James regularly misspent his younger days behind the wheel of a Subaru WRX wagon. Will its spiritual successor, the Levorg, live up to the memory?
We all love a bit of nostalgia. Those stories that come from remembering what was; only to compare with what is, are what help make good memories great.
Nostalgia touches all elements of our lives, not least cars. So imagine the tales of glory recounted when the spiritual successor to the 1990s ‘it’ car, the Subaru WRX wagon, rolled into the CarAdvice driveway.
The 2016 Subaru Levorg GT-S Spec.B may have a bit of a silly name, but behind the badge are all the hallmarks that made its past-self such a fun and formidable vehicle on any surface and in any situation.
A 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder boxer engine, constant all-wheel drive and a modicum of sensible practicality might suggest that the Levorg has everything it needs to fill that 10-year showroom absence sized hole left by the WRX wagon.
But if Hollywood has taught us anything, it is that remakes, emotional or otherwise, don’t ever really work.
So if we ignore the Jayden Smith to Ralph Macchio type comparison and consider the Levorg a reboot rather than a remake, then Craig’s brooding maturity over Brosnan’s simplistic charm is more of a realistic parallel. The WRX wagon has grown up, and is all the better for it.
Levorg (it sounds more serious when treated like a proper noun) is fundamentally the same underneath as the current fourth-generation WRX.
Powered by an identical 197kW/350Nm turbocharged 2.0-litre boxer, the Levorg suffers a 50-kilogram weight penalty over the sedan, thanks to the extra bodywork at the back. The car is almost 10cm longer, despite having the same wheelbase and front-end.
It looks good. The bum might look a bit big from some angles, but from an overall ‘form’ sense – the $52,890 Levorg GT-S Spec.B looks the part.
I’ve always been a fan of pointless aerodynamic adornments on cars, and the STI ground effect kit that forms part of the $4000 Spec.B package is no exception. A front splitter, side skirts with spats, a rear diffuser and the all-important vortex generator on the rear spoiler most likely hinder the Levorg’s aerodynamic signature, but they do look good.
We’re not quite sure how the aero kit, 18-inch wheels and random STI badging around the cabin equate to a $4000 premium, but I once spent $950 on a carbon-fibre wrapped fibreglass rear wing blade for a GT-R that weighed more than the factory one, so… ah, there’s sure to be a market.
You can finish your Levorg in one of seven shades, and while they are mostly sensible and mature metallic grey-blue hues, the ‘Pure Red’ of our test car looks fantastic. Sadly there is no WR Blue Pearl with gold wheels option, yet…
The wagon shape and size translates into sensible load space too, and the Levorg’s wagon style offers 522-litres of boot space over the WRX sedan’s 460-litres. That includes a space-saver wheel under the floor too. The back seats have a pair of ISOFIX mounting points and can fold with a 60:40 split with handy remote levers in the boot.
The rear seats offer a good amount of room for adults as well as a pair of USB charge points to keep things humming for passengers, although there are no air vents.
And as far as that practicality sits in context, there is more space in the boot of the Levorg than in ‘other’ historically hot Subaru wagon, the 4th-generation Liberty GT Spec.B (459-litres).
It is worth pointing out too, that the parcel shelf is one of those two-stage types and rattles no matter how well you try and secure it. I trusted the car’s tinted windows for security and left it at home.
It’s not just about space though, the higher-specification Levorg GT-S includes technology and luxury such as heated partial leather sports seats (the driver’s has powered adjustment), a seven-inch touch screen with satellite navigation and Subaru’s Eyesight driver assistance system.
Yes, the dash layout and overall cabin ambience are very much WRX. The switchgear, digital readouts and even the view out the windscreen over the iconic intake scoop is the same, but somehow the Levorg feels different. It’s a good different, a more up-market and sensible different.
Maybe it’s the view through the rear view mirror that reminds you that the towering rear spoiler has been replaced by children and a boot, and you should probably think twice about heading to school via the Black Spur.
The cabin itself is quite nice, and has an up-market sensation about it, but doesn’t feel quite as well screwed together as some of the European brands. Some fabrics and other materials are pretty basic but there are some little elements around the cabin which are surprisingly pleasant to use. The machined climate control dials and metal knobs on the infotainment screen are particular standouts.
The crazy expanse of buttons and functions are all still there (busiest steering wheel in the game – 20-odd functions alone) which does take a little bit of getting used to. Some can be fiddly to use on the move, so make sure you learn the sequences of screens or just leave it on the information you actually need.
There’s no shortage of things to do or look at in the Levorg either.
Information is displayed on the seven-inch Starlink infotainment screen, on the four-inch LCD central dash ‘pod’ and within the instrument cluster itself. You get no end of data, from boost pressure to driving aids and even the ‘GoPro’ camera view which shows the side of the car from the left mirror at any speed.
It’s very handy for parking and not scratching those lovely black rims, but it also looks like a a pretty standard mounting point for a video camera!
The Starlink interface is pretty confusing too. There is good depth and functionality on offer, but the screen isn’t ultra-quick to respond and the design of the menus is pretty ordinary. You don’t get support for phone projections either – Apple or Android.
That said, the primary dials are clear to read though, and go through a nice sweep movement on startup.
It feels like a complete package – just smart and sporty enough.
But there are silly things too. For example, why are the cool LED wrap around elements in the headlamps the parkers and not the daytime running lamps? I love the irony that the DRLs are actually the lower ‘driving lamps’ that have caused so much lumen-loathing keyboard angst over the years, but surely Subaru could take the more stylish option?
And the chrome strip on the window sills that just stops on the rear doors and doesn’t complete the journey along the rear quarter window just looks unfinished.
But the Levorg isn’t just about looking and sitting. This is a turbo Subaru – the Levorg is for driving!
The lag-prone whoosh so familiar to the original GC8 WRX has been replaced by a much more progressive power delivery, but the car is still plenty fast enough. Subaru claims a 6.6-second 0-100 sprint time – which is about the same as that GC8 WRX – but the sense of urgency in the Levorg just isn’t there.
Things get a bit more interesting beyond 3000rpm though.
The full 350Nm of torque from the boxer is available between 2400 and 5200rpm, and peak power doesn’t top out until 5600rpm so you get plenty of time to enjoy the thrill of the glory days before the CVT changes imaginary ratios and the cycle begins anew.
As, yes, the more grown up WRX wagon now comes exclusively with a CVT transmission.
It’s not a bad gearbox by any stretch, Subaru has shown it can make a CVT work as well as anyone. It’s tuned with six preset ratios in normal driving modes and eight in sport or sport sharp, and for the most part it does a good job.
Keep the needle in the 4000-5000rpm range and the shift change is fast enough to keep the grin going. A range of whooshing intake suction noises replacing the familiar boxer exhaust ‘thump’, combining now with a fair amount of wind and tyre roar.
It's thirsty too. Subaru's claim of 8.7L/100km combined is wishful thinking. Enjoy your driving (as you should in a car like this) and you'll easily see fuel consumption in the low teens.
Driving around town, the automatic mode changes smoothly and there is little of that whine that is often associated with a CVT. The simulated ratios work well in both normal and sport modes, but there is no sense of excitement that comes with a manual change or even a good DCT ‘box.
Part of the step up to the GT-S (and Spec.B) is the inclusion of stiffer Bilstein shock absorbers that have had the benefit of local tuning. I say benefit loosely though, as the ride can best be described as somewhere between firm and very firm.
You’ll feel the car thump down the back-side of speed humps at urban speeds and it will jitter around a bit on more corrugated or cobbled sections of road.
On rougher country sections, you can feel the car becoming fidgety and upset over the changing surface. On a smooth race track surface the benefit of the stiffer Bilsteins would no doubt be noticeable, but for our less than perfect road conditions, the Levorg could do with a shade more compliance.
The brakes too need a bit of temperature in them to offer a serious amount of bite.
Dynamically it holds flat and true through corners, and will err to understeer when pushed – a familiar trait of Subaru’s AWD platform. The little turbo is willing and allows the Levorg to build and most importantly hold speeds that shave years from your life.
Steering is also on the sportier side, with a decent weighting of the wheel and very accurate turn in, particularly at speed. None of the point-and-shoot surety of the WRX DNA has been lost with the Levorg and there is tremendous mechanical grip to give you further confidence in tighter sections.
Most importantly, its still fun. Not the raw ‘flirting with danger’ fun that was had with a GC8 almost 20 years ago, but a mature, sensible fun.
At over $50,000 though, the Levorg would want to attract a more grown-up audience. It's over $10,000 more than the Skoda Octavia RS ($41,890) and requires at least a $312.97 service every six-months. Ouch.
Get past that though, and you can live with Levorg as an everyday car. The more linear power delivery and automatic gearbox take some of the thrill away, but that’s a trade-off for a car that can commute to the city, handle weekend school sports, and still keep up with most on a winding mountain road.
It is a WRX wagon for adults. Heated seats for those chilly mornings, adaptive cruise control and a smooth automatic transmission for those less driving-oriented days.
Perhaps then, then 2016 Subaru Levorg GT-S Spec.B will create a new generation of fans, those who won’t compare to memories of the past, but will let the Levorg stand on its own merit as the fun sporting wagon that it is.
Click on the Photos tab for more images by Tom Fraser.