You have to feel sorry for the station wagon, especially from a local context. An anomaly at best in the distant past, with dowdy and boring being the general associated terms, the estate has become an even rarer beast on our roads these days, unloved and largely forgotten in the grand scheme of things.
Never a volume seller, the tilt towards obscurity has undoubtedly been helped along by the shift in fashion, aided by the advent of the SUV, which has largely matched the wagon’s cargo-carrying ability, but with a much trendier lifestyle perspective. The MPV hasn’t helped either, with its more capacious presentation with regards to occupant loading.
Assaulted on many fronts, you’d think that would be the end of it for the wagon, but despite diminishing sales, the idea persists that the body-style has its place in the world, and it does. The type continues to do well enough on the Continent, and it’s still quite a saleable item in the United States and Japan, which is the reason why something like the Subaru Levorg exists.
Targeted primarily for these markets, it’s very much a niche product in ours, joining the odd few mid-level examples that continue to plug along here (the Hyundai i40 Tourer, Mazda 6 Grand Touring and Peugeot 508 SW). We take a closer look at the Levorg to see if it’ll be able to reclaim a bit of ground here for the beleaguered touring.
The Levorg, which derives its name from an amalgamation of the words ‘Legacy’, ‘Revolution’ and ‘Touring’, made its debut in Tokyo three years ago, in what was essentially production-ready form despite its prototype billing. It made its ASEAN debut in Thailand last December at the Thai Motor Expo, finally popping up here in July, tucking in at a shade under RM200k without insurance.
Measuring in at 4,690 mm long, 1,780 mm wide and 1,490 mm tall, it’s not quite a replacement for the fifth-gen Legacy Touring Wagon, but rather a smaller offering based along the lines of the Impreza, underpinned by the same platform used by the latter.
Looks-wise, attempts have been made to ensure the Levorg is not perceived as a wallflower, despite its body-style descriptor. To this end, a bold front-end – complete with a hexagonal-shaped grille and ‘hawk eye’ LED headlamps – signals the automaker’s intent to present it with some sport-like pretensions.
From the side on, it’s a little less edgy, and though the rear tries to emulate things up front, the results aren’t so spectacular to the eye. Still, it’s not all that boring, the overall lines, and while the Levorg can be accused of many things, being dowdy-looking isn’t one of them.
Helping to dress things up further are auto levelling LED headlamps, C-shaped positioning lights, halogen fog lamps, a powered sunroof, power-folding side mirrors with LED turn signals and dual exhaust tips, with dual-tone 18-inch five-spoke alloys – wrapped with 225/45 tyres – rounding off the visual flair.
The Levorg comes in only one flavour for our market, and that’s in a GT-S level trim, powered by a blown 1.6 litre flat-four mill. The FB 16 direct-injection turbo offers decent, if not breathtaking numbers, with 170 PS from 4,800 to 5,600 rpm and 250 Nm of torque from 1,800 to 4,800 rpm being presented. The unit is paired with a six-speed Lineartronic CVT transmission, and Subaru’s Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive system is present for the count.
Inside, there’s little deviation from the Subaru look. The forward part of the cabin is scoped in much the same fashion as the XV, but with a higher degree of sophistication than say, the Outback, though it’s still not remarkable in terms of flair. Thankfully, though drab in tone and dry in scope, trim elements are nonetheless well presented, and fit is good.
For the money, you get black leather upholstery on the seats, a flat-bottomed steering wheel and gear knob, with blue contrast stitching to be found on these as well as on the leading edges of the centre console in an attempt to add some life into things.
Stacked centrally at the top of the dashboard is a dual-colour screen, offering multi-info display readouts. The visual presentation may look familiar, like you’ve seen it somewhere else before – think Lexus, and you’re right on the dot. The familiarity extends to the typeface seen on some switchgear buttons on the steering wheel and console.
Just below the smallish screen resides a pair of air-condition vents, with the control gear for the multi-info display situated between them, followed by a seven-inch touchscreen multimedia unit and rotary dials for the dual-zone automatic climate control system.
The interior kit bag includes an electronic parking brake, paddle shifters, alloy pedals, cruise control, keyless operation (entry, engine start), front/rear USB ports and even seat heaters, not that you’ll need the last here. Elsewhere, there are 60:40 rear-folding seats and 522 litres of boot space with the rear seats in place. Fold these flat and the acreage improves to 1,446 litres.
As for safety equipment, the count consists of seven airbags (dual-front and side, curtain and a driver’s knee), ABS with brake assist, Vehicle Dynamics Control, a high-beam assist as well as a Subaru Rear Vehicle Detection (SRVD), a reverse camera and a tyre pressure monitoring system.
Out on the road, the Levorg isn’t the peppiest thing around, thought the 1.6 litre pot is always game for a go. While a bit raucous in the upper registers, the mill is more than up to the task of hauling the mass about, provided you’re not too demanding. If you keep your perspective tempered, Sport mode can provide a decent enough turn of speed, though the limitations in propulsive qualities are more attributable to the CVT paired with it.
The Lineartronic box is very much a mixed bag. At low speeds, it’s actually quite smooth, with a perceptibly less clunky nature to its behavioural patterns than that seen in previous Subaru outings the team has sampled. However, there’s no escaping the elasticity that has been evident in other applications, and this becomes even more pronounced when the car is pushed, making it all a bit patchy in terms of coherency.
What is more notable is the car’s intrinsic character, or rather the lack of it. The Levorg does everything asked of it very competently, but it’s all presented in a matter-of-fact manner. The tone right through is downright colourless, and the result is a clean, fully rational drive experience.
This ‘no more, no less’ efficiency in its character is not without its pluses. Everything is consistent right through, be it puttering about in heavy traffic or running up the cogs on freeway jaunts, CVT aspects notwithstanding.
If you’re not the sort that puts feel and its associated tonality right on the top of the tick list, the car’s constant outlook from a driving point of view will be a boon, especially with mindless daily commutes. Otherwise, you’d best be looking elsewhere if you prize emotion over method.
The seats – especially the front units – provide good support, and the switchgear, whilst busy in its presentation, offers very little complaint in terms of ergonomics. The head unit feels a bit retro, and is perhaps the only jarring piece of kit to sight. Gets the job done though.
In terms of handling, the steering is light, but as chatty and communicative as a brick, and provided you don’t ask too much out of it plying into corners, offers enough in the way of placement. The taut chassis helps keep everything tidy, with very little attention being called on to the tail and very little weight shift being evident.
Shame that this tautness also flows into the ride, and it never lets up at low-level. Now, suspension and its tuning is much an art as it is science, and there’s no doubting that Subaru knows the particular business well, but that on the Levorg is enigmatic.
Here’s how. In its presentation of the fundamentals, the attempt at giving it a Continental route feels old-school in its portrayal, and uncompromisingly so. The brand’s set-ups in recent offerings have well bordered on the side of firm for the most (save the Forester, so it goes), but the one here is best described as totally unforgiving of road imperfections.
The issue is with its unyielding disposition in relation to the surfaces it has to work with, from a local context. On smoother black-top such as that found in its domestic market, the issue may not even arise. But our roads – or rather the ruts and grossly uneven patches that sometimes pass off as roads – have bamboozled many a setup, and so it is the case here, with the firmest secondary ride felt in a good while from a non-sports oriented offering.
The hardness at low speeds takes some getting used to, and unless you like everything firm and perky it’s all going to be a bit too much to grasp. You can get it to be compliant, but in order to do this you’ll have to add passengers, in this case adopting a full freight train approach.
With one in front and three (or four) at the back, together with a healthy dollop of cargo (groceries and the like) thrown in for good measure, the Levorg begins to feel somewhat plush, but even then, the jiggly character isn’t tuned out, but merely muted, as rear passengers will continue to point out. In any case, this is hardly the way to go about bringing compliance into the picture, especially on a daily basis.
Give it clear road and an open run, however, and the news gets better, because primary ride – over larger bumps – is far more composed, and the car’s poise is unflappable on all but the nastiest dips at high running speeds. If only there was better yield down the line.
Resolute best sums up the Subaru Levorg, which is very much a left-field product, even within its body-style segment. A wagon already isn’t for everyone, and a wagon with a methodical approach and uncompromising ride, even less so, one would surmise.
Still, like with everything else, there will be takers, who will view the above qualities as positives. The question is whether they’d be willing to pay RM199,720 (on-the-road, without insurance) to be unique, walking to a different beat.
After all, the equally-adept Forester facelift presents more variations and price points to consider, and even in its highest-spec configuration, is priced right in Levorg territory. Staying true to this particular idee fixe requires that the one choosing the car has to be equally resolute.