It has been criticized by some for being way too conservative

Subaru has revealed an all-new seventh-generation 2020 Legacy sedan at the2019 Chicago auto show, but right off the bat it was criticized for playing it too safe with its design and styling. Some even say it looks nearly identical to the vehicle it’s meant to replace and while that is an overstatement, you really have to look at the fine details to be able to tell them apart.

And that’s what we’re going to do here, put the two models side by side and dissect their differences so that you don’t have to. Besides, Subaru has been doing this whole conservative, evolutionary design approach for most of the last decade now, but if you remember crazy cars like the SVX coupe from the company’s past (as well as the current BRZ), you know it wasn’t always so restrained.

In the press release that accompanied the reveal of the new model, Subaru mentioned it rides on the company’s new Subaru Global Platform it introduced in 2017, its new 2.4-liter turbocharged boxer with 260 horsepower, improved interior with extra tech and last but not least the car’s “bold design” that follows a “Dynamic x Solid” philosophy. But let’s see the two cars side by side first, then start judging them.

Exterior

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Frankly, if you look at the two cars alongside one another, the new one looks like a mere facelift. Subaru had previously heavily revised the outgoing model last year when its styling was changed to look more like the model that was set to replace it.

Even after spending some time comparing the front ends of the two, it really is hard to tell which one is newer.

And I really wonder how many buyers familiar with the Subaru brand will be able to tell them apart from the front. The cars’ side profile also doesn’t do differentiating them any favors. They both have almost exactly the same side crease that runs from the top of the front wheel arch all the way to the rear light cluster; the line is more horizontal in the new car, whereas in the outgoing model it rises towards the rear.

The smaller crease on the lower part of the doors is also there on both cars and very similar in shape. The shape of the side windows is also basically identical - the biggest difference I could spot is the location of the mounting point for the side rearview mirrors: on the newer Legacy, they’re located higher up on the door, closer to the glass area, whereas in the outgoing car they are fixed to the actual metal of the door, not the window trim.

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At least the design of the alloy rims seems different (at least in the examples we’ve seen so far), but it’s not different enough to signal the fact that this is indeed an all-new model. Moving to the back of the two cars, the same slightly uninspired evolutionary approach is plainly visible.

I will give Subaru kudos for making the rear end of the new Legacy look much better than that of the old one without doing too much to it apparently.

The old car’s back end to me looked like somebody tried to improve on the shape of an early 2000s car and didn’t get the makeover quite right. There’s also a distinct whiff of VW (Jetta) about its rear end, but I can’t quite put my finger on why I get that impression.

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So it may be an all-new car, but it’s certainly inspired by and an evolution of the one it replaces and no place makes that more obvious than the rear end; okay, maybe the front and sides too... Overall it does look sharper and more modern, but two words that come to mind to describe it are “restrained” and “conservative.”

Interior

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The same cannot be said about the 2020 Legacy’s interior versus the one in the old car, though.

Inside, you do notice a considerable step up in terms of design, as well as perceived quality - it certainly has a bit more of a premium feel than the model it replaces, especially if we’re talking about a high-spec model with Nappa leather covering most of the dashboard.

The main focal point inside the all-new Legacy’s interior is the 11.6-inch portrait-style infotainment display which apparently is the most advanced of its kind ever fitted to a Subaru - it runs Subaru’s latest Starlink operating system. Packaged with it, the automaker also offers a TomTom navigation system prepaid for three years in advance and you can also add voice activation for the navigation at extra cost. NFC (Near Field Communication) is bundled in with the screen.

Old versus New: How different is the 2020 Subaru Legacy to its predecessor?
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Subaru thankfully doesn’t force the driver to use the screen for every single function, though, and offers physical rotary knobs for volume control as well as navigation through the infotainment’s menus. Base models don’t get the 11.6-inch screen and have to make do with a dual seven-inch screen setup where one caters for infotainment and the other is used to display climate controls.

By comparison, the interior of the outgoing Legacy looks quite dated, even if its recent refresh improve it and infotainment its screen.

It just can’t compare with what Subaru offers in the new car in terms of design, quality feel and modernity. I think it is one of the first modern Subarus, in fact, whose interior you don’t just have to put up with and you might actually like.

On the other hand, the new car is not so radical a departure inside, at least in terms of overall design theme and style. It does look like a higher quality automobile, but one that is certainly related to the one it replaces - since the exterior is just so darn similar, you wouldn’t expect the interior to be radically different, now would you?

Old versus New: How different is the 2020 Subaru Legacy to its predecessor?
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Overall dash design is certainly more swooping in the new car, with more dramatic vents that have bolder silver accents around them.

The only thing that seems to have been carried over from the old car is the steering wheel - it appears to be exactly the same, yet at the same time this is Subaru’s latest design helm, so the company doesn’t have a fancier one to use here. It’s not a bad steering wheel, though, and inside the old car it was actually one of the interior elements that for me really lifted the ambiance.

One area where the old car looked really cheap is when it came to its buttons - sure, you got a memory function for the front electric seats, but the button you had to press looked and felt a bit unpleasant. No such woes in the new car whose door handles and the nearby memory buttons have been completely redesigned and are both now much more pleasant and better integrated in the whole design scheme.

Old versus New: How different is the 2020 Subaru Legacy to its predecessor?
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In terms of space, the new car feels slightly more comfortable to sit in than the old model up front - nothing to complain about here, really. There is ample leg- and headroom in the back for a six footer, although the passenger sitting behind the driver may suffer a bit if the driver is any taller than that.

Drivetrain and performance

Old versus New: How different is the 2020 Subaru Legacy to its predecessor?
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The 2020 Subaru Legacy will be available with two engines: a 2.5-liter non-turbo boxer-four with 182 horsepower at 5,800 rpm and a turbocharged 2.4-liter boxer-four with 260 horsepower at 5,600 rpm. The latter is the performance option and it also delivers 277 pound-feet / 376 Nm of torque between 2,000 and 4,800 rpm - with this more powerful engine, the Legacy sprints to sixty in a very brisk 6.1 seconds yet can still return 32 mpg on the highway.

Equipped with the base power plant, the Legacy takes a much more leisurely 8.4 seconds to reach 60 miles per hour, but it promises even better highway mileage, 35 mpg.

Both engines come mated exclusively to Subaru’s Lineartronic CVT which gets better with each update - now the automaker insists the revised version of this transmission is responsible for the efficiency good efficiency credentials.

The old Legacy also has two engines, but none of them are turbocharged: the 2.5-liter is the same basic engine from the new car (although in the 2020 model Subaru claims it revised 90 percent of its components). It makes 175 horsepower (10 horsepower less than the new one) and can only top 34 mpg on the highway.

Old versus New: How different is the 2020 Subaru Legacy to its predecessor?
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The performance engine in the 2019 Legacy is a 3.6-liter six-cylinder boxer with 265 horsepower at 6,000 rpm. It is completely different in character to its turbocharged replacement, but it is a great sounding unit with plenty of character that also managed the benchmark sprint in around 6 seconds. However, it is far thirstier than the new turbo four and this was undeniably the reason why it had to go.

All-wheel drive is and was an important part of the package, but Subaru doesn’t mention any significant changes done to it, so it’s safe to assume it’s pretty much the same.

It comes as standard on all trims and engine versions and it really defines the character of the car and Subaru as a brand especially since the automaker is now trying to rebrand itself more safety-conscious it’s become a great playing card to that end.

The fact that Subaru chose not to offer any other transmission type for the 2020 Legacy in North America shows how confident the manufacturer is in its incrementally improved CVT. However, this may limit its appeal in some buyers’ eyes, especially those buyers who like to row their own or at least use paddles to shift - simulated gear ratios don’t count here.

2020 Subaru Legacy drivetrain specifications

Engine 2.5-liter BOXER 2.4-liter turbocharged BOXER
Horsepower 182 HP @ 5,800 RPM 260 HP @ 5,600 RPM
Torque 176 LB-FT @ 4,400 RPM 277 LB-FT @ 2,000-4,800 RPM
Transmission Lineartronic CVT Lineartronic CVT with manual mode and steering wheel paddle control switches
0 to 60 mph 8.4 seconds 6.1 seconds
Fuel economy city/highway 27/35 mpg 24/32 mpg

Final thoughts

Old versus New: How different is the 2020 Subaru Legacy to its predecessor?
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Subaru has apparently tried really hard no to alienate its usual buyers with this all-new Legacy, so much so that some may disregard it as a mere facelift. But it’s not a facelift - it rides on a new platform, it has a new turbocharged engine and it looks ever so slightly sharper and more modern than before.

Its interior is probably the most noticeable area of improvement and it only makes the interior of the outgoing Legacy look even less impressive. Subaru will have to sell their remaining stock at a massive discount now that the replacement has been revealed because most buyers will probably choose to wait until the fall when the new Legacy is set to start reaching showrooms.

The formula is one that Subaru knows works and it doesn’t want to change it too much too quickly. It may not have frameless side windows like some older generations did, but it certainly looks more posh than you’d expect a Subaru to and it still has all the characteristics of the brand that make buyers choose their cars in the first place.

Further Reading

Old versus New: How different is the 2020 Subaru Legacy to its predecessor?
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2020 Subaru Legacy Brings New Engine and Tech to Chicago

2015 - 2017 Subaru Legacy High Resolution Exterior
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Read our full review on the 2018 Subaru Legacy.

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