ROAD TEST: Subaru Levorg GT
Confession time. I love Subarus.
I've had two Legacys, more Imprezas than many people have had cars and have long hankered after owning a fab Forester and the range-topping Outback, having driven one 1,200-miles to the Alps a couple of years ago. I love their low slung horizontally-opposed rumbly Boxer engines, that famously grippy symmetrical all-wheel drive system, their practicality, generosity and the fact they're just a bit different, quirky... unique even. It's a characterful, heady cocktail I'll gladly take a long pull on until I pass out.
But even as a die-hard Subaru flag waver, I admit to being a tad confused when they announced the arrival of the Levorg, a sporty family estate GT car to sit in a range with two great, much loved, sporty family estate GT's in it already.
And the name. Dear God, the name. Why?
Still, prejudice is a terrible thing, especially in motoring journalism (not that it stops most car hacks), so I was genuinely excited when the Levorg was delivered to Road Magazine HQ for a decent road test run to the glorious and suitably Subaru country of the Brecon Beacons.
And it instantly make a positive impact – hitting us with the shock truth that it's far better looking than its press pictures, is seriously slammed to the deck and clearly expertly finished.
And all for £26,655 OTR.
And we're pleased to confirm it's more than worthy of wearing the infamous scooby scoop.
In fact, the Levorg knocks on surprisingly well – producing a swifter than expected turn of speed from its diminutive 1.6-litre, 168bhp boosted Boxer DIT power plant.
This modern engine manages to strike a good balance between speed and economy, even if the distinctive flat four rumble exhaust tones are sadly lacking. And its figures of 8.9-seconds to 62mph, 130mph v-max and just shy of 40mpg average all seem perfectly plausible, although we managed mid-30s on our admittedly very hilly and quite spirited 650-mile test.
What does take a bit more getting used to is the only available transmission, a "6-speed" Constant Velocity Transmission (CVT), lineartronic unit.
First things first, this is undeniably very, very clever (varying torque and mimicking gear changes to keep you in peak power or eco rev bands to suit throttle load, speed and driving style) and it's also very much on message for its lowering emissions purpose and to suit the Japanese and EU Levorg demographic.
But... and it's a big but... it makes a slightly strained noise under serious load and is also sometimes painfully slow to react, even in 'manual' paddle shift mode, as well as being a tad lurchy.
Worse of all, it often detracts you from what is otherwise a fun and focused driving experience.
That said... there are times it's jolly easy to live with, taking the strain very well on a long motorway run and through cities. And sometimes it really does suit the Levorg, and the overly congested C21st roads it lives on. But out in the quite Beacons, on some of the UK's coolest, quietest mountain roads, it's less at home, which is surely not very Subaru now, is it?
It's a Marmite moment I guess... a necessary modern evil?
Still, I'd rather have a slick, snicky Subaru six-speed manual in there, to enjoy making the most of the broad spread of torque generated by the modern 1.6-turbo engine.
What is not in question is the handling, which is nothing short of superb, as the BTCC drivers will testify to.
Being so low slung, the low centre of gravity created by the Boxer engine and symmetrical gearbox configuration combined with literally perfect damping from a seriously sorted Subaru suspension set-up, great geometry and sublimely weighted steering with fabulous feeling makes piloting the Levorg a dream.
And with the grip limits of the talented chassis and excellent tyres being way above the power levels, you can spank the Levorg flat out, everywhere, and it won't miss an apex.
It's wonderfully neutral, brilliantly balanced and feels a hell of a lot more agile, nimble and accurate than a 1,500Kg estate car should do really.
And in this age of faux-four-wheel-drive, it's a genuinely fabulous feeling to be driving a car with a proper, full-fat, hairy-chested all-wheel-drive system that works this well.
Subaru, please never stop playing this card! It's a prile...
Inside, the Levorg is arguably the best-built Subaru ever, with a finish that's enough to satisfy the picky demands of a BMW 5-Series owner, and a generosity of standard specification that would make him or her fall to the ground in tears. You want for nothing inside and the new infotainment system is spot-on, very user-friendly and features the clearest and most useful reversing camera we've ever tested. Anyone who thought Subaru's are all a bit low rent should get into a Levorg to be proved wrong. The finish, quality, spec and intelligent, practical and useful layout is better than the latest Range Rover, costing four times as much. Comfier too.
What's not to like about the Levorg then?
Well, the CVT is a shame in my view: But maybe you'd learn to love it and drive around it's flaws/quirks and discover more benefits over time?
And the lack of fine flat four noises could be sorted with an aftermarket exhaust, should you be so inclined (when will I ever grow up?).
But one thing that can't be altered is the ride height: It's very low. And whilst that's a great thing on the road, if you think this is a Subaru happy in a field – the "farmer's choice" of old – think again. It'd get stuck the moment you went through the gate, not 'coz its AWD couldn't cope, 'coz it's slammed so low.
And, for that reason, I'm out!
I liked the Levorg (although I could never get used to saying that name out loud...), a lot. More than I thought I would. It's a great car that's very nice to drive, is practical to own and easy to enjoy. And I really did love the comfort, practicality, luggage/passenger/driver space, cubby holes, modernity, grip levels and its first class steering and agility... a lot.
But I reckon – gun to the head – I'd still rather have an Outback or Legacy, with a lovely, chunky Subaru manual gearbox. The "King of the Crossover" does everything so, so well, is just a fast and grippy (if not as sharp), even more frugal, even bigger, better equipped and costs only a few K more.
That said... if you're in the game for a fine, fun, fresh and frugal family car with good modern look and outstanding handling and have no absolutely desire to go in a field, or change gear ever again... then the quirky Levorg is 100% worth a look and is certainly another worthy addition to Subaru's fabulous fleet.