Monday, December 29, 2014

Subaru revs up tech, safety and style of Legacy, Outback

Left to right, the Subaru Outback wagon and the Subaru Legacy sedan show a turn in the brand toward technology to give drivers an extra measure of security at tantalizing prices. (Glenn Koenig/Los Angeles Times/MCT)
Left to right, the Subaru Outback wagon and the Subaru Legacy sedan show a turn in the brand toward technology to give drivers an extra measure of security at tantalizing prices. (Glenn Koenig/Los Angeles Times/MCT) MCT
Left to right, the Subaru Outback wagon and the Subaru Legacy sedan show a turn in the brand toward technology to give drivers an extra measure of security at tantalizing prices. (Glenn Koenig/Los Angeles Times/MCT) Gallery: Subaru revs up tech, safety and style of Legacy, Outback

(MCT) -- For decades, Subaru's all-wheel-drive vehicles have delivered people to the trail head, campground and ski slope safely. Now the brand is turning to technology to give drivers an extra measure of security.

The popular brand - among the fastest-growing automakers - is arming its two hottest-selling models, the Legacy and Outback, with an impressive array of safety features at tantalizing prices. For $1,200, drivers can add adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning, blind-spot monitoring and pre-collision braking.

Those features, which together give a glimpse into the future of self-driving cars, can cost thousands more on luxury cars. They should appeal to the safety-minded buyers of the brand's mid-size Legacy sedan and its dirt-seeking cousin, the Outback wagon. Both redesigned for 2015, the pair also feature cleaner designs, an updated engine and more refined road manners.

The smart packaging should further aid Subaru's bid to sustain its recent sales gains. Once a niche maker of oddball vehicles, Subaru now outsells Volkswagen and is gaining ground on the major Asian brands.

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  • In the last five years, Subaru has almost doubled its sales in the U.S., and it's done so while offering far fewer dealer incentives than most automakers, according to Edmunds.com. Sales are up 16 percent for the first six months of 2014.

    Those safety features offered in the new Legacy and Outback are notably not available, at any price, on its mid-size competitors, including bestsellers such as the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry and Nissan Altima.

    Then there are the new air bags. Instead of inflating at the knees for the driver and front passenger, they push the edge of the seat cushion up. Like a speed bump for your butt, this keeps you in the seat rather than sliding forward, protecting the spine and pelvis. They're two of eight total air bags that are standard on the Legacy and Outback.

    Such features have Subaru confident that the cars will earn a coveted Top Safety Pick Plus designation from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety this summer. They also show that Subaru is aggressively positioning itself as a safety leader for everyman cars.

    Subaru has done a nice job with the rest of the Legacy and Outback too.

    Both get all-new sheet metal that's more in line with Subaru's better-selling competitors. While the outgoing style of each could generously be called quirky, the new look is handsome, if a little bland.

    The cars look more expensive than they are, with the Legacy starting at $22,490 and the Outback at $25,690. Both models are bolted together in Lafayette, Ind.

    Turning inward, Subaru clearly worked hard to make the cabin a comfortable place. Anywhere an arm or elbow rests is soft, the back seat is cavernous and the standard touch-screen stereo system actually responds to your touches.

    The cloth seats on the Legacy we tested could replace your couch, though the leather seats in the Outback were too wide and shapeless.

    Visibility is excellent and the ride quality is firm without being harsh. Potholes reveal the strength of the stiffer chassis. The Legacy lets in a little too much road noise, but it's not a deal breaker. The Outback seemed to have an extra layer of sound deadening woven in to counter this.

    Subaru's EyeSight safety system leads in ease of use as well as value. The system uses a pair of cameras mounted on either side of the rear-view mirror to scan the road in front of you.

    The adaptive cruise control proved easy to use and could even bring the car to a dead stop, and then back up to speed in traffic. Each of the features can be turned off separately rather than disabling the whole lot.

    We tested a Legacy 2.5i Premium with a moon roof, navigation system, and the extra safety systems. That brought the total to $27,480 - still a bargain.

    Things got fancier on the Outback. For $34,135 we had the 2.5i Limited with heated leather seats, navigation system, moon roof, the safety options, a Harman Kardon stereo system and 18-inch alloy wheels.

    Both models offer better fuel economy, utility and looks - along with an even safer ride to that campground.

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    2015 Subaru Legacy

    Times take: Does everything as well as its peers, and throws in AWD

    Highs: Great safety features, value and efficiency

    Lows: A bit more road noise than we like; styling blends in too much

    Vehicle type: Four-door mid-size sedan

    Base price: $22,490

    Price as tested: $27,480

    Powertrain: 2.5-liter, four-cylinder boxer engine; all-wheel drive

    Transmission: Single-speed continuously variable automatic with paddle shifters

    Horsepower: 175

    Torque: 174 pound-feet

    Zero to 60 mph: 8.8 seconds, according to Motor Trend

    EPA fuel economy rating: 26 mpg in the city, 36 on the highway

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    2015 Subaru Outback

    Times take: A handsome wagon with upscale aspirations

    Highs: As safe as the Legacy, with extra functionality

    Lows: Needs more power, seats too wide and shapeless

    Vehicle type: Four-door mid-size sport utility station wagon

    Base price: $25,690

    Price as tested: $34,135

    Powertrain: 2.5-liter, four-cylinder boxer engine; all-wheel drive

    Transmission: Single-speed continuously variable automatic with paddle shifters

    Horsepower: 175

    Torque: 174 pound-feet

    Zero to 60 mph: 9.2 seconds, according to Motor Trend

    EPA fuel economy rating: 25 mpg in the city, 33 on the highway

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    (David Undercoffler: david.undercoffler@latimes.com)

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    David Undercoffler Los Angeles Times