What is it?
Different - but then you’d expect that from Subaru. The Levorg is something of a reprise, Subaru admitting that it didn’t look at the previous Legacy wagon as a starting point - customers found it too big and ungainly - but the popular fourth-generation model before it. A greatest hits tourer, then, with the benefit of some of Subaru’s latest technology.
That includes a new aluminium 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder boxer engine, which delivers 167bhp and 184lb ft. Of course there’s asymmetrical four-wheel drive with a drive split of 60/40 front to rear here, and Subaru’s Lineartronic CVT automatic transmission, too.
All of which makes the Levorg a niche proposition, as ever, but Subaru admits to aiming the car at buyers who might otherwise have bought a Mazda 6 Tourer or a Volvo V60. That, and its hardcore of customers who simply wouldn’t drive anything else.
Japanese domestic market customers get a 2.0-litre turbocharged model with 296bhp, but they’ll not be rolling on the freighter ships and sailing West anytime soon - officially at least. That’s despite Subaru Europe saying that, when surveyed, people still associate the firm with its smokin’ gold-wheeled blue cars. Subaru is still trying to kick that habit, so the asymmetrical four-wheel drive here is for safety, pragmatism instead coming to the fore.
What's it like?
You cannot argue with the Subaru’s focus on practicality. The packaging is impressive, Subaru managing to create a usefully shaped and accessible boot, and loads of passenger space front and rear within a relatively compact footprint.
The build quality is of a robustness common to all Subarus, although here there’s some soft-touch tactility that shows they’ve been listening to the press's criticism. Hard plastics are evident, they just require more commitment to find, and doing so will reveal that the Levorg is also the most USB-socket-equipped car we’ve ever encountered - we counted six throughout the cabin. The infotainment system comes straight from the Outback and works commendably well, while the driving position is good and the all-round visibility is impressive.
The Levorg is intended to be robust, practical and enjoyable, says Subaru, with agility and stability considered to be safety boosts as much as the car's electronic driver aid. This car doesn't get Subaru's full stereo-cameraed 'Eyesight' adaptive cruise control, autonomous emergency braking and pre-collision warning just yet. Much is made about its handling, though, with Subaru claiming to have benchmarked the Levorg with cars such as the Audi S3 and its own BRZ - and the results are tangible.
With a short, testing handling track at hand in Stockholm, the Levorg demonstrated fine body control, with ambitious cornering speeds resulting in very little body roll. It’ll need a run on UK roads to really ascertain what that means for the ride, but seeking out what few lumps and bumps there were on the test track seemed to suggest that Subaru has achieved a decent ride. The power-assisted steering is an electrically powered rack and pinion set-up, which is weighty yet gives little real information. Combined with that, fast cornering does leave you guessing how much grip is available.
You’ll give up pushing before reaching the point it understeers, so the Levorg is best enjoyed at more sedate speeds. That’s largely down to the transmission, which despite its six stepped ratios, does intrude with a characteristic CVT belt noise. It automatically changes to the stepped mode when you push the accelerator past 35% of its travel in standard 'I' mode, while selecting S mode makes those ‘gears’ arrive with just 30% of accelerator input. The transmission is undoubtedly the weakest link in the Levorg’s make up, and shifting via paddles does little to help to speed things up. No question that it’d be a better drive with a standard manual transmission or a dual-clutch automatic gearbox, both of which might give that new engine more chance to shine.
The new 1.6-litre boxer engine is smooth; indeed it’s perhaps too quiet for the type of buyer who’s seeking out the Levorg for its interesting technical make-up. Peak torque arrives at 1800rpm and hangs on for another 4000rpm. It's a shame, then, that the engine’s output is stymied by the transmission, and its CO2 looks high compared to its similarly powered, front-wheel-drive rivals. With power and torque figures close to, and in the case of torque better than, Subaru’s 2.5-litre naturally aspirated unit, it’s inconceivable that the engine won’t be rolled out across more Subaru models in time.
Should I buy one?
As an all-weather, any-condition alternative family estate - maybe. Four-wheel drive makes for plenty of traction, the asymmetrical system being able to split its power 50/50 front/rear as a maximum, and the Levorg feels surefooted and safe if not particularly exciting.
But beyond that alternative appeal, the Levorg is a difficult car to recommend against conventional rivals. The Subaru’s strength remains its individuality, which does means there’s a limited audience for it. The 500 or so largely private buyers Subaru UK anticipates in its first year will love it for all of Subaru’s usual qualities, but it’s difficult to imagine many floating voters picking it over a Mazda 6 or a Volvo V60.
Subaru Levorg 1.6 GT-S
Location Stockholm, Sweden On sale July Price £25,000 (est) Engine 4 cyls horizontally opposed, 1600cc, turbocharged, petrol Power 167bhp at 4800-6500rpm Torque 184lb ft at 1800-4800rpm Gearbox CVT automatic Kerb weight 1551kg 0-62mph 8.9sec Top speed 130mph Economy 39.7mpg (combined) CO2/tax band 164g/km, 27%