Subaru Levorg review - Engines, performance and drive

The Levorg can be good fun but it’s a little rough around the edges and the engine limits appeal

Subaru has built its name on offering all-wheel drive mechanicals mated to turbocharged ‘boxer’ engines. The latest Levorg conforms to this type except that it’s ditched the turbo in the name of improved fuel economy, causing the old model’s bonnet scoop to go the same way.

What you get in the Levorg is a capable chassis with roots that can be traced back to the WRX STI performance hatchback. The Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive (SAWD) 4x4 system, a naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine in the horizontally-opposed ‘boxer’ configuration and the Lineartronic CVT automatic gearbox do the hard work.

The idea behind the car is to deliver a fair bit of rough road capability, good levels of on-road comfort but also with an engaging driving experience that harks back to the brand’s rally heritage. The reality is that the Levorg makes a valiant attempt at this but doesn’t quite hit the mark.

The Levorg doesn’t feel anything like the old WRX or the hot Imprezas of the past when it comes to the driving experience, lacking that level of excitement and driver engagement. It does handle pretty well for a mainstream estate, however, with tidy body control, light but accurate steering and a fair sense of agility on twisty roads. As you’d expect, there’s loads of grip on offer from the four-wheel drive system, which is laid out with its components mounted symmetrically down the car’s centre line to aid balance.

The trade-off for the tidy handling is a ride that can be a little busy on typical British roads. It’s by no means uncomfortable, but a BMW 3 Series or Skoda Superb will better isolate occupants from small lumps and indents in the surface. What the Levorg does do well is bounce over bigger bumps and craters without its suspension crashing, feeling a little like an SUV as a result and adding to the impression of toughness you get from the car.

Once up to motorway speeds, it’s as smooth as it needs to be and refinement is pretty good, too. Rival models offer better soundproofing against tyre roar in particular but this and wind noise are still kept to acceptable levels.

Despite the all-wheel drive mechanicals, the Levorg’s 135mm ground clearance means it won’t off-road like some of Subaru’s other products. What it will do is give greater security in slippery road conditions and light off-road scenarios such as grass car parks or gravel driveways.

Engines

The Subaru Levorg has never been big on engine options and nothing has changed; there was one before and there’s one now. The difference is that the 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol has given way to a 2.0-litre non-turbo unit. As is the Subaru way, this is a four-cylinder horizontally-opposed engine, called a ‘boxer’ as a result of the way the two banks of pistons ‘punch’ towards each other. The absence of a turbo on the 2.0-litre unit means that power is down to 147bhp from 168bhp in the old 1.6; torque decreases too, from 250Nm to 198Nm.

The result is a 0-62mph time that is distinctly underwhelming at 11.7s and a top speed of 121mph. It’s not an engine that’s going to thrill anyone with its savage punch, but at least the boxer configuration helps keep the weight low in the car to improve handling.

The 2.0-litre engine is mated exclusively to Subaru’s continuously variable transmission (CVT) automatic, dubbed Lineartronic – and that may well be where many Subaru enthusiasts finally tune out. The lack of a turbo and any manual gearbox option hurts this car’s appeal as a sporty estate. Many will want a faster petrol engine (which they can’t have) or a torquey and frugal diesel (which they also can’t have). It’s this lack of choice that leaves Subaru’s hands tied from the off.

Still, there are some positives to the Levorg’s sole powertrain. It’s very smooth with a steady stream of power that builds as the revs rise. Once some heat has built up, there’s very little noise from the engine bay when cruising and a muted growl that’s joined by a metallic whine at the very top of the rev range. It sounds pretty good and with no perceptible gearchanges thanks to the CVT ‘box, driving the Levorg in a relaxed manner is a pleasant experience most of the time.

What’s been lost with the departure of the old turbo unit is some of the low-end torque that makes town driving and overtaking on the open road easier. You can choose a sportier engine and gearbox map via the Si-Drive function that’s a little more energetic at lower revs but the difference is small. By contrast, the Lineartronic ‘box is perfect in town but, despite being one of the best of the CVT type, it still removes a layer of involvement on the open road. For the most part, the dual-clutch automatics in rivals are preferable.

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