Cruiser for choosers

Subaru pitches the “WRX wagon” at peo­ple who shun SUVs. Good call

Herald Sun - Motoring - - ROAD TEST - BILL McKIN­NON bill.mckin­non@news.com.au

AS A rule, “wagon” and “ex­cite­ment” should never oc­cur in the same sen­tence. Here goes: Subaru’s Levorg wagon de­liv­ers ev­ery­day prac­ti­cal­ity and, thanks to its WRX genes, plenty of ex­cite­ment as well.

Subaru is pitch­ing the Levorg at buy­ers it iden­ti­fies as “SUV re­jec­tors”, a pretty rare breed these days. If any sedan-based fam­ily freighter is go­ing to tempt them away from mid­size SUVs, it’s this one.

DE­SIGN

It’s ba­si­cally a WRX from nose to the rear axle, with a wagon-style boot grafted on be­hind.

The Levorg’s boot has 100L greater vol­ume than the cur­rent Forester. It’s a sim­ple, ver­sa­tile de­sign, with a low, wide, easy-to-load floor and a 60-40 split-fold­ing rear seat back that flips down at the flick of a switch (on ei­ther side of the boot open­ing) to give you a flat, 1.8m-long load space.

You also get a cou­ple of bag hooks and a load cover but no 12V out­let or power tail­gate.

The WRX’s 197kW 2.0-litre boxer turbo does the hon­ours in the Levorg, matched ex­clu­sively with a con­stantly vari­able trans­mis­sion.

The range opens at $42,990 for the 2.0GT — $2000 more than the WRX sedan — then come the 2.0GT-S at $48,890 and the 2.0GT-S Spec B, which we’re test­ing, at $52,890.

If you want the com­plete per­for­mance wagon pack­age, the ex­tra $5900 for the GT-S is money well spent. Bil­stein struts, as used in the WRX STi, and stiff springs im­prove han­dling sig­nif­i­cantly over the softer GT

In the GT-S, you also get a prop­erly sup­port­ive, power ad­justable sports driver’s seat up­hol­stered in leather, blue trim stitch­ing and ad­di­tional safety fea­tures such as blind spot de­tec­tion and rear cross traf­fic alert. Also stan­dard are sat­nav, sun­roof and kerb view cam­era.

Apart from a brace be­tween the front strut tow­ers, GT-S Spec B is largely an STi body bling ex­er­cise.

Our test car’s Pure Red paint, with dark glass and trim and gloss black 18-inch al­loy wheels combo, and its sorta-kinda slammed, road hug­ging stance, give it a de­li­cious ex­tra dose of killer. Nine STi badges adorn the ex­te­rior.

Look at me? Oh yeah.

AROUND TOWN

One of the spor­ti­est wag­ons around, the Levorg is also a very live­able daily driver.

The WRX en­gine is ex­cep­tion­ally smooth for a four and de­liv­ers an ef­fort­less, whooshka shove when you ask. Some turbo lag is ev­i­dent off the line, es­pe­cially in fuel-sav­ing In­tel­li­gent mode where it also pulls min­i­mum revs.

Subaru has the CVT well-sorted and with the 2.0-litre it’s a seam­less, ef­fi­cient com­bi­na­tion that doesn’t com­pro­mise per­for­mance. It’s not what you would call frugal, though. Ex­pect 12-14L/100km in town, on pre­mium fuel.

The lat­est ver­sion of Subaru’s Eye­Sight driver as­sis­tance in the Levorg ac­ti­vates au­to­matic emer­gency brak­ing when it de­tects a pedes­trian or mo­tor­cy­cle. Its over-ex­citable lane de­par­ture warn­ing, though, drives you nuts in the city — I turned it off.

As with the Forester tested a few weeks ago, the Levorg’s Eye­Sight cam­eras were tem­po­rar­ily blinded when driv­ing into low, di­rect sun.

The GT-S’s kerb­side cam­era is use­ful when par­al­lel park­ing but the Spec B’s low front spoiler is vul­ner­a­ble to dam­age.

Rear seat space is rea­son­able and two adults can travel com­fort­ably. A cou­ple of USB charge ports are pro­vided, plus two Isofix re­straint an­chors and three tether strap an­chors on the seat back.

Ride com­fort, though hardly plush, is tol­er­a­ble in town. In the Spec B, com­pli­ance im­proves as speed in­creases — if it’s too rugged for you, you’ll find the GT more for­giv­ing.

ON THE ROAD

Push the Sport or Sport Sharp mode but­tons on the wheel and Levorg lights up as the ECU primes the en­gine with more revs, adds re­spon­sive­ness to the ac­cel­er­a­tor and, in the lat­ter mode, fixes eight de­fined shift points into the CVT.

The solid 350Nm of torque is avail­able from 2500rpm-5200rpm, so when you pop the ques­tion at any speed the Levorg takes off with that sig­na­ture in­tox­i­cat­ing Rex rush.

Subaru claims 0-100km/h in 6.6 sec­onds, which seat of the pants says is pretty right. Most SUVs won’t see which way you went.

The CVT is as im­pres­sive in go-fast mode as it is in town — it reads your right foot more in­tu­itively than most au­to­mat­ics and you’re never caught in the wrong gear. There can be a mo­ment’s de­lay in hook­ing up when ac­cel­er­at­ing out of slow cor­ners, where the pad­dles are more ef­fec­tive.

At 100km/h in cruise mode, you’ll get 7-8L/100km.

On a tight, twist­ing road the Spec B is planted, ag­ile and flows beau­ti­fully through strings of cor­ners, where you can get on the gas as hard as you like, con­fi­dent that all-wheel drive, ac­tive torque vec­tor­ing and sticky (and noisy) Dun­lop Sport Maxx tyres will keep the power com­ing and the car glued to the bi­tu­men.

How­ever, the Levorg also has a few char­ac­ter­is­tic WRX flaws. The steer­ing, though ac­cu­rate, is in­con­sis­tently weighted and not par­tic­u­larly com­mu­nica­tive, while brakes are un­der­done for a per­for­mance ma­chine.

The lon­gi­tu­di­nally mounted boxer en­gine hangs for­ward of the axle line, so un­der pres­sure the car can feel nose heavy and the Spec B’s Bil­steins can’t pre­vent some pitch and bounce on large bumps.

Ma­jor hits can also cause the front sus­pen­sion to bot­tom out with a bang. You have to be clos­ing in on Levorg’s far reach­ing dy­namic lim­its for these is­sues to arise, though.

VER­DICT

As a safe, ver­sa­tile, high-qual­ity fam­ily wagon that’s also a de­light to drive, the Levorg is more en­gag­ing and ca­pa­ble than any com­pa­ra­bly sized or priced SUV. It is, af­ter all, a WRX.

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