For those of us used to Subarus of old, the Levorg is a curious proposition.

We’re more familiar with its turbocharged engines producing horsepower numbers beginning with a ‘2’ and being mated to manual transmissions or automatics of the conventional variety.

Matt Saunders Autocar

Matt Saunders

Chief tester
Moving the SI-Drive mode buttons from the transmission tunnel to the steering wheel is a good move

But here we are: downsizing comes no more obvious than this, with a 1.6-litre turbo four-pot engine that’s coupled to a continuously variable transmission.

At least it’s still a horizontally opposed four-cylinder engine, although aurally there’s little indication of that – and certainly not in recognised Forester/Impreza fashion.

Instead, it’s just a smooth unit that spins away quietly and, to its credit, effectively. The Levorg’s 0-60mph performance of 8.4sec would be competitive enough – were there an obvious competitor.

The last car of similar size and power we drove – a Ford Focus wagon with a 148bhp 1.5-litre engine – couldn’t be coaxed to 60mph in any less than 10.0sec, even with a manual gearbox.

Certainly, the fact that the Levorg offers a broad spread of torque – and from only 1800rpm – can make the engine feel like a larger and more sprightly unit than its size suggests.

Frequently a small engine with a boosted output can feel a bit laggy as its turbocharger takes a moment to spin into life, but throwing the CVT into the mix masks this characteristic completely.

Throttle response is thus hardly sharp, but we suspect it wouldn’t matter a great deal how quickly the engine picked up, given what it’s mated to.

If you’re just mooching around, the transmission resides in its continuously variable mode, during which it’s as smooth and unobtrusive as any transmission in Christendom.

But there are also six preset ratios that allow it to do a passable impression of a conventional automatic, to give a more naturally accelerative feel than when keeping the revs at the disheartening constant drone of peak power.

There are two modes. If you’re in ‘i’, you’ll need to push past 35 percent accelerator travel in order to get the transmission to behave like a normal auto, while in ‘s’ you only have to push past 30 percent throttle, not that any of our testers could discern much difference.

Or, by assuming control with the steering wheel paddles in either mode, you can ask it to lock up into a set ratio – which it does fairly well, except when slurring ratio changes initially.

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