A classic-Liberty sized sports wagon with WRX running gear, the Subaru Levorg will give the VW Golf R wagon a run for its money.
WHAT IS IT?
About the same size as the Mk4 Liberty wagon, the Levorg is essentially an elongated WRX. But it has a softer ride and more refinement, in order to lure old-school Subaru buyers who found this decade’s Liberty and Outback a bit too large and boxy. As a family-hauling GT, we reckon Subaru might have hit its target.
WHY WE'RE TESTING IT
For too long, we’ve complained that the Liberty (and Outback) has abandoned the series’ one-time Audi A4-esque style and sophistication, chasing American market acceptance. So we were very excited to hear that Subaru was returning to the Liberty GT wagon heartland with the Levorg. Is it a WRX for (slightly more) grown-ups?
Skoda Octavia RS wagon, Holden Commodore SS-V Sportwagon, Volkswagen Golf R wagon, Audi A4 Avant TFSI quattro, Volvo V60 T6 R-Design
THE WHEELS VERDICT
The fact the Levorg exists proves that its Japanese maker is willing to listen and respond to customer demands. Essentially a slightly more refined version of the WRX wagon no matter what Subaru says, it provides an engaging and invigorating driving experience for people who also need the extra space and practicality of a wagon. We have to wait until Australian sales start in mid-2016 for a definitive performance and ride-comfort verdict, but on first evidence we welcome the return of the sporty and stylish performance estate from Fuji Heavy Industries.
PLUS: Size, performance, handling, roadholding, practicality, design, versatility
MINUS: No manual option, power drop for Oz versions, unadventurous Subaru cabin
THE WHEELS REVIEW
BUILD it and they will come. Along with Kevin Costner’s classic Field of Dreams, 1989 also gave us the first Liberty, a quality midsizer that culminated in the sleek Mk4 of 2003 – until supersized Americans demanded something more bloated and blunter to take on Camry and co at the beginning of this decade.
Yet even Subaru admits the Mk5 has failed to resonate with Japanese consumers (bless them), prompting the launch of a smaller, lighter, Impreza/WRX based wagon called Levorg – for LEgacy (as Liberty is known elsewhere) eVOlution touRinG. Yes, it spells ‘grovel’ backwards, but that hasn’t stopped a sales stampede up in the Land of the Risible Name. And the Aussie distributors are counting on a repeat performance from next June, when two versions arrive – base and Premium – starting north of $45K. Skoda Octavia RS wagon, you have been warned.
Now, Subaru hates us calling Levorg a WRX wagon, even though most panels up to the B-pillar are shared. As are the platform and running gear, including the 2.0-litre direct-injection four-cylinder turbo boxer, driving all four wheels (with a 55/45 rear-axle bias) through the company’s Lineartronic CVT. Why? The clue lies in the lack of gearbox choice. Though fundamentally identical in suspension set-up (struts up front, double wishbones behind), including the same dampers and (electric) steering ratio, the newcomer has been tuned for greater comfort, in line with consumer expectations. Oz-bound examples might even include Bilstein shockers. GT Spec.B Subies are back!
Other differences include forged aluminium lower A-arms, “pillow ball” suspension bushes for more direct yet less corrupted front end responses, more mass (Levorg is 50kg heavier), and 59:41 instead of the 60/40 weight distribution. Development started after WRX in late 2011.
Sampling it over a few laps of the Japanese Olympic bicycle racing team training centre – a smooth but twisting 5km course – in 221kW home-spec GT and flagship GT-S guises revealed little about the Levorg’s ride. It felt comfortable and quiet, but the fluid steering, impressively flat cornering attitude, and muscular acceleration would seem incredibly similar to those familiar with the reactive and involving WRX. The oddball venue stymied the expected rawness and drama derived from the Subaru performance icon, but its uniquely satisfying urge, punch, and intoxicating verve are certainly present, and in spadefuls. It only left us wanting more, but the drive day precluded any public road experience. Note, however, that ours will only develop 201kW. Still, roll on winter 2016.
The Levorg’s athletic intent is reflected in the wide wheel-arch stance and sleeker silhouette compared to any previous Liberty equivalent, but standing beside today’s Mk6 Outback – the only wagon the brand currently offers – its medium-sized packaging is evident, with ample space for four adults and their gear. Dimensionally speaking, cabin room is slightly ahead of the classic Liberty overall, with a cargo capacity to rival the lardier Mk5 to boot.
On the other hand, overall interior architecture is unadventurous to the point of being samey in the contemporary Subaru manner – and that’s despite the proliferation of advanced driver-tech technology, brilliant front seats, an excellent driving position, leather trim, classy instrument dials, surprisingly good all round vision, a high standard of fit and finish, and surprisingly accommodating rear quarters. Still, for fans of the marque, at least it oozes WRX/STi coolness.
And that’s what the Levorg will be all about – a return to European sports wagon values, underlined by the signature boxer-driven personality. Additional future iterations may edge the nameplate even closer to the old Liberty wagon heartland, but for now, this is a clarion call for loyalists to reconsider the Japanese brand’s sporty credentials. Subaru has built it. Let’s see if they come.
Model: Subaru Levorg 2.0 DIT
Engine: 1998cc 4-cyl, dohc, 16v, turbo
Max power: 221kW @ 5600rpm
Max torque: 400Nm @ 2000-4800rpm
Transmission: 1-speed CVT
0-100km/h: 6.2sec (approximate)
Fuel economy: 7.6L/100km
Price: From $45,000 (estimate)
On sale: June 2016