The 2012 Subaru Legacy has body styling that nicely straddles the line between sporty and classy.

Courtesy photo
CNHI News Service

The Subaru Legacy can be summed up in one word: solid.

Rarely do four-door family cars feel as well-built as this one, with its standard all-wheel drive and chassis that seems more German than Japanese. It's one of those special cars that feels like it's built from a single block of steel.

The doors close with a solid thud. The dash trim is all chiseled and tightly assembled.

Even the driving feel is heavy and slightly militaristic, with that go-anywhere, do-anything machismo of 4x4 trucks, only in a much more socially acceptable package.

The Legacy's standard all-wheel drive system is terrific comfort for those times when road conditions are slippery. That's one of the reasons Subarus are so popular in areas with frequent snowfall and mountain terrain, but it can also be helpful on wet roads as I found out during a freakishly strong spring storm in Texas recently.

Other cars would have felt skittish in such a downpour, struggling for traction on the soaked tarmac, but the Legacy always displayed Jeep-like confidence over puddles and through the howling wind.

There's a cost to that all-wheel-drive confidence, though, and it comes in the form of added weight that hurts its gas mileage.

The most efficient Legacy — with a 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine and continuously variable transmission — is rated for 31 mpg on the highway and 23 in the city.

There are two ways to look at those mileage figures. They're obviously worse than you would get from more traditional front-wheel-drive cars such as the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry and Ford Fusion.

But, on the flip side, that's excellent mileage for an all-wheel-drive vehicle and much better than you could expect from crossovers and SUVs with similar capability.

One of the best parts of the Legacy, like any Subaru, is the design of its engine. The Legacy offers both four- and six-cylinder engines with a horizontally opposed layout, also known as a "boxer" design, that's more common in high-end German cars such as Porsches and BMWs.

Boxer engines have cylinders that bang against each other in opposite directions, from side to side, virtually eliminating the need for balancing. This design gives them a smooth, almost turbine-like feeling when you press the gas pedal. It's a wonderful thing to find in affordable cars and something I wish more brands would offer in their lineup.

Subaru offers a smaller car called the Impreza that has a sportier driving feel, but the Legacy is a more grown-up model. Its suspension is tuned to the smoother, more comfortable side of the driving spectrum, and its cabin is bigger and more practical for families.

Styling seems to draw inspiration from European cars, using the high, dramatic beltline of new Volvos and the trunk bump popularized on BMWs. Its overall shape nicely straddles the line between sporty and classy.

Pricing starts at $19,995 for the basic 2.5i model and reaches up to $28,595 for the performance-oriented 3.6R Limited version.

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