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Car reviews - Subaru - Levorg - GT

Our Opinion

We like
Fantastic new 1.6L engine, CVT automatic works well, standard EyeSight safety tech, user-friendly and practical load area, handles well (but only on smooth roads), easy to drive, good visibility
Room for improvement
Under-damped suspension setup, equipment omissions, seat design compromises rear knee-room, road noise on coarse-chip bitumen, comedic cargo blind design

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Subaru logo10 Nov 2017

By HAITHAM RAZAGUI

Overview

SUBARU pitched its Levorg as a spiritual successor to the much-loved Liberty GT, and as the sole low-riding wagon in the current line-up, piqued a bit of early interest but sales soon dropped off.

Combining a practical wagon body with the potent WRX engine, plus the performance icon’s front-end styling and all-wheel-drive system was a tasty proposition on paper, but high cost and low equipment plus a less-than-ideal ride and handling setup led to criticism that probably put off the punters.

That, and the desertion of wagons in favour of SUVs. Worse, next to the Levorg in Subaru showrooms was the Forester XT that has the WRX engine, albeit punching out slightly less power, priced lower than an equivalent Levorg.

Finally Subaru has lowered the Levorg’s entry price by $7250 with the Australian debut of a new 1.6-litre turbo-petrol boxer engine and other tweaks including suspension revisions on up-spec variants.

Early indications are that the sales slump hasn’t reversed, but the updated Levorg has at least shone a light into a very bright future for Subaru and we look forward to its impressive new powerplant being deployed across more models in the range.

Price and equipment

Levorg ownership just got a lot more affordable with the $35,990 (plus on-road costs) starting point for the GT tested here, a substantial $7250 lower than before and largely due to the arrival of a smaller and less powerful engine up front.

It is arguably where the Levorg range should have started when it launched Down Under in June 2016.

New standard equipment includes dynamic LED headlights and LED foglights, a new 6.2-inch touchscreen and bigger 5.9-inch dash-top multi-function display.

Subaru’s excellent camera-based EyeSight active safety and driver assistance system remains standard-fit and comprises autonomous emergency braking (AEB) with pedestrian detection, lane-keeping assistance, collision-mitigating throttle control, pre-collision braking assistance and adaptive cruise control with brake light recognition.

Also standard from base GT up are a six-speaker audio system, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, dual-zone climate control, a reversing camera, automatic headlights and wipers, five USB ports distributed across the front and rear cabin, rear privacy glass, keyless entry with push-button start, a leather multi-function steering wheel and gear selector knob, idle-stop, cloth trim, hill-holder, rear foglights, LED tail-lights, 17-inch alloy wheels with space saver spare and heated door mirrors with electric adjustment and folding.

The 1.6-litre engine is also available in $42,890 (plus on-roads) GT Premium trim, while stepping up to the 2.0-litre WRX-sourced powertrain now costs $49,140 in the GT-S, which is $250 more expensive than before. A range-topping new STI Sport variant costs $51,990 ($900 less than the GT-S Spec B it replaces).

Our entry-level Levorg GT straddles the small and mid-size wagon segments. Its engine performance is higher than the majority of rivals, which along with the standard fitment of all-wheel drive helps justify its small and basic touchscreen that lacks satellite navigation, plus the omission of leather upholstery and electric driver’s seat adjustment.

Interior

Those who have sat in the previous-generation Impreza or current WRX will find the Levorg cabin a familiar environment. It is a superseded design in the Subaru stable, but at least it is on the right side of the brand’s transition to better dashboard design, layout and plastics quality.

All the differences are toward the vehicle’s rear, where the lack of sloping roofline aids generous levels of headroom and a reasonably large boot that can take 489 litres of cargo with the 40:20:40 split-fold seats up or 1413L with them all folded using handy remote release switches just behind the tailgate, which lifts to reveal a super-low load lip that makes depositing bulky objects a breeze.

The on-paper load capacity stats mean the Levorg has Australia’s second-smallest wagon boot with the seats up, after the Holden Astra Sportwagon’s 445L capacity. But the Astra’s 1648L seats-down space is right up there and leaves the Levorg in last place. The next worst is Renault’s stylish Megane wagon, which has 1504L with the seats down.

But none of the Subaru’s competitors have to fit the rear differential of an all-wheel-drive system below the boot floor.

Anyway, we never struggled for boot space with the Levorg as its well-shaped and easily accessible load area feels larger than it is. The boot is easy to use, fitted with plenty of handy bag hooks and features a pair of netted-off recesses for stowing small items. Accessing the space-saver tyre beneath requires the removal of four separate panels that reveal a couple of shallow under-floor storage areas and a place to stow the cargo blind when not in use.

Which brings us onto the cargo blind. While the main roller-blind style mechanism is logical and conventional enough, the ill-conceived afterthought extension area that is supposed to cover the area immediately behind the reclining rear seats is a joke.

It is attached using a pair of spring-loaded rubber squares that rely purely on friction against similar-shaped plastic protrusions in the side window trims to keep the non-extendable fabric in place. As soon as the rear seat is reclined, it falls off with a clatter. Surely this should attach to the backrests themselves and move with them as they are reclined?Back up front, for the money, the basic cloth trim, basic manual seat adjustment and small, featureless infotainment touchscreen are off the mark.

But the seats are at least comfortable and the touchscreen’s lack of functions make it simple to use and easy to connect a phone using Bluetooth or listen to audio via USB.

Another screen on top of the dash is controlled using a little joystick between the central air-con vents and provides access to customisable trip computer readouts, a digital turbo boost gauge, all-wheel-drive system monitor and various vehicle tilt angle displays we reckon are more suited to SUVs such as the Forester.

Subaru has also catered to gadget lovers with no fewer than five USB charging ports around the cabin, plus one 12V cigarette lighter style outlet.

Cabin storage is average, with a couple of cupholders up front with movable height insert we found handy for storing a coffee cup alongside a water bottle, four bottle-holding door bins that are pretty large at the front (two more cupholders are in the rear central flip-down armrest), a big enough glovebox, a deep bin under the central armrest and a long, thin tray in the centre console suitable for storing pens and a pair of map pockets in the seat backs.

A rubber-lined recess beneath the central stack is grippy and can just about hold an iPhone SE while it is charging, although those with bigger phones may struggle unless the charging point is on the side of the device rather than the bottom. There’s no sunglasses holder.

The dual-zone climate control system is simple to use via three rotary controllers, with both cabin and outside temperatures shown permanently on the dash-top readout. It is a powerful system that gets cold quickly, which along with the privacy window tints helps offset the lack of vents for rear occupants.

Isofix child seat anchorages are located on the outer rear seats, with top tethers sensibly located on the seat-backs of all three. Crude holes in the upholstery and foam and fabric Isofix shields did not provide us with a great deal of confidence about the longevity of this area after many years of use but at least the connection points themselves were easily accessible.

A large padded area on the upper of the front seat-backs both hinders rear knee-room (the rear would otherwise be spacious) and meant that occupants seated in front of a bulky rear-facing infant capsule had to sacrifice a little legroom for everyone to fit.

On the move, we appreciated the quality-feeling sporty steering wheel and great driving position, while the Levorg cabin was generally quiet with little engine and transmission noise or vibration. The idle-stop system was impressively smooth in operation, too.

When revving hard there was a whine from the drivetrain and some coarse-chip bitumen country roads on our test route got a bit louder than is ideal.

Compared with most adaptive cruise control systems, the Levorg’s seemed to follow the vehicle in front a little closely for comfort unless the gap setting was set to mid or maximum. Other than this, it worked well, all the way to a complete stop and audibly prompting the driver to take action when traffic moved off again.

Lane-keeping assistance is just that, rather than following lane markings indefinitely. It gently turns the wheel when the Levorg begins to drift out of lane, providing audible and visual alerts if a lane marking is crossed.

It is a shame there are no parking sensors on the Levorg, but most of the Subaru range seems to lack this technology unless you specify it as an overpriced dealer-fit accessory.

Engine and transmission

Developing 125kW between 4800 and 5600rpm with 250Nm of peak torque arriving at 1800rpm and sustained until 4800rpm, Subaru’s new 1.6-litre turbo-petrol boxer engine is a beautifully flexible unit that makes most forms of driving effortless.

Unless trying to accelerate hard up a long, steep hill, the performance is punchy and responsive and really gets going above 3500rpm where it feels much livelier than its displacement and output figures suggest, especially in the Sport mode of the steering wheel mounted SI-Drive selectorWe rarely find turbocharged engines work well with continuously variable automatic transmissions (CVT) but Subaru’s setup defies this convention and performs excellently. Instant response and quick access to higher revs when required make it far more usable in everyday driving than a dozy dual-clutch or laggy torque-converter auto. It’s just seamless.

For the spirited driving a sporty wagon like the Levorg encourages, paddle shifters offer seven stepped virtual ratios that work pretty convincingly, too.

However, in this environment the crisp, instantaneous manual shifts of a good dual-clutch cannot be surpassed.

Best of all, the linear power delivery of this engine is a delight, as is its smoothness and willingness to rev. It is not noisy but does exhibit a characterful thrum under load at higher revs. Unfortunately this tends to be accompanied – and drowned out – by a whine from the CVT.

Fuel-efficiency is pretty good, too. We averaged 8.0 litres per 100 kilometres across more than 500km of mixed driving, in conditions varying from wild thrashing rain to searing heat, a result not too distant from the official combined figure of 7.4L/100km.

Considering the big difference in cost compared with the powerful WRX-derived 2.0-litre engine, the 1.6-litre Levorg provides enough go to keep all but hardcore performance fans happy.

Ride and handling

People whose driving consists mainly of urban, suburban and motorway journeys might never find issue with the Levorg’s ride and handling.

In these environments it tends to cope well with most surfaces and its light, smooth, linear steering works with the responsive driveline and good visibility to make ducking in and out of traffic gaps simple and enjoyable.

The ride is a little firm, but no more than would be expected of a wagon with sporting pretentions, and a particularly jiggly 40-60km/h road at the start of our test route was not uncomfortable as it can be in some vehicles that are more obviously biased toward a cushy drive experience.

Show it a challenging and twisty country road at speed, however, and some of that sheen falls away.

For a start, the suspension travel seems too short and under-damped, particularly at the back. On a number of occasions during our dynamic road route the Levorg either bottomed out with a thump or the whole car bounced along like a pogo stick after impacts.

A series of lateral lumps just before the crest of a hill had us wondering whether the car would ever regain control as it continued pitching about for a few dozen metres. A raised drain cover at the bottom of a hill and just before a fast right-hander crashed so hard we thought the windscreen was going to shatter.

These are just two of the more extreme examples that occurred on our test route, along real roads in real-world conditions.

It is a shame as the Levorg exhibits some great handling characteristics when it is behaving, with that linear and predictable steering – that only gets slightly meatier with Sport mode selected – controlling a keen front-end. There is not a great deal of feel through the wheel, but the chassis is very communicative and we soon built confidence and rapport with the Levorg that enabled us to quickly begin pushing it harder. A good view of the road ahead helped, too.

When road surfaces are good, the Levorg has the grip and poise to dispatch even off-camber corners with a sense of determined control. Minor ripples and patchwork surfaces are dealt with OK, too, not throwing the car off line or sending shockwaves through the steering.

This is a car that definitely benefits from powering through bends as the rear gets a bit lively and even wayward on a trailing throttle. Compared with the punchier 2.0-litre engine that tempts the driver to go slow in and fast out, at least there is satisfaction to be had by committing to maintain momentum in the 1.6.

And there is ample traction to pull the Levorg out of hairpins without troubling the stability electronics, with the Dunlop tyres providing the front with enough grip to carry admirable speeds into tight bends, only prompting a gentle, predictable and easily recoverable transition into oversteer if the driver gets a bit too ambitious.

Like the low-speed rough road mentioned earlier, a higher speed stretch of bumpy bitumen was also ironed out pretty well by the Levorg. So its suspension setup really is a mixed bag.

To customers who are in love with the Levorg and just have to buy one, may we suggest one of your first journeys be to an aftermarket suspension specialist to get it properly set up for Australian conditions.

Safety and servicing

Using Subaru-supplied test data under ANCAP’s Niche Vehicle Policy for the related WRX range, both 2.0-litre and 1.6-litre Levorg variants have a maximum five-star safety rating, scoring 35.85 out of a maximum 37 points based on 14.85 out of 16 in the frontal offset test, a perfect 16 in the side impact test and the full two points in the pole test. Whiplash and pedestrian protection were both considered ‘good’.

In addition to the EyeSight system’s autonomous emergency braking and lane-keeping assistance tech, standard Levorg safety kit includes dual frontal, side chest and curtain airbags plus one for the driver’s knee are standard, as are anti-lock brakes with electronic brake distribution, electronic stability control, traction control and advanced seatbelt reminders on all five seats.

A three-year, unlimited kilometre warranty is provided with one year of roadside assistance and three years’ sat-nav map updates for models so equipped.

Service intervals are six months or 12,500km, with a three-year capped-price servicing program priced at $316.29 for the first two maintenance visits, $399.86 for the third, $535.08 for the fourth, $318.82 for the fifth and $403.03 for the sixth (correct at time of writing and the same for both 1.6L and 2.0L versions).

Verdict

There is nothing quite like the Levorg out there, least of all now it is offered with this lower-priced entry-level variant. It is down on boot space compared with other wagons but has higher engine outputs than the majority of price rivals and is the only one to benefit from all-wheel drive.

If performance is your priority, then you might see the Levorg’s superior driveline as sufficiently offsetting its lack of amenities such as sat-nav, leather or electric seat adjustment. The EyeSight system also goes some way toward the value equation, too. It is a shame, then, that the step up in price for a higher-spec variant is quite large.

We liked the Levorg for its charm and competence. Its new engine is a beaut and the transmission restored our faith in CVT technology.

So it was all the more disappointing that ride and handling foibles remain, although they only really came to the fore during the type of fast country lane driving that is not covered on a regular basis by many Australians.

If sales remain low, it will have exclusivity on its side.

But in today’s cut-throat market we fear Subaru’s Australian distributor, which took its time introducing the Levorg in the first place, may simply drop the model altogether.

That would be a shame, because the Levorg is a pretty compelling blend of the quirky and lovable Subaru of old that is fast disappearing and a look into the more mature, mainstream but incredibly bright future that is emerging for the brand.

Rivals

Volkswagen Golf 110TSI Highline wagon from $35,490 plus on-road costs
Identically priced to the new entry-level Levorg, with better infotainment, higher standard spec, a bigger boot and superior braked towing capacity but less engine performance. At least as refined as the Subaru, without its dynamic foibles. Apart from an occasionally capricious dual-clutch transmission, it’s very hard to find fault with.

Renault Megane GT-Line wagon $37,090 driveaway
Supremely stylish Euro wagon that undercuts the Levorg. Subaru-stomping performance is available from the full-fat GT wagon for $43,090 driveaway if you can stretch to it, which we see as a more direct competitor and one that is pretty comprehensively equipped as well. It might lack all-wheel drive, but it has all-wheel steering!Ford Mondeo Ambiente Ecoboost wagon $35,040 plus on-road costs
Loads of grunt and a massive boot make Ford’s stylish Mondeo wagon one of Australia’s best-kept automotive secrets. If you want a comfy, spacious load hauler that hauls serious loads for not much cash, this is your ride. What’s more, it has a delightful ride and handling balance plus excellent refinement and Ford’s acclaimed Sync3 infotainment system.

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