Subaru Levorg

WRX engine produces a grand tourer for SUV-haters

BARRY PARK

IT’S amusing how things come around. Back in 2014, Subaru was busy defending its decision to kill the Liberty wagon, saying buyers were more interested in SUVs like the closely related, higher-riding Outback.

Today, though, Subaru is chasing the same people it once spurned. It has discovered a class of buyers it calls “SUV rejectors”, and is wooing them with the 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 this makes the Levorg small enough to attract women, yet still beefy enough for blokes.

Every Levorg in the three-tier line-up – an entry-level GT ($42,990); a GT-S $48,890 that scores leather and sunroof; and a range-topping GT-S Spec B ($52,890), a plastic pig wearing FIRST AUSSIE DRIVE STi aero – is powered by the turbocharged 197kW/350Nm 2.0-litre flat-four from the WRX.

Unlike its sedan relative, though, Levorg won’t have a manual option. It’s CVT only.

Don’t expect a WRX in sheep’s clothing, either. The Levorg’s taller, longer roofline adds about 60kg, and its 0-100km/h sprint of 6.6sec is three-tenths slower than the WRX’s.

What makes Levorg special is its Aussie-honed suspension.

The base GT wears KYB dampers up front, while both GT-S variants score more expensive Bilsteins.

Every model shares the same double-wishbone rear with stiffened rebound damping for 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 suspensions), accompanied by extreme tyre roar on coarsechip 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 ventilated discs and a nicely progressive brake pedal, as the well-bolstered seats hug tight.

Turn-in is good, there’s solid feedback through the steering, and the rear-biased AWD system shows no sign of understeer, though ample bodyroll 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 is a little disappointing. CVTs generally don’t like large changes in speed, taking time to sort out ratios. In the Levorg, with the engine tune in Sport# mode, this amounts to hesitation as you lift off the brake pedal and roll on throttle, giving a sense the car is launching rather than driving out of a corner. Once on it, 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 between the corners. It lopes along lazily, overtaking manoeuvres are effortless and, apart from a little wind noise around the mirrors and the constant tyre roar, comfort is at the pointy end of the class.

So Levorg makes sense as a grand tourer. It’s 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 the relationship. s ng ise e t . ble, na oom eal o ship.

PLUS & MINUS

Bodyroll; low-speed ride; tyre roar; no aural excitement; doddering CVT Performance; grip; high-speed ride and handling; big load capacity

ARSE ABOUT 01

CVT’s default driving mode has six pre-set ratio steps, but Sport and Sport# modes, which remap the engine for performance over fuel economy, get eight. We’d prefer it the other way around.

GROUND UP 02

Local suspension tune is built on 225/45R18 Dunlop Sport Maxx tyres specifically chosen for their block pattern, grip and handling over noise suppression.

TOW THE LINE 03

During local development, engineers found the suspension tune lulled them into high cornering speeds with a trailer hanging off the back. The ESC is tuned to account for this.

Automatic choice

Is the lack of a manual option for the Subaru Levorg a mistake? Subaru Australia chief engineer Hiep Bui doesn’t think so.

He points to the success of the CVT-equipped WRX – a popular model among females – as having a strong influence on transmission choice for this model. So don’t hold out hope for a manual Levorg; Bui says it ain’t gonna happen, even on the trick-looking Spec B (pictured above).

OR TRY THESE...

Holden Commodore SS Sportwagon $49,190

Aussie-made load-lugger adds a lot more performance for marginal extra coin over Levorg GT-S. But it’s a much bigger car unlikely to appeal to anyone looking for a Liberty GT replacement. Better tow rig, though.

Skoda Octavia RS230 $45,000 (estimated)

This more hardcore 169kW version of the RS is due in late October, in both sedan and wagon. Underneath, it wears Volkswagen Golf GTI Performance running gear, and there will be a manual gearbox option.