Subaru Levorg review & buyer's guide
It’s a WRX wagon. What else do you really need to know?
February 2017 update
The good news: The Subaru Levorg is essentially a WRX wagon. Which means a Levorg is a practical five-seat - well, like most notional five-seaters, Levorg is a practical four-seater with an impractical extra seat for someone you really hate, across the Nullabor - but it’s a practical family car that you can punt. Seriously punt. It’s a WRX wagon. Frankly, it’s friggin’ awesome.
Still thinking about buying the Levorg? Want to know more? My first drive impressions and comparative assessment are in the video, right.
The wagon bit is big enough to be really useful in that ‘landed gentry / breeder’ context. To verify this, for - literally - shits and giggles, I drove north on the freeway for about 45 minutes in the Levorg GT-S spec.B, recently. I picked up 12 - count ‘em - 12 bags of chook shit, for the garden, from one of the local boutique chook shit vendors. (Don’t tell Subaru Australia’s PR guy.)
I must say, for this 'test', it smelled quite distinctive. Nothing I like more than me and the missus, and 12 bags of chook shit crammed in the back like the worst smelling oversized sardines in the fastest tin with Symmetrical all-wheel drive you can imagine, having a punt and hoping like hell nobody Liberaces us from the rear. (Is there any other way to be Liberace’d?).
You want the definition of family friendly practicality - that’s pretty much it.
Compared with an SUV
So if you want a traditional family SUV to feel like a valium enema on top of a Rohipnol milkshake - drive a Levorg first. They’re about the same price. And they’re about as practical - if you don’t need the SUV ground clearance. It’s a WRX wagon. Australian families buy SUVs because … SUVs. Keeping up with the Joneses. Whatever. If you want to overtake the Joneses, on the outside, in the wet, with a one-finger salute as you pass, buy a Levorg.
So, without getting bogged down in it - everything I said about WRX with a CVT >> pertains to Levorg. Performance: about the same. It’s the same powertrain, and there’s only 50 kilos in it - there’s only three per cent in power-to-weight. You’d never even feel it. Goes like a WRX. But there’s 45-series rubber on Levorg and 40 on WRX, and WRX also has one-inch wider wheels - but the same width tyres.
Handling & safety
Levorg just feels crisp and composed. It does what you tell it to. It’s engaging. Its limits are way ahead of most drivers - lots of safety margin there. And it’s got EyeSight - Subaru’s brilliant safety system that gives you fatigue warning, lane departure warning, and adaptive cruise control. Really impressive … slightly annoying. That’s a reasonable tradeoff, if it saves your life one day. I highlighted some of what EyeSight can do in my robot cars report >>
So there’s two-and-a-half different flavours of Levorg. The GT. That’s the base model. Fabric seats, smaller touchscreen - but not poverty. Still gets a proximity key, a reversing camera, and 24 different buttons on the steering wheel. Twenty-four. (I remember that because not even with every finger, every toe and all three wedding vegetables engaged is it sufficient to count them all. And in any case, this is quite a poor excuse with the constabulary for having the wedding vegies out. As it happens.)
Anyway, it’s going to take you a while to become a maestro with that wheel, which is D-shaped. And the shape, frankly, is a fail. Good for a race car, but horrible on a road car where some hand repositioning is required. A triumph of marketing over function there, sadly.
The GT-S adds much of the stuff that Subaru calls ‘Premium’ elsewhere in the lineup: the bigger touchscreen, leather, a side camera assist system, rain-sensing wipers, plus Bilstein suspension bits. It’s about $6000 more for GT-S - a pretty good investment if you’ve got the cash, in my view.
LEVORG GT-S spec.B
GT-S spec.B is like GT-S plus nine STI upgrade bits that are all cosmetic. You get black 18-inch STI wheels - but it’s quite strange seeing STI wheels and no red STI calipers inside them.
Anyway, STI body kit. Red STI starter button. STI reminder on the shifter - like that. It’s $4000 for spec.B - and I’m not totally sold that this is an easy spend to justify. But, hey, if it’s only money…
The point about this is: some people bitch and moan about Subaru putting a CVT in its vehicles - especially in anything with performance intent. But I have to tell you, when you look at getting the power down… If you really want to make shit happen, the engine needs to operate at wide-open throttle and peak power revs. For as long as possible.
You just can’t do that in a manual - imagine all the time you waste changing gears. Imagine all the time you waste away from the critical 5600 ‘make maximum shit happen’ revs. CVTs - if they’re tuned right, and this one is - are just awesome at getting the power down. It might not feel like it, but they are. Bring on the trollshit - I know it’s out there - I can feel it. But there’s the evidence.
One point that deserves a mention. The wing mirrors. Subaru does a brilliant job with this - moving them away from the A-Pillars. And it’s a great move that reduces the visual mass of the bottom of the A-pillar, allowing you to … ummmm … see stuff. Stuff that might kill you. Like a car with a texting driver not paying attention. Clever little bit of detail design. Big tick. Well done, Subaru.
Now - lest you think this review is getting a bit sucky - let’s look at the other side of the coin. Because there is a tail.
That name. Really? Levorg. Was that the best you could do? An alleged portmanteau of the words LEgacy, REvolution touRinG. Not - as it was suggested to me - by someone I won’t name - LEsbian, bREast RinG. In some ways I like that more. As Rodney Rude once said: I’ve seen all their movies. Japanese car companies really need to engage fluent English speakers before making mistakes.
One colleague, who I won’t name - Brett Davis, from performancedrive.com.au - put it to me like this. He said: “Who’s going to wear a ‘Levorg’ jacket?”
They could have called it - I dunno - suggestion from left field - WRX Wagon. WRX Tourer. WRX Estate. WRX Box-on-the-friggin’-back. Anything but Levorg.
Given the immense investment in the WRX nameplate and the unimpeachable, affordable performance pedigree that this badge represents, over 24 years of existence, just speculating, they might have kicked a real goal with that. Especially as there’s currently no WRX hatch.
SPACE SAVER SPARE
So, there’s also a space-saver spare tyre. Not a real win for Australia, with long distances between A and B often traversed on the big family getaway. Undignified, getting a flat, unloading your two dead bodies, 12 bags of chookshit, the two kids you love and the one you hate, sitting in the middle at the back - whatever - and then strapping on a pizza cutter spare tyre, all the way home. At 80 kays an hour...
SERVICE INTERVAL & COST
And the service interval - six months and 10,000 kilometres. I’m certain there’s no engineering or metallurgical justification for that. I’m tipping there’s some fear of a dealer network revolt if the concept of 12-month servicing ever gets seriously mooted. Or the quid pro quo that would be demanded by way of compensation. However, Subaru has a great reputation for looking after its customers. That’s a huge plus, even though servicing’s expensive.
Finally - the CVT. Some people just don’t like it. It might be irrational. It might simply be speculation that CVTs won’t hold up over time. There’s no evidence for that, but I understand the reservation, especially considering all that Nissan and Jatco have done, for example, for reputational damage on the CVT front. And they don’t seem especially happy at low speed against heavy loads - like backing a trailer up a driveway.
So, in the face of this foreseeable reservation in the market, Subaru could have - I dunno - offered a manual transmission. Especially as, fortuitously enough, one is available in the WRX. The R&D equivalent of cutting and pasting. The obvious benefit on the showroom floor being: “Sir I understand your reservation. Can I interest you in the manual?”
Still, these are comparatively minor criticisms, given the WRX-sized serve of ‘awesome’ that comes pre-packaged in every Subaru Levorg. Make mine the GT-S - just a joy to drive. Not to edgy to drive every day, or in traffic. Did I mention it reminded me of a car they could have called the WRX wagon?
So, if you’d like to save thousands on a Levorg, or any other car - hit one of the big red links on this page, or go here >>
It’s what I do. Get new cars cheap, and stress-free (in Australia). CVT haters: please queue in an orderly fashion to the right - the comments field awaits you. And I look forward to reading it.
Bottom line: I’d own a Levorg tomorrow - but not the matching jacket.
Subaru Levorg First Drive & Benchmarking
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.
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- C250 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.