Subaru shoehorns the WRX engine under the bonnet of an Impreza/WRX-based wagon called Levorg, creating a grand tourer for SUV haters.
WHAT IS IT?
After ditching the Liberty wagon (and its turbocharged GT flagship) in 2014 because everyone was switching to SUVs, Subaru has revived the concept with this slightly smaller and sportier wagon, flexing a WRX-honed engine and an entirely new name.
WHY WE'RE TESTING IT
Subaru reckons there’s a subset of about 200 buyers a month out there who don’t want SUVs in their lives, and are hankering for a spiritual replacement to the Mk4 Liberty GT wagon of 2003-09. Instead of a Liberty, they get this.
THE WHEELS VERDICT
The Levorg is an engaging, fun addition to Subaru’s range, but only if you don’t think of it as a WRX with a bigger boot.
PLUS: Performance in spades; prodigious grip; excellent high-speed ride and handling; big load capacity
MINUS: Too much body roll through corners; low-speed ride; tyre roar; no aural excitement; doddering CVT
THE WHEELS REVIEW
IT’S amusing how things come around. Turn the calendar back to 2014, and Subaru was busy defending the untimely death of its Liberty wagon; saying buyers were more interested in kicking tyres on SUVs such as the closely related, higher-riding Outback.
Skip forward to today and Subaru is now chasing the same people it once spurned. The Japanese carmaker has discovered a class of buyers it calls “SUV rejectors”: those who eschew an impractical, unnecessarily heavy and thirsty SUV wagon for a more traditional one.
It is chasing them with the Subaru Levorg, an Impreza/WRX-based wagon with a made-up name and a WRX heart. Indeed, wheelbase length, track widths and dashboard are all identical to a WRX’s. Subaru claims the Levorg is small enough to attract women, yet beefy enough to prevent blokes from getting too in touch with their feminine side.
At the heart of the three-model Levorg line-up — an entry-level $42,990 2.0GT; a leather and sunroof adorned $48,890 2.0GT-S; and a range-topping $52,890 2.0GT-S Spec B (a plastic pig wearing STi aero) — is the turbocharged 197kW/350Nm 2.0-litre flat four from the WRX. Unlike its sedan relative, though, Levorg won’t have a manual option. Instead, it will stick with a continuously variable transmission (CVT).
Don’t expect a WRX in sheep’s clothing. Yes, the Levorg’s taller, longer roofline adds around 60kg over the sedan, but that isn’t enough to greatly impact on its performance. The Levorg can’t quite match the WRX for accelerative pace, hitting 100km/h from rest in 6.6 seconds, 0.3sec slower.
What makes Levorg special is the Aussie-honed suspension set-up. The base GT wears KYB dampers up front, with its spring rate stiffened by 40 percent. Step up to the GT-S and the KYBs swap for more expensive inverted-strut Bilsteins, with 60 percent stiffer spring rates. At the double-wishbone rear, both models share the same set-up, with rebound damping increased by 20 percent and improved bump absorption.
Those factors translate to some very different things: A low-speed ride that’s fussy and bordering on uncomfortable, and a high-speed ride that absorbs everything but short, sharp hits with aplomb (on a run along NSW’s Oxley Highway, we hit the bump stops on both the front and rear suspension), accompanied by extreme tyre roar on coarse-chip surfaces.
The Levorg’s grip is tenacious, regardless of the damper set-up. You can comfortably fire it into a corner, washing off speed via a nicely progressive brake pedal enhanced by laminated shims and ventilated discs, as the well-bolstered seats hug tight. Turn-in is good, with the rear-biased AWD showing no sign of understeer and good feedback via the square-bottomed steering wheel, although body roll borders on excessive. If you can pick the difference between the Bilsteins and the KYBs, you’re someone special.
Corner exit is where the Levorg gets a little disappointing. CVTs generally don’t like large changes in speed, taking time to sort out ratios. In the Levorg, with the engine’s calibration tune in Sport# mode, this amounts to hesitation as you lift off the brake pedal and roll on throttle, giving a sense that the car is launching rather than driving out of a corner. Once on it, too, there’s no hint of that boxer thrum for which the WRX was once renowned.
Even in ‘manual’ mode, forced ratio changes snap like an elastic band, and the CVT howls like a banshee, giving a sense you might be driving an electric car, not a conventionally engined one.
Where the Levorg excels is in between the corners. It lopes along lazily, overtaking manoeuvres are effortless, and apart from a little bit of wind noise around the mirrors and the constant tyre roar, comfort is at the pointy end of the class.
Levorg makes sense as a grand tourer. Comfortable, powerful, sharp like a Zegna suit and with buckets of room behind the back seat, it’s ideal for a weekend escape. But it’s no WRX, however close to relationship.
Model: Subaru Levorg 2.0GT
Engine: 1998cc flat 4, dohc, 16v, turbo
Max power: 197kW@ 5600rpm
Max torque: 350Nm @ 2400-5200rpm
Transmission: CVT automatic
0-100km/h: 6.6sec (claimed)
Fuel economy: 8.7L/100km
On sale: Now