|Photos by Ulysses Ang|
Before talking about the driving impressions itself, let’s get one thing out of the way: this isn’t simply a WRX wagon. Though Subaru engineers have mentioned time and time again during the launch that though the foundations are shared, the WRX wagon was a compromised machine—it valued sportiness over versatility and comfort. On the other hand, it’s not a Legacy wagon either so don’t expect it to wallow and flop through corners. This is an altogether different animal and hence why they spun it off as an entirely new model.
It does share the same front-end construction of the WRX, minus the quick-ratio 14:1 steering (according to the engineers), so expect a very stiff body with a roll rate comparable to that of a BRZ. In addition, it betters against fancier European competitors (and the Mazda6) in the double emergency lane change handling test. The entire rear end though is exclusive to the Levorg with its own unique tuning to the rear Double Wishbone suspension equating to less floor vibrations again compared to its European and Japanese rivals. And like any other Subaru, it has Symmetrical AWD (Active Torque Split) as standard.
Over to the engine front, it comes exclusive with turbocharged engines: a 1.6 and a 2.0-liter. The bigger one though is exclusive for Japan given its appetite for high-octane fuel. What everyone else gets, including our market, is a 1.6-liter Flat-4 with 170 horsepower and 250 Nm of torque. These figures are relatively pedestrian but considering peak horsepower comes in at 4,800 rpm and peak torque at 1,800 to 4,800 rpm, it presents itself as usable in the real world. The FB16 starts out as the base Impreza’s engine but with a new direct-injection fuel delivery system and of course, a turbocharger. Despite the forced induction, it sees a higher bump in compression ratio: 11.0:1 compared to the WRX’s 10.6:1. Plus, since Subaru keeps on comparing ts power figures to its own FB25, there’s no doubt we’ll see this engine in future models (and yes, the Subaru engineer did confirm this).
Going back to the Levorg, the only transmission is Subaru’s chain-driven Lineartronic CVT transmission. Like the system first introduced in the Legacy and Outback, this CVT features a built-in step ratio whenever the throttle is squeezed past 35 percent in the default ‘Intelligent’ and 30 percent in ‘Sport’. This makes it behave like a regular automatic. For those who apply the throttle gingerly though, it goes through infinite ratios for fuel economy. Of course, it has paddle shifters in case you want to change the ratios on your own. The use of low viscosity oil should translate to excellent fuel economy figures rated at 11.76 km/L in the city and up to 15.87 km/L on the highway.
In terms of exterior design, it’s unashamed to hide its WRX origins, but at least there’s some differentiation particularly because of more chrome. There’s a right spattering of it found in the grille, fog lamp cluster, window molding, and even mirrors. The front bumper has also been changed to add a bit more curves to the front end. All in all, this makes the Levorg more befitting as an executive vehicle as opposed to something a boy racer would enjoy hooning. It’s a sharp-looking car overall especially with the turbine-style, two-tone 18-inch alloy wheels. The rear is less dramatic except for the hawk-eye shaped rear LED lamps and twin tailpipes with a built-in diffuser.
Inside, WRX owners will feel a sense of déjà vu down to the meaty, flat-bottomed steering wheel. However, detail changes have been made to improve the overall fit and finish. For one, there’s an abundance of piano black accents and chrome bits to improve the feel. More soft-touch plastic and leather has been used, especially at driver and passenger touch points including a one-touch operation for all windows. A side note to would-be Levorg owners though: you should love blue. Aside from black and silver, that’s what you’re going to see a lot of: from gauge highlights to even the stitching on the steering wheel and seats. Improved packaging also means there’s good space inside despite the compact proportions. In fact, it’s just 30 millimeters down in rear knee room compared to the previous Legacy while managing to keep the same 520 liters of luggage space with the seats up (1,446 liters with the rear seats down). The Levorg also shares the same touch screen audio system with no less than six USB inputs (including two for the rear) with easily one of the best voice-recognition systems in the market.
Subaru says they benchmarked the Volvo V60 and Audi S3 for the Levorg’s handling characteristics and it shows. As a Subaru owner myself, climbing into the driver’s seat feels pretty much at home. There’s excellent visibility all around (thank you large windows) and of course, the driving controls all fall easily into hand. Disengaging the electronic parking brake, it’s off through a short testing course. With the throttle firmly planted to the floor, it accelerates well. With the SI-Drive left in Intelligent, the experience is actually quite ordinary; however, when put in Sport, it accelerates with gusto. It doesn’t have the same ‘punched in the gut’ feel as the WRX, but there’s also noticeably less turbo lag. It’s largely quiet with the exception of a bit of turbo whine at high revs and a bit of CVT drone.
Through the slalom course, it demonstrates excellent body control even at ambitious cornering speeds. The electric power-assisted steering is weighty and quick to react, enabling you to point the front end very quickly pretty much like a WRX. However, midway into the corner, the softer rear suspension does make itself evident in the form of understeer. More than once, you’ll find it pitching into tighter hairpins requiring you to brake to correct your line. What it does trade in agility, it gains in terms of stability and riding comfort. With a long-travel suspension, it keeps all four corners planted at all times even without any of the electronic nannies kicking in. What’s more, it actually absorbs more of the lumps and bumps that would otherwise unsettle a WRX.
A full-on test drive in the Philippines is required to pass judgment on the all-new Subaru Levorg. With packaging clearly designed for tight confines like Manila roads but with enough space and grunt for a weekend of play out of town, I like what I see. And with an indicative pricing between P 1,700,000 to P 1,800,000 it easily becomes Subaru’s most affordable turbocharged entry. Beyond the juicy pricing though, it’s quite an individual, if a bit quirky, choice. Sure, Subaru’s still got the Forester XT if you want more ground clearance, but the Levorg is a turbocharged wagon. And for enthusiast, that’s already enough to whet their appetite.