Subaru of America Inc. says it is making inroads with buyers in new demographics with its ’10 Legacy midsize sedan and Outback wagon models.

Both new this year, the Legacy and Outback are attracting buyers who are older, wealthier and better educated, and there are more married couples among the group, Subaru spokesman Michael McHale says in a phone interview.

Some 51.5% of customers who purchased the ’10 Outback have an annual household income above $100,000. This compares with 44.7% for the ’09 Outback and 35.6% for the ’05 model, the first model year of the previous generation.

The Legacy has seen an even bigger uptick in buyer incomes, as 44.5% now earn more than $100,000, up from 36.4% for the ’09 model. That ’10-model customer group also is older, with a median age of 51 vs. 45 for the outgoing Legacy.

In addition, most ’10 Outback and Legacy buyers have been new to the brand.

Some 75% of first-time Outback buyers through Oct. 1 purchased the wagon under the “Cash for Clunkers” program, McHale says, with 72.3% of that group new to the Subaru brand overall.

“People don’t leave the brand very often, but (new) people are coming in the front door,” he says. “So our share of first-time buyers is at an historic high.”

The best-selling trim level in the Legacy and Outback remains the base 2.5i grade, despite the addition of a continuously variable transmission. CVTs have not found a wide audience in the U.S., but McHale says response to the unit in the Legacy and Outback has been favorable.

“Because the CVT gives you 31 mpg (7.6 L/100 km) in the Legacy, people really love that,” McHale says.

Meanwhile, another fuel-sipping Legacy, the diesel version sold in Europe, still is being debated for the U.S.

“It’s something we’d really love to do, (but) we don’t feel that there’s enough market acceptance,” he says. And with fuel-economy and emissions regulations in the U.S. set to change in 2016, a diesel Legacy for the U.S. makes even less sense.

“It’s a closing window,” McHale says.

By 2016, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is calling for auto makers to achieve fleet-wide fuel economy of 35.5 mpg (6.6 L/100 km) and fleet-wide carbon-dioxide emissions no greater than 250 g/mile or less.

For ’09, U.S. fleet fuel-economy leader Honda Motor Co. Ltd. posted a CO2 level of 376 g/mile. Diesel proponent Volkswagen of America Inc.’s CO2 fleet average was 398 g/mile, the EPA says.

Another hurdle looming for diesels is the possibility emissions trendsetter California will mandate more stringent rules for emissions of oxides of nitrogen and hydrocarbons.

A 70% reduction in combined levels of NOx and HC, from 140 mg/mile currently to 30 mg/mile, is being proposed by California’s Air Resources Board. Such a rule would prevent the sale of all diesels currently available in the U.S., and diesel advocates are proposing less stringent limits.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com