, somewhat disconnected feel. Subarus in general are often criticised for their steering – for example reviewers tended to rate the steering feel of the Mitsubishi Evo higher than that of the Subaru WRX – but this Legacy is particularly bad.

I believe it’s because the car has electric power steering, and it’s not necessarily the most sophisticated system (this is what a mechanic explained to me when I queried him while the car was in for a service). The alignment, tyres and suspension are fine, so there’s no problems there.

It isn’t a deal-breaker, and if you don’t have anything to compare to you’d likely not notice, but I definitely feel it every time I swap from driving my Swift Sport to the Legacy. In fact, I even prefer the steering on my old Volkswagen Touareg.

The actual handling and road-holding isn’t bad at all, it’s just the feel through the steering wheel is imprecise.

Lack Of Equipment

To be fair, this is my fault for buying a base spec model – there just isn’t a lot of equipment.

Our car doesn’t have cruise control (not even the basic ‘set a speed’ variety, let alone radar cruise). It’s got air conditioning, a so-so stereo, and that’s about it.

Better specified and later models had many more toys, such as the EyeSight safety system with radar cruise etc.

I would 100% recommend looking out for a superior specification model, as the lack of cruise control is a massive pain on longer trips.

SI-Drive System & General CVT Issues

The Legacy has Subaru’s ‘SI-Drive’ mode switch system. You’ve got three options for throttle/engine responsiveness – I (economy mode), S (sport mode, which is supposedly the ‘normal’ mode) and then S# (which gives you the fastest throttle response).

I mode yields better economy and smoother driving, but the throttle response can be too delayed and sometimes it feels a bit unsafe trying to nip through a roundabout or intersection. However, going to the supposedly “normal” S mode, it feels that the car is revving too high, and S# is simply too twitchy to use. I’d like a setting between I and S.

Apart from this, the CVT gearbox isn’t exactly great for spirited driving. I must admit that it is good for everyday, smooth driving (apart from the SI-Drive induced responsiveness issues mentioned above). I’d love to try the exact same car with a manual gearbox and see how it compares.

Apparently failure can be an issue on the CVT as well. Ours is definitely a bit noisy – although our Subaru specialist mechanic said they are inherently noisy and thought it sounded fine and drove well – when decelerating using engine braking you can hear a bit of a whining-type noise from the CVT. It’s nothing too bad, and usually road or stereo noise will mask it.

It’s A Bit Ugly

I’m not going to lie – the 5th generation Legacy (and I include it in this the Outback) is a bit ugly looking. The rear isn’t bad, but the front end is in need of some plastic surgery, with the big bulbous headlights that stretch around the corners.

It’s tolerable – especially when sitting inside it – but the third and fourth generation cars were so much better looking.

Would I Buy Another Fifth Generation Subaru Legacy?

As per my Swift Sport review, I said that in my view the real measure of a product – any product – is whether or not you’d buy it again if you had the chance to go for a “do over”.

So, would I buy another 5th generation Legacy?

Yes, I would.

However, I would spend a bit more to get a superior spec model with features such as cruise control and EyeSight, and try to buy a later one that is chain-driven rather than relying on a cam belt. For example, buying a “B Sport” model towards the end of the fifth generation would be a better move.

I’d probably look to buy a JDM-spec (learn more here about what JDM means) ‘Legacy DiT’ which basically has the engine and gearbox from the Levorg/WRX wagon but plonked into a Legacy body, which is more practical and better looking in my view.

Ok, fuel costs would be a bit higher and there would be more maintenance, but the DiT looks so much better and by all accounts drives very well. In fact, if I saw a tidy one for sale I would strongly consider chopping in the current Legacy for it.

The only other purchase I’d consider over the Legacy would be an Outback. Firstly, because my wife actually likes the Outback more, and secondly because they are slightly more practical owing to the superior ground clearance.

The Subaru Legacy is a true legend (you can learn more about its history in my guide to the best JDM wagons). Over numerous generations, Subaru gave the world a car that could do just about everything, and do it well.

Although the Legacy is no longer (replaced by the Outback, which was originally just a trim of the Legacy) there is great buying as a second hand proposition.

I’d argue – at least on a “car per dollar” basis – that the fifth generation Legacy is the best vehicle I’ve ever purchased. Apart from the lack of creature comforts (which is not the car’s fault per se, but my fault for buying a basic spec model) and the idiosyncrasies of the CVT transmission, it’s a whole lot of car for the money. It’s also a great case study in why wagons are just so much better than SUVs – you get all of the practicality but with a vastly superior driving experience.

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