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Levorg not just a WRX wagon: Subaru

Driven: GoAuto put the Subaru Levorg through its paces at a special Australian media drive event in Japan.

Subaru to attract lamenting Liberty lovers with Levorg, not WRX fans

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Subaru logo27 Oct 2015

By DANIEL GARDNER

SUBARU Australia will focus on customers demanding practicality rather than on petrol-heads with its all-new WRX-based Levorg wagon when it arrives here in the middle of next year, despite the two models sharing many drivetrain and body components.

While the WRX sedan and even more potent STI version go after Subaru’s longstanding high-performance purists, with its luggage-swallowing wagon boot the Levorg is targeting a different kind of driver, according to the Japanese car-maker.

Speaking at an exclusive Australian media drive event in Japan this week, Subaru Australia managing director Nick Senior told GoAuto the company was “very excited” to get the Levorg but he did not expect WRX fans to be the main audience.

“It’s definitely not a wagon version of the WRX, it’s a standalone product,” he said. “We haven’t finalised specification yet but there will be quite a difference between WRX and Levorg.”

Mr Senior explained that a handful of WRX owners would trade some high-performance potential to opt for the Levorg wagon, but most customers would be looking for the versatility of the Liberty wagon, which has not been available since early this year.

“There will be a different buyer. WRX appeals to a different set. There may be one or two that find the versatility they want instead of their WRX but, no, it’s a standalone model,” he said.

“The fourth-generation Liberty wagon was our best-ever-selling wagon. It has a loyal following and, in particular, they are looking for a replacement vehicle.

The feedback was that the fifth-generation car was too big for them.”

Despite a lean towards practicality, Mr Senior said the Levorg will also appeal to driving enthusiasts with a blend of fun and function.

“It is important to note that it is not a traditional wagon, nor a WRX wagon, but a vehicle that drives like a performance or sportscar yet has the versatility of a wagon blended with Euro design, high-quality interiors and the highest level of safety,” he said.

Subaru Australia is confident the new addition to the local line-up would be well received, and Mr Senior said the early signs were encouraging.

“This is one of the most keenly sought-after cars that we’ve had for a while,” he said. “The level of interest has been amazing. Since it was announced we’ve got a number of people who have already registered their interest and we’ve had focus groups that were particularly strong – some of the strongest we’ve ever seen.”

With a decent base of loyal Subaru wagon customers waiting in the wings, Mr Senior said the car was predicted to sell strongly from its launch in June or July next year, and numbers could exceed that of its spiritual predecessor.

“There’s no doubt people have been holding off and just can’t wait for it to arrive. There is pent-up demand. The numbers initially I think will be very strong,” he said.

“Initially some of the numbers could be higher (than Liberty) but we will need to wait maybe six to eight months when things have settled down. I think being a fairly unique car – it’s really in its own category – it opens up new markets for us.

“We will wait and see but I think we may be surprised just how strong the reception is for it.”

GoAuto was given the opportunity to test the Levorg ahead of its Australian arrival in 2016 during a special media first drive exclusively for Australian press this week.

For the event, Subaru had acquired the Cycle Sports Centre on the Izu peninsula south-west of Tokyo, which boasts a 6km closed track normally used for cycle races, but the circuit of tight bends and challenging camber was perfect to test the Levorg’s all-wheel-drive transmission.

Like its closely related WRX cousin, the Levorg’s symmetrical permanent 4WD system is coupled to a 2.0-litre turbocharged flat-four petrol engine, which pumps out 201kW of power.

Unlike the more performance-focused sedan, the Levorg is only available with the company’s automatic CVT, while the WRX has a manual option.

Specification is yet to be finalised for Australia, but in the model’s native Japan the Levorg is available as either a GT or more sports-focused GTS.

From the B-pillar forward, the Levorg is identical to the WRX, but the rearward sections of both models do not share any panels, and the Levorg’s most obvious difference lies in its voluminous wagon boot.

Rear-seat space is generous both in headroom and legroom, which has increased over the Liberty wagon which it effectively replaces.

While the model includes many of the safety systems found commonplace across many lines these days, the Levorg has Subaru’s EyeSight stereoscopic camera technology included as standard.

The pair of forward-facing cameras monitor the area ahead of the car for objects, providing data for both adaptive cruise control as well as autonomous braking for mitigating collisions with pedestrians and other vehicles.

Interiors are well appointed with good quality materials and an excellent sports steering wheel lifted straight from the WRX. Only some slightly cheap-feeling gloss-plastic trim and a slightly afterthought-looking navigation screen detracted from the generally high-quality cabin.

With Australian specification still to be finalised, those flies in the ointment may not make it to our discerning market.

We particularly liked the synthetic suede sports seats with blue stitching that looked great while also providing good comfort and support. A two-way adjustable steering column resulted in a good driving position for going fast but was just as suitable for cruising.

The Levorg’s firm suspension did send a few fine imperfections from the track into the cabin but we feel the ride-quality was a careful balance of comfort and performance for a driver that puts a little more importance on driving dynamics.

Traction and grip from Subaru’s full-time four-wheel-drive system is hard to beat and even though the accomplished boxer-four belts out a good dose of low-down torque, the excellent transmission manages power well.

The bountiful grip allows power to be wound up early in corners and we pushed the Subaru through challenging corners with confidence. Only in tightening and blind bends would a heavy hand cause the Levorg to understeer, but with more careful piloting the wagon was surefooted, precise and fun to drive.

The smaller of the dash-mounted LCD screens displays a variety of vehicle information including a turbo-boost pressure gauge, which is a nice nod to Subaru’s performance car heritage, but we also liked how the display flashed up when power was being shared around between the wheels, before the full-fat ESC cut in with power limitation.

The twisty circuit was never intended for four-wheeled vehicles and the low-speed turns took their toll on the braking system, which did show some signs of fade when punished, but it is unlikely you will find a road as gruelling in day-to-day Australian motoring.

Turn-in was light in the hands but surprisingly sharp and we enjoyed the responsiveness of the Levorg’s chassis, while another pleasant surprise was how little bodyroll we could provoke, despite the extra mass that the addition of a wagon boot has placed higher up in its centre of gravity.

While Subaru is making a deliberate point of marketing its new Levorg as a model all of its own, we think it is also important to highlight its relationship to the more performance-focused WRX.

Simply looking at the Levorg’s big boot gives a clear indication that the car has embarked on a more practical journey, but a short time behind its wheel clearly reveals its shared WRX DNA.

When it arrives in Australia, the Levorg will plug a void in the car-maker’s line-up with a good-looking wagon that offers versatility and family-friendly features on the one hand, but a more frivolous facet peeking through when you stretch its legs.

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