Subaru Levorg Estate (2015 - ) review
The Subaru Levorg is a four-wheel drive estate car, offered exclusively with a petrol engine and an automatic transmission. That gives it very few direct rivals, but will also limit its appeal
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If you’re getting a spot of déjà vu when looking at the front end of the Levorg, there’s a good reason; up to the windscreen pillars, the Levorg looks virtually identical to another Subaru model, the sporty WRX STI. That means sharp details and a huge, gaping bonnet scoop, which conspire to deliver a decidedly muscular appearance. The lines become rather more functional the further back you go, but for an estate car, the Levorg still cuts quite a racy shape thanks to a roofline that drops away gently towards the rear. A roof-mounted spoiler and a beefy-looking rear bumper complete the effect, and the whole thing is garnished with extra touches including 18-inch alloys, sparkly LED headlamps and rear privacy glass.
Interior quality isn’t an area in which Subaru has particularly excelled in recent years, but the Levorg marks an upturn in this area. Many of the materials on display feel denser and more expensive than drivers of other Subaru models will be used to, even if the cabin can’t match those of the swankiest small estates for quality. The ergonomics leave a little to be desired, too: the flat-bottomed steering wheel is covered in tiny, hard-to-read buttons and switches; the standard touch-screen infotainment system is confusing to use; and, the extra digital gauges plonked on top of the dashboard look like an afterthought. You might not get on with the driving position, either, as the front seats are mounted a little too high; and, combined with the low-slung dashboard, it feels a little like you're perched on top of the car, rather than nestled inside it.
The Levorg isn’t the biggest of estate cars, but it uses the space it has impressively well. The important bit – the boot – is perhaps a little shallow, but it’s big in every other direction and there are some useful extra cubbies underneath the floor. Folding the rear seats down is easy, and it leaves a perfectly level load area, which makes it easier to load large objects. So does the absence of a boot lip. The rear seats have plenty of head- and legroom, which allows even tall adults to get comfortable. Overall, the only real black marks are the narrow middle seat and the bulky transmission tunnel that robs you of foot space, which prevent you from comfortably fitting three people across the rear bench.
Ride and handling
Subaru is keen to point out that the Levorg shares a lot of its underpinnings with the WRX STI, and some of that pedigree can be felt when tackling a challenging B-road. The suspension does a decent job of keeping things flat and level around a briskly taken bend, while the permanent four-wheel drive ensures that grip and traction are rarely in short supply. Most of the other controls inspire confidence, too, with sharp throttle response, a progressive brake pedal, and steering that feels weighty and direct (although it does feel a tad too heavy at low speeds). Unfortunately, the handling falls down slightly at the hands of the CVT gearbox. It operates in a slow, clumsy way, meaning that when you turn into a bend, you often feel like you’re in too high a ratio. Then, after this initial period of hesitancy, the transmission reacts all at once, sometimes when you’re still mid-corner, and that feels even more unsettling. You can remedy this to some extent by using the paddles to switch between preselected ‘steps’ in the transmission, but even then, the hesitancy of the changes means that every downshift needs a lot of pre-planning. The ride comfort isn’t ideal, either. The firm suspension makes things feel decidedly bumpy at low speed, yet you still feel the body pitching when you’re negotiating crests and undulating surfaces.
The Levorg only comes with one engine and gearbox combination, a 167bhp turbocharged 1.6-litre petrol unit mated to a continuously variable transmission (CVT). The performance this gives is reasonable rather than rip-roaring, so overtaking manoeuvres can feel rather laboured. Adopt a more leisurely driving style, though, and the engine serves up its urge in a consistent and linear fashion. This flexibility makes the Levorg a relaxing way to get around, and the smooth operation of the gearbox under normal driving conditions helps on that score as well. The engine is also very smooth, even when you work it harder, and although the noise it makes can sound a little strained at times, the volume is kept nice and low.
The Levorg is not a cheap car to buy, not least because it only comes with four-wheel drive and a CVT transmission, both of which cost money. Company car drivers won’t exactly be queueing around the block to get their hands on a Levorg, either, because the official CO2 emissions of 164g/km will mean very hefty tax bills. The official fuel economy figure of 39.8mpg is just as disappointing, especially when you consider the lukewarm performance on offer. A Ford Focus ST Estate does better on efficiency, plus it’s much faster and costs less to buy.
Subaru’s cars are renowned for their ruggedness and durability, and that’s reflected in the firm’s strong showing in the Warranty Direct Reliability Index. The company sits comfortably in the top half of the study’s manufacturer standings, although there’s no data on the Levorg itself. For even more peace of mind, the car is covered by a five-year/100,000-mile warranty, which is generous compared with the cover you get on most cars.
The Levorg has a very impressive roster of safety kit, and even better, it all comes in the standard equipment list. That includes seven airbags, including one to protect the driver’s knees, along with a stability control system and active torque vectoring to support the car’s permanent four-wheel drive. You also get a high-beam assistant as standard, along with a suite of rear detection technologies that includes lane change assist, blind spot detection and rear cross traffic alert (which detects approaching cars when you’re reversing out of a parking space). The only thing that’s really missing is an autonomous city braking system; but, even without it, the car earned a maximum five-star safety rating from Euro NCAP.
The Levorg is offered in one high-spec trim level, and there isn’t really an options list to speak of, so you get an impressive amount of equipment included as standard. Dual-zone climate control and heated, electrically adjusting front seats are provided, along with automatic lights and wipers, four powered windows and keyless entry. The infotainment system includes sat-nav and a reversing camera, along with Bluetooth phone connectivity, steering wheel controls and USB charging ports in both the front and the rear of the cabin.
Being an exclusively petrol-powered, four-wheel-drive estate car, the Levorg has very few direct rivals. That puts it in a very strong position if all those things are must-haves, but if any are negotiable, there are better options. The Skoda Octavia Scout, for example, offers all of the above, but with diesel power (and lower running costs), while the Ford Focus ST estate provides bags more pace and thrills if you’re willing to forego the four-wheel drive. In short, the Levorg will suit a very particular kind of buyer, but if that’s not you, you can save quite a bit of cash by looking elsewhere.