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Road Test Review: Can The 2023 Subaru Legacy Touring XT AWD Sedan Steal the Hearts of Subaru's SUV-Focused Customers?

Once upon a time, car companies were in a hurry to leverage their seemingly endless stack of sedan platforms and spin-off as many crossover contenders as they possibly could. It was an easy and inexpensive way to fill out a suddenly hot slice of the showroom, and it birthed a balance of passable (the Toyota Camry/Venza collab) to bizarre (the oddly proportioned Honda Accord Crosstour) ringers that held the fort until dedicated designs could take over.

2023 Subaru Legacy XT Touring side profile

A few years before the crossover gold rush began in earnest, Subaru was pioneering the entire market by transitioning its four-door Legacy into something a little more rugged in the eyes of the public. Tall-riding versions of both the Legacy sedan and wagon, dubbed the Outback, quickly became the public face of the brand. It's a trend that continues today: the current Outback is by far the most popular Subaru model, selling nearly 150,000 examples per year, or roughly seven times the number of mechanically-identical (and stylistically-similar) Legacys.

2023 Subaru Legacy XT Touring interior dashboard

It's no surprise that a crossover is outselling a similarly-sized sedan in an automaker's portfolio, as the SUV-driven takeover won its final battle for the hearts and minds of buyers many moons ago. What makes the Subaru Legacy unique, however, is that its scarcity in the face of the Outback juggernaut has flipped the tables on the vehicle's origin story. Prospective customers walking into a Subaru dealer are unlikely to perceive the lifted wagon as the 'more practical' version of the Legacy, a vehicle they are may not be familiar with at all. Instead, the Legacy now stands as the 'less practical' version of the Outback, a position that makes it tough to make a case for why anyone would choose it over its higher-profile sibling.

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It's important to underscore that there's nothing inherently 'wrong' with the 2023 Subaru Legacy, which I spent a week with in turbocharged Touring XT trim. I recently put a thousand miles on an Outback with the same drivetrain spec and similar equipment (which, like the Legacy, has undergone a mild refresh), and came away reasonably impressed. The sedan is a carbon copy of that chassis package, only lighter and lower to the ground, which from an enthusiast's perspective would seem to bode well in terms of the overall experience.

2023 Subaru Legacy XT Touring front view

And yet, during my time with the car I couldn't help feel like the Legacy was holding something back. From behind the wheel the 260 horsepower, 2.4L four-cylinder turbocharged engine felt just as confident as it did in the Outback, overcoming the occasional elasticity of its continuously-variable automatic transmission. That being said, its all-wheel drive grip never ascended from competent to corner-carver, coming across as a decent daily driver but no more exciting than the bulkier wagon.

2023 Subaru Legacy XT Touring rear view

Then there's the Legacy's looks. Certainly not unattractive, the sedan suffers from the same anonymity that has come to plague the Outback as the platform grew ever bigger. Whereas the Outback can rely on a certain plasticized all-terrain cosplay to help get it over the first impression hump, the Legacy is one of the rare vehicles that's garnered comments specifically regarding its blandness.

Outback Minus

The real problem that's keeping the Legacy from finding more than 20,000 new homes a year, however, is that its traditional three-box look is nowhere near as useful as the Outback's wagon body style. The crippling cargo space chasm between the two models would be a little easier to bridge were the Legacy in any way more pleasant to drive, or if it took a few more risks with its exterior design. As it stands, it lacks a compelling reason to convince anyone to make the minority choice.

2023 Subaru Legacy XT Touring front 3/4 view

In many ways, the Legacy's losing battle is reflected in the market at large. Few automakers expect prospective owners to favor sedans over SUVs this late in the game, and as such have gone to great length to make these kinds of direct comparisons impossible by pushing the styling and features offered by crossover fare as far away from their old school four-door designs as possible. The current Venza is a twin of the RAV4, not the Camry, and the Crosstour is now a distant memory. Only a few brands—such as Volvo and, in some segments, Mazda—dare to walk this potentially perilous path.

2023 Subaru Legacy XT Touring rear 3/4 view

If your heart is dead-set on a sedan, then the Legacy has its merits alongside all-wheel drive rivals like the Kia K5 or the Nissan Altima. It also happens to be about $4,000 cheaper than the Outback for each equivalent trim level, which isn't an insignificant amount for budget-conscious buyers. Just make sure you don't get too close to its crossover colleague before you sign the paperwork, as its extra capability and stronger visual personality may very well convince you it's worth spending the extra cash.

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