A wel­come wagon

Subaru re­turns to fa­mil­iar ter­ri­tory to win back buy­ers with a quirky mix of Lib­erty and WRX

Herald Sun - Motoring - - THE TICK -

IT TOOK me a while to un­der­stand the Subaru Levorg. The name is tough enough but the po­si­tion­ing of the car is the big query.

The Levorg is a col­li­sion be­tween the Im­preza and Lib­erty, with a bit of WRX on the side. And a flash­back to the Lib­erty GT from the mid­noughties.

So it’s a car that aims to tick a lot of boxes, while win­ning back the Subaru wagon buy­ers who drove away when the brand de­cided cashed-up Amer­i­can SUV buy­ers were its pri­or­ity.

Tak­ing the name first, Subaru says it’s not just some­thing from a ran­dom word gen­er­a­tor. Rather, it’s a com­bi­na­tion of Legacy — the Ja­panese name for the car sold here, for ob­vi­ous rea­sons, as the Lib­erty — rev­o­lu­tion and tour­ing. How’s that? So think LEgacy, reV­O­lu­tion and tOuR­inG and it’s all quite easy, re­ally ...

The Levorg was cre­ated to try to re­build some of the Subaru sales that were lost when the Lib­erty GT was killed and the wagon ver­sions of the Im­preza and Lib­erty were canned to clear more space for the Forester and Out­back that are more pop­u­lar with fam­ily SUV buy­ers.

So Subaru en­gi­neers took the front end and me­chan­i­cal pack­age from the tur­bocharged WRX, added a big­ger new wagon tail, then avoided the temp­ta­tion to make it some sort of SUV cross­over.

The re­sult is a brisk per­sonal wagon that goes up against the likes of the Skoda Oc­tavia RS, Re­nault Me­gane GT and Volkswagen Golf R wagon.

It’s not go­ing to be a gi­ant seller — and there are ques­tions about out­dated tech­nol­ogy in an all-new model — but the Levorg could be a good move for the quirky Ja­panese brand.

Pric­ing re­flects its up­scale po­si­tion, as Subaru is also hop­ing to drag some buy­ers out of dearer Euro­pean pres­tige cars and per­haps even the Holden Com­modore Sport­wagon.

The Levorg starts from $42,990 for the GT model, ris­ing to $48,890 for the GT-S and to $52,890 for the fully loaded Spec B ver­sion.

The WRX pack­age brings the usual 2.0-litre turbo en­gine, in this it­er­a­tion mak­ing 197kW and 350Nm but with a con­stantly vari­able trans­mis­sion. Pad­dle-shifters se­lect from six pre­set ra­tios.

Fuel econ­omy is quoted at 8.7L/100km and the ad­di­tional 80kg of body­work brings the time for the 0-100km/h sprint up to 6.6 sec­onds.

That wagon tail en­dows a handy 486L of car­ry­ing space, a sur­pris­ing 83L more than the sta­ble­mate Forester SUV.

On the equip­ment side, the Levorg comes with the usual power as­sis­tance and safety gear in­cludes seven airbags and Subaru’s Eye­sight driver-as­sist pack­age. It gets a five-star crash rat­ing.

ON THE ROAD

The Levorg is a lit­tle like a WRX, with the turbo en­gine and com­pact body, but a lot more like the old Lib­erty GT.

My test car, a GT-S, has sim­i­lar cabin am­bi­ence to the old car — with leather trim, power sports seats, sun­roof and up­scale in­fo­tain­ment with a seven-inch screen in­clud­ing Pan­dora and Siri com­pat­i­bil­ity.

It also drives like the Lib­erty GT. So it’s not as sharp or as quick as a WRX, ei­ther in the en­gine or chas­sis, but still a fine drive for some­one who wants more than ba­sic trans­port.

The “buts” start early. The driver’s seat is set too high for me — it’s well-shaped with good shoul­der sup­port but I can’t get any­where near low enough for a Euro-style sporty driv­ing po­si­tion. The heated seat is no com­pen­sa­tion.

Head­lights are another downer, com­bin­ing classy HID low-beams with lack­lus­tre halo­gen highs that add al­most noth­ing after dark.

The Levorg gets along well enough, clock­ing 6.6 sec­onds to sprint from rest to 100km/h if you’re keen, and this also trans­lates to solid over­tak­ing abil­ity. Still, I’m a lit­tle con­fused by the en­gine-trans­mis­sion pack­age.

At first, the CVT masks any turbo lag for good re­sponse around town, then it’s the turbo that masks the short­com­ings of the CVT — which is still prone to a bit of dron­ing — from about 3000rpm.

It’s nowhere near as much fun to drive as a WRX de­spite the pad­dle-shifters and pre­sets in the CVT. Thirst, too, is a touch worse with the car’s ex­tra weight.

The han­dling is good — it’s fun to push into cor­ners but the ride is flawed and that’s not some­thing I ex­pect from Subaru. The rear sus­pen­sion is set far too soft, which means it crashes through to the limit even over speed humps, and the front also bounces more than ex­pected.

I’m putting it down to the su­per­seded tech­nol­ogy in the car and I know Subaru can — and should — do bet­ter.

But the Levorg has a re­ally good boot, lots of space in the back, and I like the im­pres­sive safety pack­age. The Eye­sight tech looks ahead and around for chal­lenges, and com­pen­sates with pas­sive safety mea­sures in­clud­ing adap­tive cruise con­trol and lane-de­par­ture warn­ing.

The GT-S is also fit­ted with Vi­sion As­sist, which adds reartraf­fic alert and high-beam as­sis­tance.

At a time when Mazda can’t bother with a rear-view cam­era in its top-sell­ing Mazda3, it’s sur­pris­ing to find two cam­eras in the Levorg. One looks out the back and the other down the side of the car, which is use­ful in tight park­ing spa­ces.

THE TICK

I’m not sure if the Levorg is a come­back car draw­ing from the Lib­erty GT or an eye on the fu­ture of mid-sized wag­ons ... or some­thing in the mid­dle.

In any case, it’s not per­fect and there are some ob­vi­ous yet atyp­i­cal flaws, par­tic­u­larly the sus­pen­sion and lights.

But I like driv­ing the Levorg and it works for me and the fam­ily, de­spite the silly name.

I can see it work­ing for plenty of other peo­ple. I even know a few who will buy one, so it gets The Tick.

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