No turbo? That’s inevitably the first question asked by everyone during the launch of the all-new 2015 Subaru Legacy and Outback in Bangkok. It’s also the one question that Mr. Masayuki Uchida, Senior Project General Manager for both products could easily answer. His response: a turbocharged engine is not in line with the Legacy or Outback’s character. He’s aiming for an executive sedan with a smooth, comfortable, confident, and above all, linear driving experience; a turbocharged engine simply cannot deliver the refinement he wants. Mr. Uchida should know what he’s talking about: the vastly experienced 55-year old has worked on the Legacy since the first-generation model in 1981. This effectively means he’s worked on Subaru’s flagship offering for about half his life.
The all-new Legacy and Outback debuts Subaru’s new design language with the confidence-inspiring hexagonal front grille that forms a shield-like appearance to the front bumper. It also hides active grille shutters which give them better highway fuel efficiency. The hawk-eye signature park lights and HID projector low beams create a distinctive presence at night. This is echoed at the back with the U-shaped LED taillights. Compared to the current-generation Legacy and Outback, the all-new models feature a much more cohesive albeit conservative design, especially with the disappearance of the hood scoop. It’s more function over form with heavy emphasis on improving visibility and aerodynamics. Both vehicles have more raked windshields, pulled some 50 millimeters from the base as well as front partition windows, and door-mounted mirrors. These alone contribute to a 10-percent improvement in aerodynamics. Both models now ride on standard 18-inch tires with the Legacy getting 225/50R18s while the Outback receiving 225/60R18s.
Differentiating itself from the Legacy on which it’s based off from, the Outback has a more rugged appearance with black-colored cladding running throughout the lower part. It manages to escape the feeling of cheapness by having just the right amount of chrome and silver accents to give it a premium look. The return of the ‘Outback’ lettering on the front doors harks back to previous-generation models as well. Having pioneered the crossover genre in 1989, the Outback maintains its generous ground clearance. And yet, it still has the traditional low step-in height for easy ingress/egress. New step-style door sills also allow for an easier time in securing objects to the roof rails.
Despite having almost an identical footprint as the previous Legacy and Outback, both models offer the largest cabin space in the executive sedan segment in terms of volume (2,962 liters). Sitting in the driver’s seat for the first time, both models impress with the wealth of shoulder, hip, elbow, and leg room. Dead-center is a new instrument cluster with binocular-style gauges with a central LCD information display. This 3.5-inch multi-information display shows a myriad of information including an ECO gauge. The new three-spoke steering wheel (with a split-spoke at the bottom) fall naturally into hand and contain satellite controls to functions from audio to the Subaru SI-Drive. The horizontal layout, soft-touch materials, and thicker cushioning all contribute to a much more premium feel. The front seats offer supportive bolstering and are power adjustable (10-ways for the driver).
Among the weak points of the current Legacy and Outback is its prehistoric infotainment system. For 2015, Subaru has rectifies this with a new infotainment system that offers single-touch gesture control on its 7-inch touchscreen display. Aside from a full-featured audio system that offers swipe and scrolling gesture control, it also has voice-activated controls. In the highest trims, the both models receive the benefit of a 12-speaker Harman/Kardon sound system with a 576-watt GreenEdge amplifier. GreenEdge provides for increased audio performance and amplifier efficiency while consuming less power.
Pressing the Engine Start button, the unmistakable note of Subaru’s 4-cylinder boxer engine comes to life. For the regional drive, both the Legacy and Outback come equipped with the company’s next-generation FB25 engine. Enhanced with a re-designed intake port shape and repositioned tumbler generation valve, the normally-aspirated 2.5-liter engine pushes out 175 horsepower at 5,800 rpm and 235 Nm of torque at 4,000 rpm. For the Philippine market though, the 3.6-liter EZ36D flat-6 may become available as an option. This engine features a re-tweaked ECU enabling it to crank out 260 horsepower and a flatter torque curve for its 350 Nm output from as low as 2,000 rpm to 6,000 rpm. All models now use Subaru’s Lineatronic CVT with a reinforced transfer case and torque converter.
Taking to the specially designed handling track around the Impact Challenge convention center, first up is the 2015 Legacy. Engaging ‘S’ on the SI Drive and hammering down on the gas pedal, it has surprisingly good thrust. 100 km/h arrives in around 9 seconds which is a good, but not exactly stellar number. What the Legacy gives up in downright straight line thrust it gains in the smoothness of its gearbox. As with the Forester and the WRX, Subaru’s Lineartronic eschews the rubber-band effect that typically plagues CVTs. It actually feels natural around the twisty circuit. The secret is the transmission’s new automated kick down algorithm which either mimics the feel of traditional gears (when pushed hard) or forces the engine into greater efficiency (when driven gently).
The smoothness of the drivetrain ties in quite nicely with the rest of the package. It doesn’t feel like a rally-bred performance machine anymore nor is it trying to be one. Instead, it’s a great and stable handler with excellent comfort despite being pushed around the high-speed slalom course. It shows great handling, perhaps the best among other executive sedans out there, but the tires do squeal in protest at the slightest provocation. Still, it’s impressive with its level of confident control thanks to the improved all-wheel drive system and precise electric power steering. In addition, the Legacy comes standard with Active Torque Vectoring, a system which first debuted in the WRX as well as Stablex-ride. Stablex-ride expands the dampers at low speeds to allow more movement of the suspension for a better ride and then reduces them at high speed to minimize body movement.
After flogging the Legacy, it’s time to switch to the Outback. With a higher ground clearance and the removal of the Stablex suspension, there’s noticeable body roll through the same course. It’s nothing absurd though and it easily feels stable and confident even through the quick emergency lane change maneuver with five people onboard. Compared to the Legacy, the Outback has a slightly deader feel at center, but there’s tons of grip thanks to the excellent all-wheel drive system and Active Torque Vectoring.
The single biggest advantage of the Outback over the Legacy is its off-road prowess. With 220-millimeters of ground clearance, it easily matches the Jeep Grand Cherokee in its default setting. And though hardcore SUVs would be a much more appropriate vehicle for tackling trails, none can match the capaciousness or efficiency of the Outback. The best part is that everything is a one button affair. First seen in the Forester, the Outback comes with Subaru’s X-MODE which alters the engine output, CVT ratios, AWD logic, and traction control for optimal grip and control. It also comes with hill start assist and hill descent control.
Though seat time in both the 2015 Subaru Legacy and Outback are limited during the regional launch, the right signs are there. Yes, the turbocharged engine is gone and along with that, some semblance of tarmac tearing performance. Oddly enough, it makes both cars all the more convincing. The previous-generation models didn’t know where it belonged: it was neither sporty nor luxurious. Sure, it had turbocharged performance, but it didn’t have the level of smoothness and linearity to inspire confidence. The all-new Legacy and Outback meanwhile delivers on its project manager’s promise of being a smooth, comfortable, and confident executive sedan. And Mr. Uchida certainly knows he got it right given the width of his smile after his drive through the obstacle course.