Downsized Subaru load-lugger has some alternative appeal but lacks the perfect mechanical specification to make it a good driver’s car

What is it?

The Subaru Levorg represents a Japanese manufacturer once highly rated for its estate cars returning to heartland territory: this, in short, is an indirect replacement for the Legacy estate. Except that it wouldn’t be much like Subaru to be either normal or predictable – and so, true to form, it’s chosen to try something different.

Smaller than the Legacy it succeeds, the Levorg addresses a demand that the Legacy came to neglect as it grew old. It’s a proper sport tourer – an estate-turned-sporting-GT, roughly in the mould of the old Legacy Spec-B.

Only roughly, though, because instead of a burbling flat six, the Levorg is powered by an all-new 1.6-litre turbocharged flat four petrol engine with relatively modest outputs. The only drivetrain option is a Lineartronic CVT automatic, sending power to all four corners via a clutch-based four-wheel drive system.

There is also only one trim level as far as UK buyers are concerned: £27,495 ‘GT’ specification, which gets you LED headlights, 18in alloys, a partly leather-upholstered cabin and a 7.0in touchscreen infotainment system, making what is already a car with a niche market appeal even more left field than it otherwise would be.

What's it like?

Inside, the Levorg is nice enough in parts but still sufficiently plain and plasticky elsewhere to prevent it from presenting a really tempting alternative to a premium-brand car.

The car’s seats are large and comfy, its black leathers detailed with unusual blue stitching that’s more appealing on the eye than it may sound. Soft-touch mouldings border those leather surfaces to pleasingly tactile effect in most high-level places, but at lower levels the Levorg’s plastics are quite hard, shiny and unappealing. The instruments look crowded, with the fuel and temperature gauges being hard to read. And while Subaru’s Starlink touchscreen infotainment set-up looks good and works well, its split trip computer screens remain hard to fathom.

The Levorg’s second row offers adequate passenger space but nothing outstanding: there’s enough space for two large adults, just. The boot is a good size, though, all 522 litres of it up to the window line, beating plenty of similarly sized wagons. The boot is child’s play to expand, too, with 60/40 split rear seats spring-loaded for easy – and completely flat – folding.

To drive, the Levorg is pacey and moderately good fun at times, albeit undeniably muddled. Underneath the Levorg lies a platform and a goodly chunk of suspension hardware donated from the WRX STi sports saloon – and you certainly know it by the way the car rides and handles.

But while it’s fairly quiet and measured on smooth roads, there’s a heaving firmness about the ride over uneven B-roads that’s a bit unsettling to begin with. The car’s damping, though progressive, is ultimately uncompromising, doing a good job of keeping the wheels on terra firma at all times but making the car pitch and heave unsympathetically over bigger bumps. After a while, you realise that the lack of rebound control isn’t actually going to compromise the car’s stability – it’s just a characteristic of the firm, long-travel suspension. Thereafter, the way the car bounds from crest to crest becomes quite endearing.

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The car handles well – well enough, just about, to represent a selling point to keen drivers. Steering weight is consistent and inspires plenty of confidence and is very well matched to the directness of the steering gear. The car corners very flat and fast, with excellent stability and surefootedness.

But the Levorg’s engine and gearbox are far from what the chassis deserves. Though smooth and refined, the 1.6 turbo’s 168bhp feels only lukewarm on the road. The CVT does a willing but flawed impression of a good paddleshift gearbox when you’re driving keenly, with an elastic and inconsistent shift quality and noticeable transmission whine.

Leave the gearbox in ‘D’ and it’ll do a reasonable job of preserving your forward momentum, but the more you ask of it, the less convincing it seems.

Should I buy one?

Given that genuinely alternative choices seem increasingly rare these days, you might.

For my money, I’d want a proper centre differential and a manual gearbox in my all-wheel-drive Subaru wagon, and the Levorg’s failure to provide either would significantly dent its appeal. I’d want a bit more grunt as well: to this tester, a 168bhp petrol flat four is neither quite one thing or the other.

But, warts and all, the Levorg is certainly different. A Skoda Octavia vRS Estate is a better car in most of the ways that matter to the majority – but it also seems so mainstream and ordinary by comparison as to be almost invisible.

Subaru would clearly prefer to have 100% of a very small market than 1% of a much larger one. And since the former leads towards greater variety, long may it continue to plough its own peculiar furrow.

Subaru Levorg 1.6 DIT GT

Location Skipton, Yorkshire; On sale now; Price £27,495; Engine 4 cyls horizontally opposed, 1600cc, turbocharged, petrol; Power 168bhp; Torque 184lb ft; Gearbox CVT; Kerb weight 1637kg; 0-62mph 8.9sec; Top speed 130mph; Economy 39.8mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 164g/km, 27%

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Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

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superstevie 4 October 2015

I think it is one of Subaru's

I think it is one of Subaru's better looking cars of late. It certainly better looking than some other alternatives out there. It isn't stylish, but different in it's own way. I wouldn't call it ugly. Subaru's have never been a company to make stylish cars.

I do feel this is a car that will sell to the faithful owners rather than bring in new ones.

Gerhard 1 October 2015

Subaru fans will probably

Subaru fans will probably like this, but the WRX crowd clearly do not understand the need for the CVT: it may not easily pass emissions laws with the manual available, it needs the CVT to get anywhere near 40mpg. I would also prefer a conventional 8-speed auto, but Subaru has to get volume from its CVTs.
michael knight 2 October 2015

Gerhard wrote: Subaru fans

Gerhard wrote:

Subaru fans will probably like this, but the WRX crowd clearly do not understand the need for the CVT: it may not easily pass emissions laws with the manual available, it needs the CVT to get anywhere near 40mpg. I would also prefer a conventional 8-speed auto, but Subaru has to get volume from its CVTs.

I don't agree - it doesn't have to be a manual, but at least some form of DSG / paddle-shift auto rather than this screamy, elastic CVT effort. However you cut it, it isn't a sporting gearbox. They've stuck with CVT (as do Nissan) for financial / strategic descisions rather than any huge economy gain they offer, and certainly not for a perfomance drive. GT-R with CVT? though not.

Sam_notts 1 October 2015

Subaru have really lost there

Subaru have really lost there way. They don't seem to know who they are or where they want to be. More or less everyone has past them and evolved.
Paul Dalgarno 2 October 2015

I'm usually polite, but... I can't resist!

Sam_notts has really lost his way with grammar.

On a serious note, it's not a looker is it? How are their other markets going, as they do seem to have lost their mojo.