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2016 Subaru Levorg – Car Review – is the GT Legacy born again?

2016 Subaru Levorg – Car Review – is the GT Legacy born again?

I must admit to being keen to get behind the wheel of the Levorg. When I saw the press release late last year, the shape took my fancy straight away. It’s got that Subaru performance car look, and is different yet good looking – at the front at least. That WRX-lookalike bonnet scoop…mmmm.

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Add to the mix 197Kw of 2.0-litre boxer turbo power and I’m ready to start drooling. Good looks, power and luxury. Apparently the name Levorg is made up of three words; LEgacy, reVOlution, and touRinG. Feel free to use info that in conversation around the water cooler. Actual views on the name differ from people I spoke to, from ‘it’s ok’, to other less printable opinions. It could be a whole lot worse though, and I can see how they derived the name. But Levorg? Sounds like an Elton John song.

Keep in mind it’s only available in a wagon, and even then in New Zealand only in one model: the $56,990 CVT-only 2.0 GT-S.

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According to recent advertising, this is “the sports car you can use for sports”. Subaru tells me the Levorg is the ‘spiritual successor’ to the Legacy GT wagon. Man, those are some big boots to fill. The GT Wagon has almost cult status.

Would the Levorg live up to my expectations in the flesh, and driving it?

First Impressions

When I went to pick up the Levorg, it was in my most non-favourite colour: dark grey. This simply does not do the car justice. It’s available in a stunning metallic red (and I really mean stunning), two blues and an awesome ‘Crystal Black Silica’, but this press car? Grey. On a wet Wellington day, the car suddenly faded into the other traffic when I left the dealership. There’s a word I want to say, but just can’t – but it starts with B and ends in ing. You get the picture.

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Still, the shape is nice. In the flesh, it’s a fresh look, but obviously belongs to the Subaru family. Approaching the car from the front, your eyes are drawn to that wide air scoop, under which lives a decently-sized intercooler. It’s one of those things that other car people will recognise straight away: this thing has some power. There’s some nice frontal design cues around the headlights, with fog lights and DRLs all in a vertical row, with a tasteful amount of chrome thrown in. Similar to other designs, but just that little bit more stylish. The rear of the car has some performance design cues thrown in too, and it looks sporty but not too much different from the pack.

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I love the fact that the Levorg has quarter light windows! Most manufacturers just fill in that space with the mirror, but the Levorg has actual glass there, with the mirror more rearward. It looks good, and it lets in more light. Let’s hope we see this feature more often.

Side on, this could be another Japanese or a Korean-branded car – it doesn’t look bad, but it doesn’t stand out. It’s a bit the same at the rear too – definitely Subaru, but also very similar to other wagons.

In the driver’s seat, your first impression is that bonnet bulge. While it isn’t dominating when you look out the windscreen, your eyes are drawn to it.

The Inside

This is one well-equipped wagon. There’s not much that the Levorg does not have – I think a power tailgate and power passenger’s seat is about it. The list of standard equipment is pretty long, and bear in mind, there’s just one model so you get it all.

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This includes a power tilt/slide sunroof, adaptive cruise, blind spot detection, front-side camera, reversing camera, USB ports (front, centre and rear), Siri integration, auto headlights and wipers, full leather interior, keyless entry and push-button start, 8-way power driver’s seat with 2 memory settings, power-folding exterior mirrors, 7” main touchscreen, driver’s 4.3” information display, self-levelling LED headlights, Lane Departure Warning, Bilstein suspension, Subaru Intelligent Drive (SI-DRIVE), Rear Cross Traffic Alert, electric rear seat release, auto-dimming interior mirror, voice command, full-size spare, Hill Start Assist, High Beam Assist, electric park brake with auto-off and SatNav; all for $56,990. That represents pretty good value.

The front seats are one of the better features of the car – excellent side support, super-comfy and they look great too. The front seats are finished off with some tasteful blue stitching, and this is carried over to the steering wheel, centre console, shifter and the top of the dash – as well as on all the leather-trimmed door panels. It adds that touch of class and lifts what would otherwise be just a black interior.  During our testing of the Levorg, I must admit the heated seats got a hiding.

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Often I would just turn the seat on and ignore the AC.

The rear seats too are pretty comfy, but with only an average amount of legroom compared to others in this segment. It’s nice to see that the rear seats can recline a bit. There seems to be quite a few cars in this price bracket with fixed angle rear seats, and often that angle is not that comfortable.

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Sitting in the driver’s seat, everything that comes to hand has a quality feel about it. There are some nice materials used in the Levorg and you won’t be left feeling like you are in a rep-mobile. Visibility out from the interior is excellent – looking over your shoulder for lane changes is a breeze. The interior on our test car was finished in black below the door lines, and then beige above – up the pillars and the headlining. This made such a difference to the feeling of airiness in the car.

Like some other manufacturers, the top of the centre console slides forward to become an arm rest. I wish more cars did this – it’s just a nice simple feature that’s much appreciated when you use it.

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The Levorg also comes with Subaru’s “EyeSight Assist Monitor LED” system, which is 3 LEDs at the base of the windscreen. They use the Eyesight system to give you advance warnings of things like lane sway, lane departure, adaptive cruise control function and emergency braking conditions. It seemed like a gimmick at first, but after while I came to appreciate them. Saves looking down at the driver’s information display at least, but it does feel like a Poor Man’s HUD.

Subaru's Eyesight system's cameras can be seen at the top of the windscreen

Subaru’s Eyesight system’s cameras can be seen at the top of the windscreen

Speaking of the Eyesight system, this is now in its 3rd generation and apparently can ‘see’ much further and wider than before. Basically it uses two cameras placed on either side of the interior mirror instead of using a radar system, like most other manufacturers. It doesn’t seem any better or worse; I did have one issue with it one morning when the windscreen was covered it ice – it turned itself off. Still that only lasted five minutes and it was all go again. It meant no emergency braking assistance, lane departure etc for that time though. I survived.

The steering wheel on the Levorg has 17 buttons, which have a total of 24 functions (not including the paddle shifters). That’s a lot – but it does seem to work OK on the whole. I found it strange that there’s two separate buttons for switching from Normal mode, to S1 (Sport) mode or use another button to switch on S# (sort of a Sport Plus) mode – just like the Forester. I would have thought just a single button could cycle through those 3 things – on the other hand, aesthetically it matches the other side of the steering wheel.

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The volume up/down button was my least favourite on the steering wheel – it is a four-way rocker that’s used for track up/down as well. But it’s just a bit fiddly, so often I found myself leaning over and using the volume knob on the stereo, which seemed a bit pointless. The wheel itself has a flat bottom to be sporty, and the feel of the leather-bound wheel is superb – great to the touch, with just the right amount of grip.

I think Subaru have really missed the mark on the driver’s information display. The Levorg has SatNav, but you don’t get any directions right there, in front of the driver’s eyes – they are only shown on the main central display (and through the stereo of course). Also, the range of functions of the display for the driver is limited to speed, time travelled, Sport mode (I, S or S#)…and that’s it. Pretty slim pickings. I would have thought for a performance wagon, there would at least be some performance information you could access. There is some, like boost pressure and AWD system function, but they are on the top-centre display in the middle of the dashboard itself.

Speaking of the upper-central display – there’s some good and not so good points here too. Like the Forester we tested, the Levorg has a 7” touchscreen central display for audio, phone and SatNav, and also has another 4” display at the-centre of the dash. For this one you can show some things like turbo pressure, accelerator angle, fuel economy, AC settings, outside temperature, clock, and AWD function. It also displays the view from the front-side camera that’s mounted on the passenger’s mirror, so when reversing you can see the front-left of the car too.

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In fact, you can switch this side camera on when driving at any speed, and it stays on for five minutes or so then just turns off. The problem here is that the button to cycle through the different options for this top display is between the top air vents, just below the display. So it’s high up and far away. This meant (for me) I didn’t bother changing the settings often, as it’s just not convenient, and it’s a bit of a stretch to get to the button. It would have made more sense to use the buttons under the steering wheel that control the driver’s info display to be able to change this display too.

The audio system is just OK, but bordering on not-very-good. A bonus point for the Levorg here is the CD player: it actually has one. I’m seeing less and less CD players in cars now, so good on Subaru for including one. It comes with the almost-mandatory USB port for audio too, and accepts Micro SD cards as well. The problem with the audio system is the sound quality – there’s not much quality to it.

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The boot is fairly roomy – I expect at the expense of rear legroom – and it’s nice to see a full-size spare under the covers. Actually the boot is bigger in volume than the Forester!

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The Drive

When I picked the Levorg up, it was a wet, wild day. Hmmm I have an AWD, 197Kw (premium gas only thanks) performance wagon – what I am going to do? Take it to my Favourite Handling Road, naturally. With tight 20km/h corners and this wild weather, I knew the road would be quiet (it was).

So in a car I just jumped in to, this was going to be a good test. Could Subaru’s sure-footed AWD wagon be upset on some tight and wet bends by an unfamiliar driver?

It handled beautifully. The car sat almost flat, and was (mostly) super-composed when I pushed it. Steering feedback was excellent, brakes equally so – the feeling from the brake pedal gave me lots of confidence in this car I had only been driving for 30 minutes, and yet was pushing it along at a good pace.

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All was not rosy though. When really pushed on tighter corners, the front end went a bit wide and tyre scrub from the 225/45 R18 tyres was evident. But this wasn’t at normal speeds – then again, this is a performance car. It’s no go-kart, but it is a fun drive all the same.

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I did manage to get the Levorg to fishtail at one point, but it was flying through two inches of standing water on a corner, so I can forgive it for that. It caught me out a bit, but that was the only time it actually wasn’t totally composed or controllable. Even with the tyres scrubbing, it was easy to get control back.

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Turbo lag started off being an issue when pushing the car. If the revs dropped too low coming out of a tight corner, the car bogged down on acceleration. It wasn’t five seconds or anything like that, but it did make smooth, fast driving a bit difficult. I found the solution though – I slipped the transmission into manual mode and use the paddle shifters – sorted. Now the car sang coming out of the bends – in fact, the boxer growl with a turbo was so nice, I think it may have affected my fuel consumption (it did).

Keep in mind this spirited driving was with the car in ‘Intelligent’ mode, which is the standard setting for Subaru’s ‘SI Drive’ system. I didn’t want to try it in Sport or Sport Sharp mode for my first drive. Either of these modes may reduce the turbo lag without resorting to using the paddles. That can wait for another day.

I mentioned the handling was flat – it’s worth mentioning again. There is some body roll, but it’s minimal. I mention it again as the ride is excellent – better than many cars that aren’t performance orientated.

This car is fitted with Subaru’s ‘Lineartonic 8-speed automatic’. So this means it’s actually a CVT, that acts like an 8-speed automatic (Subaru calls it Stepped Shifting) – but only when the car is in Sport mode. According to Subaru, when you then switch it to Sport Sharp mode, the transmission “dedicated eight-step cross ratio shifting” instead of the pretend 8-speed auto in Sport mode. Does it work in reality? With the Forester, it did not.

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Fast forward 7 days, and it’s a sunny day – time to take the car on the same road now that I’m comfortable with it, without rain and using S# mode. The CVT verdict? Better. Two things were revealed on this test driving morning: that CVT is much better in S# mode – it’s still no 8-speed auto, but it tries hard to be one. The second thing is the handling. Yes it sits fairly flat when pushed through a sharp corner, but I am surprised on just how much tyre squeal I was getting, uphill and down. In the wet, the tyres just scrubbed when pushed too hard, but in the dry – while still fun – there was much more tyre squeal than I had expected – then again, I was pushing it along quite a bit. Does it handle well? Yes, very much so. Is it a WRX? Definitely not. Still, in 99% of driving it’s excellent. It’s just that last bit of control in a sharp bend where I found it wanting.

Just driving around town, the Levorg is in its element. With 197Kw, you can get a very satisfying push in your back when accelerating away from the lights and the transmission is more fit for purpose. The problem is, with 197Kw, you want to use that power. Sure the Levorg could be quite economical, but I think for most people it won’t be – the temptation to use the gas is just too tempting. During my week and a half with it, I averaged 9.8l/100km over 650km of use, and that was a solid 50/50 mix of open road and around town – and leaning more towards open road driving. The claimed is 8.7 and I am sure that is achievable with a lighter right foot.

Switching the car from Normal mode straight into S# (which stands for S Sharp, by the way) transforms the Levorg from Willing Performer to an Eager Beast. Now, you have instant throttle response, and gear changes are much improved. It’s a grin-inducing change in the car, and you may want to leave it in S# the whole time, but this will mean you will use more throttle and then more gas.

There is also the S1 mode, which is a halfway-house between Normal and Sharp modes.

In fact, this whole car is a pretty smooth operator. Wind noise is very well controlled, and the whole car oozes smoothness. This is a model of NVH done right. The thrum of the boxer motor is almost non-existent, unless you are giving it a hiding. Some people might prefer to hear that engine a bit more, but that’s a personal choice.

Rob’s View

I really enjoyed the Levorg. It’s very quiet and refined, comfortable, handles well and has some decent power. It’s the sort of car I can imagine jumping into, driving to Auckland and feeling just fine at the other end, having had some real fun along the way. A proper Grand Tourer.

It has a quality interior, and I loved the blue stitching. I’d have to replace the stereo speakers though, they had a tinny quality that put my teeth on edge. The engine makes a lovely sound when pressing on a bit, and I love that you can hear the turbo whistling, something that’s usually almost silent in modern turbos.

All-in-all a great package, and good value for the performance, equipment and quality.

The Competition

Brand / Model Engine Power

(Kw/Nm)

Claimed Fuel L/100km 0-100km/h, seconds Price Highest to Lowest
Skoda Superb TSI AWD 2.0 lire 4-cylinder turbo 206/350 7.1 5.8 $63,990
Subaru Levorg AWD 2.0 litre 4-cylinder turbo (Boxer) 197/350 8.7 6.6 $56,990
Ford Mondeo Titanium 2WD 2.0 lire 4-cylinder turbo 177/345 8.6 n/a $55,190
Skoda Octavia TSI RS AWD 2.0 lire 4-cylinder turbo 162/350 6.4 7.1 $53,490

The pros and cons

Pros Cons
  • Ride/handling compromise
  • Engine/performance
  • Value for money
  • Equipment levels
  • Brakes
  • Seats
  • Overall smoothness
  • Cargo space
  • CVT in daily use
  • CVT in a performance car…just no
  • Some ergonomics
  • Bland looks when grey
  • Rear legroom not great
  • Audio system

What we think

The Levorg is a competent and quick sports wagon. I would happily live with this car every day, knowing that under your right foot there’s some serious power available if you need, or want it.
It rides beautifully, handles very well and it’s a nice looking wagon from some angles.
Price-wise, it represents excellent value and an alternative to some of the euro AWD wagons on offer.

Here’s the thing for me with the Levorg: it’s not revolutionary as part of its name suggests. It’s a damn nice car and I expect any buyer would be happy with it. But ground-breaking or revolutionary? No.

Don’t dismiss it though – this is a car worth adding to your list if you are in the market for a quick family wagon. Drop the kids at soccer and then head off to some twisty bits for your own morning of fun.

Oh for a 6-speed manual version…or just a proper 8-speed automatic.

Rating – Chevron rating out 4 of 5

Chevron_4out5

Vehicle Type Mid-size wagon
Starting Price $56,990 + on road costs
Tested Price $56,990
Engine Horizontally-opposed, 4-cylinder, 4-stroke, turbocharged, petrol engine
Transmission 8-speed Subaru Lineartronic Transmission (SLT) with manual mode
0 – 100 kph 6.6 seconds
Kerb Weight 1617 kg
Length x Width x Height 4690 x 1780 x 1490 mm
Cargo Capacity 1446 Litres
Fuel Tank 60 litres
ANCAP Safety Ratings 5 stars
Warranty 3 year unlimited KM warranty

 

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