A welcome wagon
Subaru returns to familiar territory to win back buyers with a quirky mix of Liberty and WRX
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It’s not going to be a giant seller — and there are questions about outdated technology in an all-new model — but the Levorg could be a good move for the quirky Japanese brand.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.
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.