Subaru cir­cles wag­ons

WRX power fills a gap in the line-up and re­sists the at­tack of ma­raud­ing SUVs

The Advertiser - Motoring - - FIRST DRIVE - CRAIG DUFF

SUBARU doesn’t want you to call its new Levorg a WRX wagon but that’s pretty much what it is. And it’s a damn good thing, fill­ing a niche Subaru hopes to ac­count for between 200 and 250 sales a month.

There are still some folk — Subaru dubs them “SUV re­jecters” — who pre­fer the in­her­ently bet­ter road­hold­ing of a wagon and the Levorg now plugs that hole in the Im­preza and Lib­erty line-ups.

The range kicks off at $42,990 for the GT, rises to $48,890 for the bet­ter-equipped and bet­ter sus­pended GT-S and tops out at $52,890 for the GT-S Spec B.

Subaru Aus­tralia manag­ing di­rec­tor Nick Se­nior says the Levorg is the spir­i­tual suc­ces­sor to the fourth gen­er­a­tion Lib­erty Spec B wagon that drew a cult fol­low­ing for its prac­ti­cal­ity and po­tency.

The car will also spear­head a new brand­ing cam­paign — “Subaru do” — to draw in younger cus­tomers. “We need to in­ject more per­son­al­ity into the Subaru brand … we stand for ac­tion and so do our cars,” he says.

Those younger cus­tomers — in the case of the Levorg young fam­i­lies or out­door afi­ciona­dos who need space to cart the kayak/moun­tain bike/ snow­boards — are pre­sum­ably cashed up, given Subaru pre­dicts the GT-S will be the vol­ume seller.

To ac­com­mo­date the tar­get au­di­ence’s need for space, the back end of the WRX plat­form has been stretched by 95mm to im­prove rear legroom and boost cargo ca­pac­ity to 522L.

The car in­her­its the WRX’s five-star ANCAP rat­ing and uses wind­screen-mounted dual cam­eras for au­ton­o­mous emer­gency brak­ing. This gen­er­a­tion of the tech can also de­tect brake lights ac­ti­vat­ing on the car in front and start to beep/brake ac­cord­ingly.

Subaru aims to pinch sales far and wide, in­clud­ing the Mazda6 wagon, Volvo XC60 and Audi A4 Avant.

ON THE ROAD

The ba­sics were al­ways go­ing to be good on a ve­hi­cle de­rived from the WRX and the Levorg doesn’t dis­ap­point.

It is a hugely for­giv­ing car, ca­pa­ble of cop­ing with mid­corner changes in steer­ing, throt­tle and brak­ing in­puts.

It is also bloody noisy on coarse-chip roads, while a howl­ing wind on the Thun­der­bolts Way in NSW pro­duces a de­cent hiss over the wind­screen pil­lars and side mir­rors.

Subaru Aus­tralia chief en­gi­neer Hiep Bui says the Dun­lop Sport­sMaxx was one of many tyres tested dur­ing lo­cal tun­ing and has the best com­pro­mise between grip, noise and price.

On less pun­ish­ing sur­faces and at lower than free­way speeds, the tyres do the job well and only start to howl as you ap­proach the con­sid­er­able lim­its of ad­he­sion.

A cou­ple of de­cent bumps through turns briefly un­set­tled the car but it will take a de­cent drive on fa­mil­iar roads to de­ter­mine whether that’s an is­sue or sim­ply a case of cop­ing with poor con­di­tions.

The con­tin­u­ously vari­able trans­mis­sion is one of the best in the game in terms of its abil­ity to stay in the ideal rev range with­out dron­ing on.

We’d still take an auto or a man­ual if we could get one but there are six ar­ti­fi­cial steps in the reg­u­lar driv­ing modes, ris­ing to eight pre­de­ter­mined “cogs” in the sporti­est set­ting or when us­ing the pad­dles to shift man­u­ally.

The bur­ble from the boxer en­gine has also been muted in the Levorg to the point where the sound doesn’t match the sen­sa­tion of speed.

VER­DICT

Subaru doesn’t have mas­sive ex­pec­ta­tions for the Levorg given Aus­tralia’s on­go­ing fas­ci­na­tion with SUVs but this car should be high on the list for those who want driv­ing dy­nam­ics with plenty of cargo room.

If I was in the mar­ket, I’d be se­ri­ously con­sid­er­ing it … af­ter check­ing the fo­rums to see which after­mar­ket rub­ber quells the road roar.

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