Station wagons - estates, tourers to the wanker class - have fallen right out of favour. Today, the de facto wagon is an SUV. So it's a brave move to launch any wagon. But at least this one has real potential.
The new Subaru Levorg has some aces up its sleeve: notably awesome WRX performance fundamentals, and benchmark-thrashing value. Here's what I concluded after my first drive:
So, I’m test driving the new Subaru Levorg (world’s stupidest name for an awesome WRX wagon) and it hits me. Suddenly I'm having a quasi-religious revelation: Mercedes-Benz, Audi - brands like that. They’re tantamount to a religious delusion. The salient, central thesis of which is: You must believe, in the complete absence of evidence, that the mystical mumbo-jumbo is all true. And if you do, hey, you’ve got company. It’s a collective mental illness. A global pandemic of gits who think a $70k Merc means they’ve finally made it.
I’m not talking about AMG-this, or RS-that. They’re all awesome cars. And if you can afford one, you can afford to run it. I’m talking about your vanilla Mercedes-Benz and Audi shitboxes that ordinary, non-millionaire mortals aspire to - deluding themselves en masse that they’ll get - objectively - that special car.
If you aspire to that Merc, or that Audi or that Beemer, it’s kinda like this, philosophically:
IS THAT YOU JESUS? IT'S ME, ELVIS...
If I check into a flea-trap motel in Memphis, then eat an In ‘n’ Out Burger and chug half a bottle of bourbon - and I believe I’m actually consuming the body and the blood of Elvis … I’m nuts. Certifiably nuts.
But if I do essentially the same thing in church - cross out ‘Elvis’ and insert ‘Jesus’; make some minor adjustments to the menu - deliver the right allegedly magic utterances - then I’m just a Catholic. My delusion is just as baseless. But, hey, I’ve got company.
Believing in the ‘star quality’ of these mediocre Mercs and Audis, and their intangible alleged superiority, is just as intellectually atrocious.
HOW 'PREMIUM POVERTY' PLAYS OUT
So I’m test driving the Subaru Levorg GT-S - $54 grand, drive away, here in Australia - and I’m going: pretty tight car. It’s the whole family car package, which you can also punt. Really punt.
Very practical. Very satisfying. Subaru has taken a car I love - the WRX - carnally, deeply love, and hitched a wagon on the back. How bad can it be?
LEVORG -VS- SUV
It’s like: Take that, mainstream SUV. If you want an SUV to feel about as emotionally engaging as a tumble drier, drive a Levorg. So: basically a really practical car with a double helping of friggin’ awesome.
And I’m loving it, so I’m going: How would this baby compare with a car many people consider a benchmark?
Like the C-Class? The C250 wagon.
LEVORG -VS- C 250 ESTATE
These are pretty similar cars, on paper. Amazingly similar, on objective fundamentals.
In fact, if you popped out of warp drive and landed here from Proxima Centauri tomorrow, for a weekend of, you know, terrestrial probing, which as I understand it is a very popular alien pastime, which would you conclude is the better car? You know, after probing it extensively, with your extra-galactic sensors? So let’s detain ourselves momentarily with an objective assessment.
The Subaru is 1.2 centimetres shorter, 3 centimetres narrower and 4.8 centimetres taller. That’s a nine centimetres of lineal dimensional difference. Three-point-five inches in the old money - that's nothing in the context of overall automotive dimensions.
So the two vehicles are the same size, essentially. Both with two-litre direct injection turbo petrol engines. One’s a boxer, one’s inline. Both suck the same fuel (95 RON premium). But the Levorg makes 27 per cent more power (at essentially the same revs). And exactly the same flat peak torque response across a band of revs 2800 revs wide.
Levorg is 45 kilos heavier, on tare weight. But it’s not enough to offset the power difference: Levorg’s power-to-weight is 24 per cent in front of the C-Class. That’s a lot. And Levorg drives through all four wheels, so it’s sure as shit going to get off the line faster - especially in the wet. These are objective facts, not some ‘body and the blood of Elvis’ mumbo-jumbo about alleged Merc mystical magic.
You get leather, adaptive cruise control, lane departure, GPS, climate air, proximity key, power folding door mirrors, same warranty, on both cars. So that’s nice. But the C250 comes only with a reversing camera. Levorg adds a side camera vision to that. And Levorg has a standard sunroof and standard fog lamps. That’s three-and a half grand extra on the Benz - not an inconsiderable additional sum at these sorts of pricepoints..
Levorg’s got standard heated seats, with memory for the driver. That’s a grand extra in the C250. And premium paint is about $1500 on the Benz. It’s free on the Subaru. So, let’s see: It’s about $54 grand for the Levorg GT-S.
But the un-optioned C250 is more like $72,000 - and when you add the sunroof and the seats and the paint it’s $78 grand.
C 250 Estate
Length: 4702 mm
Width: 1810 mm
Height: 1442 mm
Power: 155kW @ 5500 rpm
Torque: 350 Nm
Fuel: 95 RON ULP
Length: 4690 mm
Width: 1780 mm
Height: 1490 mm
Power: 197kW @ 5600 rpm
Torque: 350 Nm
Fuel: 95 RON ULP
Side vision camera
Driver memory seat
Premium paint NCO
That’s a $24,000 price hike over the Levorg, with significantly less performance, and less tractive effort every time it rains. And Levorg’s got EyeSight - Subaru’s brilliant camera-based safety system that detects pedestrians, and does other clever stuff. And Consumer Reports in the US is on the record saying the C-Class’s reliability is shit. (I don’t think they actually used that word. I inferred that word. From reading Consumer Reports extensive references that detail just how shit C-Class reliability really is.)
More on the market's dogs and lemons >>
So, people are paying a $24,000 premium - nearly 50 per cent - for an objectively worse car with an allegedly better badge. This is a delusion of religious enormity. I mean, you have to believe the C250 is better in the complete absence of evidence to support this claim.
The premium brands are black holes. They’ve got this immense gravitational field, and plenty of people get sucked in, over the event horizon, into the premium parallel universe where ‘poverty premium’ can actually be aspired to rationally. Belief, bourbon and burgers - and some galvanised wire - that’s all it takes. Is that you, Elvis? It’s me, Priscilla. Are you lonesome tonight? Meanwhile, back on Earth, it’s impossible to justify cars like the C250.
Especially if you’re using using an objective benchmark like the Subaru Levorg.
You can delude yourself into thinking one of these allegedly premium vehicles is superior, but the reality is: Vehicles like Subaru Levorg GT-S, Hyundai Santa Fe Highlander, Kia Sorento Platinum, Mazda3 SP25 Astina, Mazda6 Atenza, etc., are objectively sensational. So sensational they open the bomb-bay doors and take a HALO dump over all poverty premium alternatives, dollar-for-dollar.
They do this simply because contemporary automotive technology is available to all carmakers, off the rack, from external vendors who don’t play favourites. Plus of course the fact that the Germans still just don’t know how to make a good affordable car.
The mainstream brands, to paraphrase the immortal words of Steve Austin’s six million dollar jewish foster father, Oscar Goldman, they have the technology. They’re better, stronger, faster. (You only get this if a) you were alive in the 1970s, and b) you watched the video version of this report.)
The Subaru Levorg is utterly sensational as a stand-alone wagon proposition. (ie: Here's this wagon. What do you think?) It only gets better when you evaluate it against the car many would consider to be clearly ahead in this class.
Suck it up, fan-boys - it’s the truth.
And that's often a painful thing to hear.