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An internal email recently did the rounds asking the entire CarAdvice editorial team to discuss daily-drivers we’d love, but which aren’t produced.
The answers to this straw poll revealed a surprising penchant for hotted-up wagons that combine loading space, cool design and spunky performance.
Fortunately, we need not furnish this market with hypotheticals, because there are some exceptionally good hot wagons on sale. Two of the newest and best are tested here.
In one corner is the Subaru Levorg GT. The company insists this all-wheel-drive, turbocharged model is not a WRX wagon per se, but that’s how most people are going to perceive it…
In the other is the Skoda Octavia RS, the Czech company’s top-seller here. This Euro brand may not be on many shopping lists yet, but it inspires devotion from a vocal few.
And if you’re after a practical car that that offers performance edge and left-of-centre appeal compared to a boring SUV, then this pair are the front-runners. But which is best?
Pricing and specifications
Both of these cars come with a number of common features. Additionally, our Octavia test car came loaded with extras that we’ll detail.
Each get seven airbags (and five-star ANCAP ratings); adaptive cruise control; low-speed autonomous brakes, a rear-view camera and two ISOFIX child-seat anchors. The Levorg is all-wheel-drive (AWD) for wet-weather reassurance, unlike the front-drive Skoda.
Other equipment common to both cars includes climate control; Bluetooth/USB/Aux-in connectivity; push-button start; rear privacy glass; 18-inch alloy wheels and daytime running lights.
The Skoda has the superior touchscreen (8.0-inch compared to the Subaru’s 6.2-inch), and alone gets satellite-navigation and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto. The Skoda’s part-leather seats are also more plush than the Subaru’s all-cloth numbers.
The Subaru partially counters with LED low-beam headlights compared to the Octavia’s bi-xenons, as well as rear USB inputs so back-seat passengers can charge their phones.
Of course, people wanting more features can fork out. The Octavia RS comes in one spec, but ours had a mountain of options including a sunroof ($1700) and electric tailgate ($490).
There's also the $1700 Tech Pack (automatic parking, keyless-go, the brilliant 10-speaker Canton audio system and lane assist); $1900 Comfort Pack (electric, heated, memory seats trimmed in proper leather, auto-folding side mirrors); and $500 Black Pack (black alloys, mirrors, grille surround and roof rails). Ergo the RRP of our car was $46,480.
Meanwhile, the upper-grade Levorg GT-S costs $48,890 and adds Bilstein struts and dampers; a blind-spot monitor and lane change assist; electric sunroof; dusk-sensing headlights; heated leather seats; a 7.0-inch touchscreen and sat-nav.
But strip way all the extras and the base Octavia RS has a few more creature comforts than the base Levorg GT while costing a little less. Round one to the Czech.
Subaru has made some leaps in recent times developing the ambience of its cabins. The Levorg's interior is relatively plush and well-made, with most touch points being constructed of soft plastics. The chunky ventilation dials, aluminium pedals and the comfortable steering wheel are all highlights.
The design is simple but fairly contemporary. The screen, while small, is flush and well integrated, though it is an issue that a car in this price bands lacks sat-nav. The smaller screen atop the dash is a little kitsch, but the mode that shows torque allocation through the AWD system is very on brand.
The cloth seats do not have particularly heavy bolstering, and the cloth trim could be better, but in typical Subaru form the ergonomics are good. It would be nice if a few features from the GT-S trickled down, however.
Don't take the Skoda Octavia RS's cabin entirely on face value, since our tester was loaded up on options. But the typical VW quality and tactile-minded approach is on display, as is the austere design.
The 8.0-inch screen is superior to the Subaru's, as is the presence of nav and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto. We like the red-stitched steering wheel and the quality switchgear, and the practical levels of cabin storage.
We'd also commend Skoda for its reasonably priced options packages, which allow you to add a massive amount of useful equipment for not very much. Small wonder the take-up rate is so high.
Rear seat space in both cars is pretty good. The Levorg has ample space for two 180cm-plus adults (I'm 194cm), and offers good outward visibility. You also get rear USB points (there are five in total in the car).
Naturally, both cars offer rear airbags protection and two child-seat anchors up to ISOFIX standard.
The Skoda's optional sunroof naturally detracts from the headroom, but it's a massive glass unit that improves the ambience. Our test car's optional rear leather seats with heating were great, but take that with a grain of salt.
The chunky design of the car means large side windows, giving the back seats an airy feel. The rear vents are good, too, as are the individual side-mounted reading lights.
The big selling point of this pair is their practicality. Both offer huge amounts of cargo space, though with the seats up, the Skoda's 588L is 66L more than the Subaru.
The Skoda's cargo space gets clever little storage cubbies on the side (though one is eaten by the the optional Canton sub), levers to flip the back seats, a 12V socket and various tie-down hooks. Under the floor is a space-saver spare wheel only.
The Subaru's loading area is better-finished than the Skoda's, with nicer carpeting and solid metal handles and touch points. It also has a better loading lip, though by capacity it's actually smaller in both configurations (based on spec sheets).
It also offers seat-flipping levers in the cargo area, and the back row folds very flush, making the car particularly board-friendly. Neither car has dedicated under-floor storage for the pull-out cargo covers.
Both of these cars use 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engines, but the Subaru takes bragging rights (197kW at 5600rpm, and 350Nm between 2400 and 5200rpm) over the Skoda (162kW at 6200rpm, and 350Nm between 1500 and 4400rpm).
The Levorg also has the company’s signature horizontally opposed Boxer engine layout for a point of difference.
But it’s not all just about power. The 1400kg (tare) Skoda counters by weighing 138kg less than the 35kW more powerful Subaru, narrowing the power-to-weight differentials. The Subaru is still quicker, though, with a 0-100km/h time of 6.6 seconds (Skoda 7.1sec).
One reason for this is the Levorg’s symmetrical AWD with variable torque distribution to maximise forward and cornering force, compared the Octavia RS’s front-wheel drive configuration with understeer-countering XDL extended differential lock.
Both cars sport automatic-shifting transmissions. The Subaru’s sole 'box is a CVT with eight stepped ‘ratios’ to normalise the driving experience, and a sports mode to change the gear ratios. The Skoda gets a six-speed wet clutch DSG (dual-clutch). Both have paddle-shifters behind the wheel. The Octavia can also be had with a six-speed manual.
Claimed fuel economy usage is superior in the lighter but slower Octavia, at 6.6 litres per 100km compared to 8.7L/100km for the Levorg. Our testing that factored in more aggressive driving obviously went beyond these numbers, but the Skoda was regularly 20 per cent more efficient, though it needs 98 RON (the Subaru can have 95 RON).
Despite being impressive on paper, the Subaru loses out due to a lack of engagement. The Levorg is rapid, but its engine note is flat and uninspiring, and the CVT (while amiable in urban driving) lacks the DSG’s crispness and decisiveness even in Sport Sharp mode. One positive is the way the car’s manual setting doesn’t override via the ECU.
The Octavia’s engine (shared with the Golf GTI) has a very strong mid-range, and more torque on tap lower in the rev band. This, coupled with the DSG’s sharpness once on the move and the car’s lightness, makes it feel rapid and eager in dynamic driving. In sports mode, engine noise being pumped into the cabin sounds mean and gruff.
Around town, the Levorg turns the tables a little. The Octavia’s DSG has the characteristic hints of indecisiveness at low speeds as its brain works out the best ratio, especially if you have a point-and-shoot driving style.
The AWD Subaru is also better at putting its power/torque down because all four wheels are connected to the driveshaft. The Skoda loses half a point for not offering all-paw grip.
Still, we have to grade the cars’ drivetrain performance on just that — performance. These aren’t mere point-to-point puttering devices, they need to have sporting character and pace. And on those terms, it’s again the Skoda that wins.
There’s one notable counterpoint to be made, though — the Subaru’s AWD system will hold great appeal to country buyers, people frequently going on gravel, or those not particularly confident in wet weather. It’s a point-of-difference worth highlighting.
Ride and handling
The Levorg GT misses out on the Bilstein suspension components found on the GT-S. Its springs feel softer than the Octavia’s, and there seems to be less force in the dampers on the rebound stroke.
It soaks up hits and ruts well, rounding off inputs from square edges and other typical urban corrugations, but its body control over undulations, in the midst of lateral movement, or even on smaller bumps with lower amplitude, isn’t what you might image a Rex’s to be.
The Levorg GT is its own beast. Indeed, it feels more like a fast grand tourer than a hot wagon. This is exacerbated by the fairly anodyne electric-assisted steering that is a little lighter on centre than the Skoda’s, and doesn’t offer much feedback from the tyres.
Counting in the Subaru’s favour is the surefooted symmetrical AWD system that works brilliantly on low-grip surfaces. Ditto the good brakes. You’ll not be left wanting for traction if it’s wet, or you’re on gravel heading to an out-of-the-way surf spot.
The Octavia RS uses the same MQB architecture as the Golf GTI, and it immediately feels sportier than the Levorg. The urban ride is firmer and the rebound faster, but the force from most hits is rounded off nicely, and there’s never much brittleness or sharpness.
The steering offers more resistance than the Subaru’s setup (especially when the Sport mode is set, remapping the throttle, DSG and steering), and greater feel, which is likely a symptom of good inherent chassis balance, and perhaps the well-sorted independent rear suspension (unlike the torsion-beam-equipped base Octavia’s).
The initial turn-in is also a little more eager and darty than the Levorg’s, and the body control more in tune with a sporting proposition — more disciplined, less ‘wobbly’. The grippy seats felt better too, though ours were optional.
Naturally, the front-drive setup will elicit push understeer if you overcook it, but the XDL system that brakes the inside front wheel generally works well. Once again we’re left to moderately lament the lack of AWD in the Skoda. Road roar from the Skoda’s 225/40 R18 Potenza tyres is also greater than in the Subaru, but the NVH is still entirely liveable.
Thus it’s the Czech offering that does a better job of being a performance wagon than the Subaru in most conditions. It’s that little bit sharper and more engaging. But if you consider the Levorg as a grippy grand tourer, it makes more sense. The GT-S may prove a different kettle of fish too…
The Subaru Levorg comes with a three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty. Servicing intervals are a modest six-months/12,500km, with the first six visits costs (at current rates $312,97, $312.97, $395.92, $524.29, $312.97 and $395.92, plus other incidentals. More here.
The Skoda has the same warranty term as the Subaru.. Service intervals are a longer 12-months of 15,000km, with each visit capped at $315, $387, $495, $979 (crikey), $495, $455, plus other incidentals. More here.
While conceptually similar on the surface, the Subaru Levorg GT and Skoda Octavia RS are in other ways a study in contrast.
Each performs the task at hand well enough. Both are spacious and comfortable wagons with a bit of ‘cool’ factor and greater-than-average performance for fairly modest coin.
However, the Octavia wins for driving engagement, though the Levorg’s AWD must be noted, and its doesn’t match the Czech’s value equation at the mid-$40k drive-away mark.
The Levorg GT-S with its extra gear and different suspension against an optioned-up Octavia RS would be a closer battle, and one we might need to look at down the track.
But in the here and now the Octavia RS wins. It’s the benchmark performance wagon at its price point even without AWD — not that we expect to convert Subaru diehards.
Skoda Octavia RS
Subaru Levorg GT
Recommended retail price
Drive-away price in Vic
Radar-guided cruise control
Daytime running lights
Apple CarPlay/Android Auto
Rear seat vents and USB points
Leather and fabric with red stitching
225/40 R18 Bridgestone Potenza (space-saver spare)
225/45 R18 Dunlop SP Sport Maxx 050 (space-saver spare)
Tech Pack — $1700
Automatic parking, lane assist, keyless entry and start, 10-speaker Canton audio
Comfort Pack — $1900
Electric seats with driver memory function, auto-folding side mirrors, front and rear heated seats, full leather seats
18” Black Pack — $500
Gemini Anthracite alloys, black side mirrors and grille frame, black roof rails
Sunroof — $1700
Electric panoramic runroof
Automatic tailgate — $490
Button-operated electric tailgate
2.0-litre Boxer turbo-petrol
162kW at 6200rpm and 350Nm between 1500-4400rpm
197kW at 5600rpm and 350Nm between 2400-5200rpm
Front-wheel-drive with XDL (extended diff lock)
Symmetrical and variable AWD
Six-speed DSG (dual-clutch auto)
CVT with eight stepped ratios
Fuel use (combined)
Dimensions (length x width x height x wheelbase)
Click on the Photos tab above for many more images of the two cars, taken by Sam Venn