Subaru Levorg: WRX wagon by another name

Subaru’s Levorg performance wagon has finally reached New Zealand, with confirmation that an even wilder sister ship is also coming.


LAUNCHING just one edition of the spiritual successor to the Legacy GT wagon optimises allocation opportunity and also leaves a clear space for a properly fiery flagship.

Subaru New Zealand boss Wal Dumper is confident the $56,990 Levorg GT-S that releases now will sell like hot cakes – and so will the Subaru Technical International flagship he has also signed up for.

It’s easy to understand his optimism about the new car: Regardless that its name is a mash-up the words ‘Legacy’, ‘Evolution’ and ‘Touring’, Levorg really has more in common with another of Subaru’s famous wares, the WRX.

Funnily, Subaru here and overseas prefers to argue there's quite some separation between these models, but it's not an argument that easily washes, so strong is the evidence to the contrary.

For starters, you're looking at a wagon with the engine, chassis and front body structure plucked straight from the legendary turbocharged all-wheel-drive street racer.

You're also looking at a wagon that feels and looks like a WRX. There's a similar spirit in its driving dynamic and a kindred look, with a silhouette that's muscular and hunkered. It also adopts the sedan's swooping snout and hawk-like head lights. So, in short, you're looking at a WRX wagon.

Knowing that buyer interest will come from two quarters -  owners of the old Legacy GT that left sale two years ago and those seeking a properly sporty yet relatively practical carrier that undercuts the otherwise Euro alternates – Dumper has determined to keep the line pure.

So, no base GT or B-Spec options pack, which kits the car in STi-provided trim bits but has no impact on power, as offered in Australia – that would just muddy the water whereas, this way, he can secure the “good stuff” without causing any confusion.

That means a GT-S hotshot with the same 197kW/350Nm 2.0-litre turbo as the up to $53,990 WRX sedan for the now and, ultimately, a racier top dog presumably with the 221kW/407Nm 2.5-litre out of the STi four-door here since 2014 in $59,990 and $64,990 formats.

“The reason that we’ve got a plan to only have one (now) is that it allows us to make the most of the production allocation we’ve been given,” Dumper says.

With Subaru’s production lines running at full pace, by and large to the global swing toward sports utilities that reflects in the Outback currently achieving more than half of the brand’s total sales volume here, the local distributor has had to fight hard to secure just 120 Levorgs for this year; a count it suspects might turn out to be insufficient. Likewise, too, the 200 sales it predicts for next year.

If passion for Levorg burns white hot – and Dumper reckons there is a still sizeable core group of people who will always simply prefer road-tuned wagons – then at least the policy of ordering in one spec allows a greater chance to get more if the opportunity arises.

Who can say it won’t? There’s already thought that the repercussion of Brexit, for instance might diminish interest from the United Kingdom, which Japan generally considers to be the highest-priority right-hand-drive market.

“We wanted to get the highest spec car in the highest volume count that we could. That’s the GT-S,” Dumper says.

He’s already told Japan that NZ will be a starter for the STi, which has already been shown in concept form and seems to be moving at warp speed toward production.

“I still don’t know the exact date of the STi version but I’m confident we will get one. I’m pretty confident we can get it within the next 24 months, perhaps even within the next year.”

With that all sorted, there seemed little point in taking the entry GT - though cheaper, it misses out on the Bilstein suspension that Dumper reckons will be considered a ‘must-have’ by Levorg buyers – or adopting Spec B adornments that are a cost-extra for our neighbour. A car with a few STi trim enhancements is not, he says, the same as full-blown STi.

“I’d rather wait for the real thing so that we don’t create confusion in such a small market.”

While the Levorg GT-S presents as sharp-looking street machine it will not be at all harmed by going even wilder. The STi concept wheeled out for Tokyo looked fantastic with aggressive bodywork, oversized brakes with BBS wheels and an interior borrowed from the STi sedan.

From experiencing the GT-S on central Otago roads and also on Highlands Motorsport Park at Cromwell yesterday, there’s no doubt about the Levorg’s performance and dynamic edge; it’s a pretty good sports wagon, one that imparts all the right kind of feel-good and even a touch of snarl.

Exploring its performance edge was supposed to be the primary reason for being at the circuit, but unfortunately while the car was up to it, the weather wasn’t. The Quinn operation can excel in many areas, but the one factor it has yet to achieve control over is the weather.

The density of the fog over the track throughout our morning stint was about as bad it could get; visibility was so reduced that cars that we knew to be perhaps just 10 metres away were more often heard than seen.

Levorg has the latest edition of the camera-operated EyeSight accident avoidance technology yet even an improved version - with a 40 percent improved length and width of view – of a system which I’ve found to work to operate impressively well in torrential rain and is smart enough to react to brake lights from some distance was rendered impotent by the mist.

Opportunity to lap the circuit did avail, but not at high enough pace to take the car to its limit; a pity since Subaru provides the circuit with WRX sedans for just that aim.

Within the limits that were imposed, the Levorg certainly felt quite handy and nimble for a 1582kg car. Grip and adhesion were never an issue and it seems to have much same delicious steering feel as the highly-recommended donor.

The greater enthusiast focus, of course, will be on the transmission: And with a seven-tenths day not allowing for ten-tenths’ effort, the jury’s still out on that one, sorry.

For years all pukka performance Subarus - including the current WRX - have come with manual gearboxes, but those days are over. Fuji’s commitment to the Lineartronic constantly variable transmission is total when it comes to the Levorg. There’s talk that even the STi will only be a CVT car.

Gearless transmission technology has certainly improved over the years and I’d suggest Lineartronic is the barometer against which all other systems can be measured. It’s as good as a CVT gets. Yet does that make it as good as a manual or a direct shift gearbox? Probably not.

The off-idle torque loading in this application is not much different to that it encounters behind the Outback’s diesel; you get the same sense that’s instantly availing some decent heft.

With the turbo petrol, though, there’s also a noticeable step-up in intensity from above 2400rpm as it approaches the peak output. The CVT is highly competent at covering up any turbo lag below that point and there’s none of the drone you get in some other CVTs that simply try and keep revving in peak power.

Notwithstanding, while this makes it seem a good imitation of a decent multi-speed orthodox automatic, it is questionable if it offers enough of the involvement that enthusiast driver will expect.

While Levorg’s unit operates exactly as it does in the WRX, meaning it offers between six and eight preset ratios depending on the driving mode selected and feels sharpest in the Sport Plus setting, the usual challenge with gearless systems – simply, that they don’t truly feel like gearboxes – still persists.

On first taste, while reactive to selection changes (effected by paddle shift if you prefer), this unit isn’t as incisive or as involving as a decent automated manual. That impression is highlighted by how it steps away from a standstill; it’s fast but not fiery and I’m not surprised that the factory claims 0-100kmh in 6.6 seconds.

There’s getting away from Lineartronic, though – the car will never come with any other choice – and it does have its pluses. The car cruises very quietly when you need it to and the step-less system, especially when placed into its ‘intelligent’ mode, avails opportunity for a more reasonable economy that we’ve come to expect from turbocharged petrol boxer engines. The optimal combined return of 8.7 litres per 100km is a good news story for those who can remember having to feed the WRX beasts of old every 200kms or so.

Being medium-sized and because of its intrusive transmission tunnel, Levorg is probably less suited to carting five full-sized five than the Outback, but has less compromise in respect to boot space, a cited seats-up capacity of 522 litres, rising to 1446 litres with the 60:40 split fold back seats folded down. That’s on par with that offered by the last Legacy wagon. The seats can be folded down via press buttons on either side of the boot. It’s a pity they don’t fold entirely flat. Underneath the floor is a space saver spare, but there looks to be room for a full-size spare.

The instrumentation is familiar yet also seems to provide a bit of a preview of what we will get with the next Impreza sedan, out toward the end of the year. Controls are neatly laid out and you get a seven-inch touchscreen with sat-nav, communication and infotainment function, but still disappointingly lacking in Apple Car Play/ Android Auto compatibility. It also looks very modern and neat – Subaru has really improved on its plastics and soft-touch materials – though the chunky rocker switches for the seat warmers look old-hat compared to the touch-type ones that Outback owners enjoy.

The EyeSight’s enhanced functions include blind spot monitoring and a vision assist element that implements includes a row of LEDs forward of the steering wheel which flash within your peripheral vision to indicate the warning, whether its blind spot, to either side of the car, or a forwards collision. The stereo cameras remain mounted up near the centre-mounted rearview mirror.

There are seven airbags, traction and stability controls with active torque vectoring and the ability to shuffle torque from front to back as required, ABS and electronic brakeforce distribution, rear vehicle detection plus it also comes with a five-star ANCAP safety rating.

What's compelling about Levorg is that it gets the size-versus-sizzle aspect just right. When it launches in mid-July, Subaru will be promoting this as being a 'station wagon with the heart of a sports car.' A perfect summation of its abilities, I feel, though it'd be a pity not to see the word 'WRX' in the small print somewhere.

Without that great one, we wouldn't have this equally talented new option either.