FROM THE COMPANY THAT MAKES WAGONS BETTER THAN MOST, COMES THE NEXT LOGICAL THING – THE 2016 SUBARU LEVORG, A WRX WITH A WAGON BACK.
It’s fast, naturally, solid as the pyramids, and handles like a whippet.
As a driver’s car for the family, at $42,990 to $52,890 (plus), it is going to win a lot of friends. It may even snatch buyers who had been leaning to an SUV for the space and practicality it affords, but are drawn instead to the Levorg's dynamism and sporting soul.
It is, in fact, a belter with a big, big boot.
And, though it shares much with the Subaru WRX on which it is based, the Levorg sits on a longer wheelbase, adding extra room behind the front seats, and also adding to its practical family-friendly nature.
You might compare it with that other bargain buy, Holden’s SV6 Sportwagon, but the only similarity is the wagon shape, each being vastly different in approach and feel, and sitting in quite different camps.
Vehicle style: Performance sports wagon
Price: Levorg GT $42,990 (plus on-road costs), GT-S $48,890 (plus) GT-S B-Spec $52,890 (plus)
Engine/transmission: 2.0 litre boxer turbo;197kW/350Nm/ 6spd and 8spd CVT automatic
Fuel consumption (listed): 8.0 l/100km; Tested: 9.1 l/100km
Mechanically, there is only one model. Each in the range, the Levorg GT, Levorg GT-S and GT-S B-Spec share the same engine, transmission and AWD drivetrain.
Each hammers a potent 197kW to the tarmac through a ‘stepped’ CVT transmission that shifts through either six-steps in normal and Sport, or eight-steps in Sport# mode. Each has paddles at the wheel and manual or auto operation.
The entry model, the Levorg GT, comes with fabric trim and a slightly down-specced interior – it misses on a few brushed-metal garnishes (piano black instead), and misses on leather highlights (binnacle ‘cap’ and door panels) as well as the blue-stitched leather seats.
A sunroof is standard on the GT-S and GT-S B-Spec, and the latter also gets black alloys, Bilstein suspension, a strut brace connecting the front suspension towers, and a few dress-up bits to set it apart.
- Standard features: Climate control, cruise control, immobiliser and alarm, sports seats with contrast stitching (fabric for Levorg GT, leather in Levorg GT-S and GT-S B-Spec), height and reach-adjustable multi-function steering wheel, powered driver’s seat (Levorg GT-S and B-Spec), remote central locking, keyless entry and push-button start, dusk-sensing headlights, tinted windows, sunroof (Levorg GT-S and B-Spec).
- Infotainment: Two multi-information displays (driver information, infotainment and communication functions), 6.2-inch display in the GT, 7.0-inch in the GT-S, satellite navigation and premium audio in GT-S and B-Spec models, all models get Bluetooth/iPhone/USB connectivity and audio streaming
- Cargo capacity: 522 litres seats-up.
Let’s start with the boot and that wide-opening wagon back. After all, that’s the essence of the Levorg; it’s what makes it ‘not-a-WRX’.
Open it up and the load-lip is low and the space wide and deep – with a real stretch to the rear seat-backs.
At 522 litres, it is vastly bigger than SUVs like the Tiguan (which has a tiny load area), bigger than the Tucson’s 513 litres, and, seats in place, it even challenges the 529 litres offered by Toyota’s tank-sized Kluger.
That’s surely got to appeal to some who may have thought their only option in AWD wagons was an SUV. True.
The long roof also sits over ‘square’-opening rear doors, with lots of headroom (thanks to lower-set seats), and lots of kneeroom. The photo below shows a six-foot-plus colleague seated ‘behind himself’ – with the front seat where he left it.
Long-shanked teens, even the more anti-social ones who sit like their knees and elbows are attached to somebody else, will endure a long trip in here without too much groaning angst and threats of “I’m gettin’ out now…”.
At the wheel, in the two models we drove, things are pretty black in here. It’s much the same as the WRX but there are some spec differences.
The D-shaped multi-function sports steering wheel is a beauty, easily-adjusted to be ‘just right’, and with the right chunky sports feel. Besides the expected functions controlling audio, Bluetooth etc., the wheel also carries the driving-mode buttons for selecting Sport, and Sport# modes.
It’s light, but nicely connected and with a precision feel for the road and what’s happening below.
The sports dials sit right where they should, right in front of the eyes, with a small LCD display between the guages for driver information: odometer, trip meter, warnings etc.
There's a configurable liquid-crystal display sitting under its own binnacle (leather-stitched in GT-S and B-Spec models) above the centre console showing turbo boost-pressure, peak boost values, accelerator angle, as well as fuel efficiency displays and trip information. It’s deep-set, so reflections and bright light don’t compromise the readability.
There is also a large multi-function touch-sensitive screen (6.2-inch and 7.0-inch, the latter for GT-S and B-Spec models) in the console for audio and communication settings and for the sat-nav (in GT-S and B-Spec models.
The GT-S and B-Spec models also get Siri-compatible voice recognition software (provided you’re using a recent-gen iPhone).
Like the ‘Rex’, it’s a nice interior – the blue-stitched leather looks good (and has a fine-grained quality feel), and the fabric trim in the entry GT model is appealing enough – but, for style, hardly ground-breaking.
It’s set off with piano-black garnishes in the GT, and brushed alloy in the GT-S. Things work as they should, the seats are heated and driver’s seat electrically-adjusted in the GT-S models, and, front and back, nicely shaped for comfort.
Particularly appealing is the visibility from the driver’s seat; the A-pillar is pushed well-forward, the side mirrors are where they should be (some, these days, obscure vision when approaching roundabouts) and front quarter windows assist visibility to the front and sides.
It also gets an additional half-star for the high-end safety technologies standard with the Levorg.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 197kW/350Nm 2.0 litre twin-scroll ‘boxer’ turbo
- Transmission: 6-spd and 8-spd Lineartronic CVT auto with sport shift (paddles)
- Suspension: MacPherson strut (with coil spring) front, double wishbone rear
- Brakes: front ventilated discs, solid discs rear
- Tow rating: 1200kg (braked trailer), 750kg (unbraked), 120kg downball load
Any driver who loves a sporting, connected drive will enjoy this car. While it feels like a WRX – that, in itself, will win some over – it also feels just a little different.
The willing response of that cracking boxer turbo is there, in Sport and Sport# it strains at the leash like a terrier, but it feels just a little more ‘grown-up’ and less the wild-child younger brother.
The CVT, a stepped auto, goes some way to imparting that impression, but don’t think for a moment that this CVT is anything like the awful, sludgy, flaring units you can find under some bonnets.
It stays ‘connected’ like any conventional sports automatic. Switchable – via buttons at the wheel – between three modes, I-mode, for ‘Intelligent’, Sport and Sport# (ie. Sport Sharp), it operates with six stepped-ratios in the first two modes, rising to eight ratios in Sport#.
In this latter mode, even under full power there is zero rev-flaring and it ‘drops’ between shifts like a DSG. And, interestingly, get the boxer turbo whistling a chorus above 5000rpm, and the CVT chimes in with an appealing high-pitched singing whine of its own.
In the first mode, at its most economical, it is also at its doughiest. Throttle response is blunter, and, while it gathers pace rapidly, it feels a little flat (like it’s dragging the chain).
Things dial up a notch or two in Sport, which is probably the mode you’d sensibly use for everyday driving as the compromise between the manic Sport# and the snoozy ‘Intelligent’.
It will hold each ratio longer, keeping the engine in the meat of the torque, will change down pre-emptively when setting up for a corner, and can be punted along eagerly.
In Sport#, the Levorg really sharpens up. In this mode it feels every inch the red-hot wagon and will really make short work of a winding mountain road, or simply blast past slow moving traffic, out and back in mere seconds.
We drove the entry model Levorg GT and the GT-S B-Spec. The first is slightly more compliant (but difficult to pick) and slightly less-noisy on coarse bitumen. The Bilstein suspension may be responsible here.
But tip the B-Spec into a corner at speed, and the front sits flat as a tack. It also ‘squats’ nicely on exit, shifting power to the rear, and spears rapidly to the next.
The weight of the wagon back changes the dynamic a little (compared to the WRX), and there is a discernible weight shift in tight switchbacks, but this is a really well-sorted sporting drive.
Importantly, while firm, the Levorg is certainly more comfortable than the madder hot-hatches like the Renault Megane Sport and Mercedes AMG A 45, and, even when hitting a hollow at speed, we failed to find the bump-stops.
The price to pay for winding up the wick is in fuel consumption. You’ll see that in the first half of the drive we averaged 9.1 l/100km. This rose to a V8-rivalling 16.3 l/100km on a long run with the revs singing between 5000-6000rpm.
ANCAP Rating: 5-Stars
Safety features: The new Levorg comes with a full suite of dynamic and passive safety features including seven airbags, ABS brakes with electronic brake force distribution, child seat anchor points, reversing camera, hill-start assist forward and reverse, vehicle dynamics control and seatbelt indicator lights.
The big-ticket items however, and standard across the range is Subaru’s Third-Gen ‘Eyesight’ technology, which uses stereo cameras to scan the road ahead for obstacles, cars, pedestrians, as well as pre-collision braking and steering assistance, lane sway warning, lane departure warning, blind-spot detection, rear cross-traffic alert, and side-view monitor.
All Levorg models get three-years’ roadside assist and a three-year unlimited kilometre warranty.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
You might cast your eyes over the Golf R Wagon (if you can still find a new or demo-model). It comes with a full-house 2.0 litre turbo petrol producing 206kW and 380Nm of torque, mated to a six-speed twin-clutch DSG automatic.
It’s quite a bit dearer than even the top-spec Levorg, at $58,990 (plus on-roads), but comes loaded with premium features throughout. This Q-ship is all about going fast.
Closer to the action is Skoda’s Octavia RS Wagon (at $45,592, plus on-roads). It’s right in the slot for price, and, though overshadowed in the market by the Volkswagen Golf GTI, the Octavia Wagon is an appealing buy in its own right.
There’s a willing 2.0 litre under a handsome, but staid, bonnet and the RS pumps out a not-unreasonable 162kW and 350Nm. It ticks a lot of boxes (we’ve noted that before) and is a worthy contender to the Subaru.
The Czech tourer is not as quick, and lacks the appealing ‘raw-boned’ muscle of the Levorg, but it’s a close thing.
VERDICT | OVERALL
And, yes, Levorg backwards is “grovel” (as a wag happened to comment at launch), but, at this price, you won’t need to ‘grovel much’ to make the case for putting this one in the drive.
We love this car; it’s all we expected it might be. With fabulous balance and grip, a rapier front-end, and all the practicality a large wagon-back affords, the Levorg has an answer for SUV-buyers.
We’d like some more noise at the exhaust, the whooshy bleat it makes is really quite drab. And the interior is not at the cutting edge (though its standard technology features are), but that’s just about it for debits.
Few cars can straighten a mountain road like the WRX; and its more-sensible bro’, the Levorg, will be all over its back.
Better still, it can carry all the camping gear, and the brood, while satisfying even the keenest driver.
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