Car reviews - Subaru - Levorg - range
Strong performance from excellent engine, decent cargo area with low loading lip, linear steering, sharp handling, standard safety tech
Room for improvement
Spartan GT specification, Bilstein suspension of GT-S lacks comfort and control, cabin space and quality not outstanding for the price
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23 Jun 2016
APPROACHING the Subaru Levorg it clearly seems as though it is just a large-bottomed WRX with chrome on its snout and multi-spoke wheels under its guards. The trademark bonnet scoop remains, as do the subtly flared wheelarches.
Subaru has not always been renowned for producing vehicles with outstanding cabin plastics, but the fourth-gen Liberty was the deliciously smooth exception. Inside the Levorg is also largely WRX although a keen eye will note the stitched leather ‘flanks’ that have been added to either side of the transmission tunnel in GT-S models.
As with its arch rival, the Skoda Octavia RS, the cabin design and plastics are obviously derived from a model that begins life wearing a sub-$25K pricetag. A secondary competitor Subaru tagged, the Mazda6 GT, sits demonstrably ahead with its luxuriously expensive design but it lacks a performance-focused engine.
Even considering the performance on offer for the price, however, the $42,990 plus on-road costs Levorg GT feels particularly sparse inside.
Passengers will note the bland cloth trim as a base model indicator, but drivers may note that the lack of electric adjustment means the seat is tilted a touch too far forward to provide adequate under-thigh support – it is a problem with many height-only manually adjustable Subaru seats and the issue is solved with the eight-way electrically adjustable seats in the $48,890 GT-S.
The lack of satellite navigation and auto on/off headlights also grates inside the GT for the price. The $41,390 Octavia RS DSG wagon includes both features as standard.
The $5900 premium to the GT-S buys a stack of equipment, however, from leather and sunroof, to heated front seats, a larger centre screen and nav. It feels marginally more upmarket, but will cost more than $50K when on-road costs are added.
The back seat of the Levorg feels decently roomy, particularly in terms of headroom, although it lacks rear air vents and tiered-angle backrest adjustment.
The backrest folds 60:40, however, maximising the practicality beyond the already capacious 486-litre boot. Compared with SUVs, the low loading lip of this Subaru makes lifting in heavier items – such as prams – a breeze.
All Levorgs roll on 18-inch wheels with, compared with the WRX, slightly narrower (225mm versus 245mm) and taller profile (45- plays 40-aspect) Dunlop Sport Maxx RT tyres. However, the base GT gets more compliant dampers than the Bilstein damper inverted struts of the GT-S grade. The GT-S Spec B adds a front tower brace.
On our test drive, we started with the GT-S before comparing with the GT over similar country roads.
Subaru’s 2.0-litre direct-injection boxer four-cylinder engine immediately proves both willing and refined.
With 197kW of power produced at 5600rpm, it comfortably eclipses the 162kW at 6200rpm of the same capacity Skoda Octavia RS engine. Although the Skoda is about 100kg lighter, and both engines produce 350Nm of torque, the Levorg’s 6.6-second 0-100km/h claim is a half-second faster than its DSG-equipped wagon rival.
In the SI-Drive system’s Intelligent mode, the boxer punches smoothly and quietly via its automatic continuously variable transmission (CVT). Pressing the steering wheel-mounted button to Sport sharpens throttle while Sport# is almost too touchy, but it brings eight gear ‘presets’ to the party.
With no manual transmission available, drivers wanting to select their own gears can do so via paddle shifters and, given the CVT has an almost infinite band of gearing to work with, pulling multiple times on the left paddle delivers short, staccato downshifts coming into a corner. It works nicely.
The CVT is impressive, but ultimately it is not quite as good as the best torque converter automatics because it displays an elasticity in the driveline that can feel like letting go of an extended rubber band when either adding throttle quickly or coming off the throttle immediately after overtaking. The Sport# mode isn’t ultimately aggressive enough for spirited driving, either.
Get the Levorg’s engine into a mid-range sweet spot, however, and it feels impressively brisk. Through corners the smooth and linear steering continues to impress, as does the sharp and stable front-end response of the GT-S.
Through especially tight corners, the all-wheel-drive system – with variable torque distribution front to rear – permits early and hard application of throttle to fire from bends at the sort of speed that would have a front-wheel-drive Octavia RS scrabbling for traction.
The Bilstein dampers of the Levorg GT-S are nothing like those at each corner of a WRX, though.
Some extra softness might be expected, but on typical country roads the combination of hard thudding through the front wheels and floatiness at the rear sometimes proved alarming. It felt as though the shock absorber’s compression stroke was too short but rebound was too slow.
At 100km/h on a straight road punctuated by a ridgeline over a short bridge, the Levorg GT-S crashed through then slam dunked its booty by enough of a margin to warrant an expletive from both driver and passenger.
Swapping to the base Levorg GT provided sharp (yet soothing) relief.
Despite running an identical wheel and tyre package, it immediately felt far more settled both in terms of compliance and control on similar roads. Subaru claims the base suspension is aimed at providing extra comfort without extreme sportiness, yet inexplicably it excelled to a greater degree than the Bilsteins in both respects.
The GT-S is the best value Levorg but it is not available with the GT suspension tune. Conversely the GT cannot be optioned with any extra equipment (such as nav) for those who may not want to or cannot make the stretch to the more expensive models.
Subaru should be applauded for making its EyeSight safety technology standard on every Levorg, including autonomous emergency braking (AEB) with rare-for-the-class pedestrian avoidance and adaptive cruise control, plus blind-spot monitor, side monitor and auto high-beam on GT-S. But the GT is still arguably too basic for the price.
There is a sweet spot hiding in the Subaru Levorg range, which otherwise successfully mixes WRX pace, steering and handling with family friendly practicality and safety. However, that ‘spot’ is the GT-S with the GT suspension tune that does not currently exist – and the latter of which is simply a must for this wagon to successfully graduate (alongside the Liberty) from finishing school.
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