► Full Subaru Levorg road test
► Impreza-based, petrol-only
► UK first drive and verdict
Is Subaru’s car range the most confusing line-up currently on sale? I’d argue it is. The new Levorg is a case in point – it’s another muddy estate car with a similar country squire vibe to the Outback, XV and Forester.
All take the brand’s full-time four-wheel drive system and boxer engines and wrap them in typically boxy, no-nonsense Subaru estate/crossover attire. Only by recourse to silhouette and tape measure can you discern much difference.
So how is the Subaru Levorg different to other Scoobys?
Prepare to play a game of Wagon Wheels. At 4690mm long, this Subaru estate is a good five inches shorter than the Outback (née Legacy family) and ten longer than the compact XV wagon. It bridges a small but discernible gap, the company says. With a single engine and transmission combo to choose from – you can have any engine you like, so long as it’s a turbocharged 1.6 petrol auto – it’s a curiously idiosyncratic thing.
In fact, Subaru admits the Levorg doesn’t have many direct rivals. When pushed, they name certain specs of four-wheel drive Volvo V40 and Mazda 6 estates. But then, striking it out alone has always been one of the key attractions of the Subaru brand. They’re like the deliberately alternative kid at school.
From many angles, especially the rear, the new Levorg is an attractive, almost conservative estate car. Subaru says it fills the hole left by the ever-growing Legacy/Outback family – a sort of throwback to the popular 2003-08 Legacy seen on many a Norfolk coastline and at horsey events across Britain.
But from up front, you get a taste of its underpinnings. That distinct, gaping air intake atop the bonnet signals that this car is in fact powered by the chassis from the rather more uncouth Subaru Impreza range.
Sadly no rally-bred-nutter powertrain here, though; instead there’s the decidedly small, downsized 1.6-litre four-cylinder boxer engine breathed on by a twin-scroll turbo to pump out 168bhp from 4800-5600rpm and a chunky 184lb ft of torque all the way from 1800-4800rpm. No diesel engines are planned.
How does the Levorg drive?
It feels like a proper Subaru, with some added bells and whistles. There’s keyless entry and ignition, for starters – so you just jump in and go. It’s easy to see out (boxiness does have its virtues) and the Levorg is a good size to position on even tighter country roads.
Can you tell it’s based on the oily bits of an Impreza? Yes and no. It rides with that characteristic Subaru plump – softening most UK roads’ bumps and lumps, despite the 225/45 R18 Dunlops’ sporting bias. But the steering has a strange floaty softness to it; the Subaru Levorg just isn’t as darty and agile as the more focused Imprezas. It makes for a relaxing car to drive, but thrills are few and far between.
Performance, tech specs
With 168bhp and 184lb ft of twist, the Levorg is no sluggard, but it can feel its 1531kg heft up hills. One major disappointment: you’ll be hard-pushed to tell it’s powered by a horizontally opposed four-pot. The boxer engine revs smoothly, for sure, but it has precious little character. Traction, as you’d expect with the permanent 4wd system, is peerless.
The standard Lineartronic continuously variable transmission (CVT) may well deter you, but this is one of the better gearboxes of its type. Six stepped ‘gears’ make it feel far more like a proper torque-converter ‘box and in auto mode you’ll struggle to spot the difference; start nudging the standard paddle-shifts manually and you’ll notice gearchanges are softer and more slurred – a drunkard’s gearchange to the precise clip of the best twin-clutch gearboxes.
Is it still made of cereal box cardboard and Lego plastic inside?
Ouch. Telltale signs that Subaru spends more on tech than touchy-feely include the aftermarket-looking alarm sensors and wobbling LED, the comedic trip computer switchgear, the flimsy loadcover… But Subaru is beginning to address its interior quality. The cabin is largely well made and, while there are still some brittle plastics borrowed from Duplo, it has a pleasingly solid heft to it and the 7in touchscreen sat-nav is now designed to match Europe’s best. Gone are the days of chronic Japanese-spec mapping and unfathomable electronic menus to access simple info.
It’s roomy front and rear (a special mention to the epic rear headroom and comfy leather front seats) and the boot is hugely practical to shove your muddy labradors in: there’s no lip, it’s a good square shape and 522 litres of space will swallow your pheasant haul and shotgun paraphernalia after the Saturday shoot. An added neat touch is how the rear seats flop down at the tug of a lever in the boot (handy for any roadkill you need to take back to the farm).
The Subaru Levorg is destined to be a niche player. Its 1.6 petrol turbo auto status will see to that, with its attendant 164g/km CO2 rating and 39.8mpg combined fuel consumption (subtract ten off that figure in the real world). Subaru is only targeting around 500 sales a year in the UK, though – and those Scooby faithful who do take the plunge will find a decent wagon, just one that rubs against the grain of market trends. A true Subaru, then.