Think about the last 14 years of automotive production: Back in 2005, the average performance-oriented sedan sported a V-6 as a matter of course. It was like the 1960s all over again – the bigger the engine, the better.  

And as you piloted that big sedan through the city streets and back roads, you didn’t have much in the way of driver aids other than traction control and anti-lock brakes, unless you were driving some of the most expensive sedans around. Even then, you were lucky to have stability control.  

But as we enter the 2020s, the landscape has completely shifted. The Subaru Legacy Sedan is more luxurious, more refined, decibels quieter and more stable on the road than any other Legacy ever produced. 

2020 Subaru Legacy Touring XT
Photo: Craig Fitzgerald

The Return of Turbocharging

The top engine in the premium trim is a compact, capable Boxer 4, eclipsing the horsepower and torque of V-6s from the early 1990s, through what has made the WRX and the WRX STI such winners in rallying and in the showroom: turbocharging.

It’s been five years since a turbocharger has been available in the Legacy and nearly 10 since that engine was introduced in the fifth generation, and it returns in a vehicle that’s at once familiar yet further upscale in both refinement and technology.

I spent some time behind the wheel of the all-new 2020 Legacy Touring XT to see just how far we’ve come in the last decade and a half, and how much further along this model brings us.

Architecture for a Smoother Ride

Outside, you’ll immediately recognize it as a Subaru Legacy, but underneath everything is new. The structure it rides on is from the Subaru Global Platform that makes the Impreza such a quiet, comfortable highway car; the Crosstrek and the Outback such surprisingly capable off-highway performers; and the Ascent a seven- to eight-passenger, 5,000-pound trailer-hauling SUV1.

That structure provides this vehicle with stiffness that wasn’t possible in previous generations. I picked up the Legacy Touring XT at Subaru of America Headquarters in Camden, New Jersey, a town going through a civic and corporate revitalization, which means that while the roads around the headquarters and near the handsome waterfront overlooking Philadelphia have been freshy paved and widened, there’s still work to be done in the mile of secondary roadways that surround it.

If the 2020 Legacy hadn’t been developed around a front suspension system that is anchored to a structure 70% stiffer, I’d have rattled fillings loose over those busy streets.

A Sedan Built for Performance and Safety

While stiffness translates to fewer shakes and rattles inside the vehicle, it also equals higher performance. The response from steering input to execution of a turn feels instant, and the 2020 Legacy Touring XT model’s handling feels sharp and inspires confidence as city streets turn to twisty country roads the further west we travel along Pennsylvania’s Main Line.

The point of sharper handling isn’t just that it’s fun. (And yes, it is.) Just as importantly, it helps you avoid gaping potholes, errant deer and distracted drivers. Better cornering doesn’t just exist for its own sake in a premium sedan such as this – it’s there to get you out of trouble before you ever get into it.

2020 Subaru Legacy XT Boxer engine
Photo: Craig Fitzgerald

Inside the Legacy Touring XT Engine

Open the hood and the first thing that grabs your attention is a large aluminum intercooler, which extracts waste heat as the charged air passes into the combustion chambers. Vehicles with more sporting intentions – such as the WRX and STI – have a functional, in-your-face mailslot hood scoop to force air through the intercooler’s fins, but the Legacy Touring XT is all about subtlety.

Tucked under the skin of the hood hides a snorkel that makes its way from the leading edge of the hood back to the rubber seal that fits tightly against the intercooler.

The engine pairs with the high-torque Lineartronic CVT. The Lineartronic stands out among CVTs, in that it uses a chain inside the case of the transmission, offering longevity over the belt drives often seen in similar transmissions.

The Lineartronic uses a torque converter that slips like a traditional automatic transmission torque converter when starting from a stop, but it is in fully locked mode under all driving conditions except coasting or traveling at a very low speed. It offers seamless acceleration under normal or wide-open throttle, efficiently delivering power to the wheels.

The manual mode with paddle shift control switches allows the driver to select any of six forward gears, holding the transmission in a fixed ratio, rather than the undefined ratios of a CVT. The more powerful 2.4-liter turbocharged Boxer allows for lower numerical gear ratios in every gear, allowing the Lineartronic CVT to most efficiently utilize the power of the turbocharged engine, while providing excellent fuel economy.

The paddle shifters, combined with 277 lb-ft of torque on tap, make the Legacy Touring XT come alive, offering crisp, decisive shift points as opposed to the smooth, elastic feel of the CVT in drive mode.

It’s a similar sensation to the setup that delivered so much when we drove it in the BRZ for our feature “The Greatest Show on Ice” from the 2019 Subaru Winter Experience. I didn’t pitch it sideways on a frozen lake the way we had done with that model, but it’s nice to know its functionality.

Comfort Meets Quiet

Of course, the intention of the Legacy Touring XT is more uptown than the BRZ. This is – by a long stretch – the most luxurious cabin ever to find its way inside a Subaru sedan. Our test version featured brown leather interior contrasting with a black dash and polished black accents.

You’re going to be spending a lot of time inside your vehicle, so you want one that provides a pleasant atmosphere. This one delivers, both in the front and in the back – your rear seat passengers will enjoy the ride as much as you do. There’s a massive amount of space in the rear seats, even with the front seats moved back to accommodate a taller driver and front passenger.

Subaru offers the Legacy Touring XT with 18-inch wheels, shod with V-rated 225/50 R18 all-season tires with a more generous sidewall that helps absorb highway irregularities instead of transferring them through the stout structure.

The driveline is suited to getting you where you need to go, in whatever weather that happens to cross your path. The 2.4-liter Boxer 4-cylinder is sedate where you need it to be but snaps to attention when you squeeze the throttle to the floor. There’s 260 hp on tap and 277 lb-ft of torque that push you back in your heated leather seat.

The quiet is what you’ll notice at highway speed. Between the stout structure, the attention paid to sound deadening, the Lineartronic transmission’s smooth shifts and the Subaru EyeSight® 2 Advanced Adaptive Cruise Control3 feature, you’ll be unperturbed by the traffic around you as the lane centering function3 gently guides you between lanes.

The Touring XT trim delivers all the class, sophistication, safety and comfort of a luxury vehicle, backed with the performance of a turbo Boxer Engine and the security of All-Wheel Drive. You’ll arrive in style, no matter what the weather throws your way.

1 Maximum towing capacity varies by trim level. Trailer brakes may be needed. Some safety features, including Blind-Spot Detection, Rear Cross-Traffic Alert, Smart Rear-View Mirror, and X-MODE may not function properly during towing. See your retailer for details.
2 EyeSight is a Driver Assist Technology that may not operate optimally under all driving conditions. The driver is always responsible for safe and attentive driving. System effectiveness depends on many factors such as vehicle maintenance, weather and road conditions. See Owner’s Manual for complete details on system operation and limitations.
3 EyeSight is a Driver Assist Technology which may not operate optimally under all driving conditions. Advanced Adaptive Cruise Control and Brake Light Recognition are designed to assist the driver and are not substitutes for safe and attentive driving. Lane Keep Assist operates only when the lane markings are visible. The driver is always responsible for safe and attentive driving. System effectiveness depends on many factors, such as vehicle maintenance, weather, and road conditions. Lane centering function operates only when used in conjunction with Advanced Adaptive Cruise Control. See your Owner’s Manual for complete details on system operations and limitations.