2016 Subaru Levorg GT-S review
Isaac Bober’s 2016 Subaru Levorg GT-S review with pricing, specs, ride and handling, safety, verdict and score.
IN A NUTSHELL: The Levorg borrows much from the WRX, but adds practicality via its wagon body.
2016 Subaru Levorg GT-S
Price $48,890+ORC Warranty three-years unlimited Safety 5 star ANCAP Engine 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder (Boxer) petrol Power/Torque 197kW/350Nm Transmission CVT Body 4690mm (L); 1780mm (W); 1490mm (H) Weight 1538-1582kg Fuel Tank 60 litres Thirst 8.7L/100km
SUBARU AUSTRALIA says the Levorg appeals to those people rejecting SUVs, but one only has to look at recent VFACTs figures to see the continued growth in SUV sales. So, clearly there aren’t as many people rejecting SUVs as Subaru might think… although this could just be a case of marketing getting in the way of an accurate product definition.
What is it?
At the recent-ish local launch of the Levorg, Subaru was at pains to distance the Levorg from its iconic WRX with which it shares plenty of its oily bits. And, if we’re being soul-searchingly honest, the only real difference between the two beyond a few cosmetic, feature and styling fripperies is the fact the Levorg gets a handy boot and the WRX doesn’t.
But, rather than draw links to the WRX, Subaru suggested that the Levorg is the “spiritual successor to the fourth-generation Liberty GT. And, you can kind of see where they’re coming from in making that claim. And despite being smaller than the discontinued fifth-generation Liberty wagon, the Levorg actually offers more interior and boot space. Okay, let’s get into the detail of this thing.
Now, our test car is the Levorg GT-S which sits in the middle of the range and, beyond features, stands apart from the entry-level GT variant thanks to its Bilstein suspension. So, according to Subaru this is the model that will most likely appeal to those after “sporty handling” or so the chief engineer told Practical Motoring at the launch.
But, if you’ve read our first drive of the Subaru Levorg, and we were able to drive both the GT and GT-S variants (we didn’t get to drive the GT-S Spec B at the launch but we have now), you’ll remember that we weren’t super keen on the Bilstein suspension, suggesting that it actually ruined the ride and handling of the Levorg. Has a week with the car driving across roads we know changed our opinion? Read on.
On the Outside
On both size and performance, the Subaru Levorg is considered the spiritual successor to the fourth-generation Liberty GT with very similar dimensions. The Levorg measures 4690mm long (vs 4720mm for the fourth-generation Liberty wagon); 1780mm wide (vs 1730mm), and 1490mm high (vs 1470mm). Despite being shorter than its spiritual predecessor, the new Levorg offers more room inside thanks to the fact it’s both wider and higher.
Looks are always a subjective thing and while Subaru’s designs over the years have been both hit and miss, I think the Levorg is more hit than miss. And that’s partly because the front-end of the thing is borrowed from a WRX, both in design and structure beneath the skin, and while the rear end is all-new, although the influence from, say, the Subaru XV and Impreza is obvious. So, the Levorg is proof that Subaru’s designers have finally hit on the notion of a family look for its models. And that’s good.
The GT-S Spec B variant (see picture below) is easily the best looking of the there variants thanks to its STi fripperies but the Levorg in general looks slick enough that it doesn’t blend easily into the background. Cleverly, the design, to my eyes, is one that appeals to both men and women, which is a long-winded way of saying the look of the thing will appeal to everyone.
On the Inside
Climb in behind the steering wheel and, if you’ve sat in a recent model Subaru, then you’ll be familiar with the dashboard layout. There’s a 7.0-inch touchscreen in this GT-S variant (which is almost too small in this day and age where other makers are moving to 10-inch-plus screens) that dominates the centre of the dashboard with climate control (dual zone) dials below.
The touchscreen itself is easy to navigate with big buttons that respond to a touch and not a brush, it can also be navigated via steering mounted controls. Syncing your phone, either via Bluetooth or USB cable is a cinch. There’s no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto connectivity but the unit in the GT-S does offer Siri compatibility and its own apps. As practical as the unit is, this omission is a disappointment – Subaru owners will have to wait until the new Impreza arrives before Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is offered.
Compared with the unit in our test GT-S, the entry-level 6.2-inch screen in the GT feels very low-rent indeed with audio quality, and, of course, the lack of sat-nav, a significant difference. Listening to the same song in both variants, the song in the GT was like listening to something from a very-well-played cassette; washed out and not true-to-life, whereas in the GT-S the clarity was what you would expect. And even when the volume was turned right up the music stayed clear with little or no buzzing through the speakers.
The quality of the interior is good but not a stand-out in the class. There are plenty of soft-touch, good quality plastics with very little hard scratchy stuff to be found, and then only in not-often-touched places like the door bins.
The GT-S gets a D-shaped steering wheel which is wrapped in leather and feels good in the hands. The steering mounted controls can be easily used with just your thumbs and the paddle shifts, which most people will never, ever use, are easily reached and close to the wheel meaning you can quickly grab ‘another gear’ without losing too much contact with the steering wheel.
Vision right around is good which is helped by the fact you sit up a little higher than you might expect in the Levorg. Something that was only a little bothersome because I couldn’t get the steering wheel to raise as high as I like. After a few miles of driving, though, the seating position feels natural.
Over in the back seats and there’s a good amount of room given that this isn’t an overly large car. Indeed, the Levorg offers almost as much legroom in the back as the discontinued fifth-generation liberty wagon, and that’s despite being smaller than that car.
I set the driver’s seat to my driving position and was able to hop into the back seat with enough leg and knee room to be comfortable, and that’s thanks to the concave shape of the front seat backs. The seat itself is pretty good and there’s enough headroom to accomodate six-foot and slightly taller passengers. There are levers on the seat to recline the back seat if needed. I was also able to fit two children’s seat into the back without drama, one being a booster and the other a harness-style child seat. Both of my children said they had enough room and a good view outside.
The only issue was for my younger child who found the plastic scuff plate a little slippery when climbing up into the back seat. And she had similar issues getting out, resorting to climbing out of her seat and sitting down in the footwell before swinging her legs out and wriggling up onto the scuff plate and then hopping out. It’s a dramatic way of doing it but it works for her and meant she didn’t slip off the step.
How practical is it?
The Levorg is, being a Subaru, pretty good. There’s an auxiliary jack and USB port in the front with a little ledge and a non-slip base for your phone, and there are two USB outlets for backseat passengers (see picture below). The door bins, both front and back, have a holder for a 500ml water bottle, and the cupholders (two of them) on the centre console are nice and deep to hold a coffee cup or water bottle securely.
The climate control system is easy to use and either heats up or cools down to the desired temperature very quickly. That sentence might seem like a bit of a waste of space, but there are plenty of European cars where the climate control system struggles to heat up and cool down quickly, my own Skoda Octavia is one such car where the climate control takes a little too long to get going.
The boot offers 522 litres of space with the back seats in place and these can be folded easily via buttons in the boot. They don’t fold flat, but they do expand the available space to more than 1400 litres. With the seats up the space is a decent shape and will easily hold a set of golf clubs or a full sized pram. Under the boot floor is a space saver spare but getting to it is a bit of a pain in that there are two panels that need to be removed and then a hard foam cover that you’ve got to take out before you can remove the spare. My main gripe, though, is the tail-gate which doesn’t lift up high enough for me to stand under it without stooping over and given I’m just under six-foot tall I think that’s a bit disappointing.
And I struggled with the key fob which allows keyless entry but only for the driver (which is a good thing for security and preventing unwanted people from climbing into the car when you unlock it), the car must be unlocked with the fob for driver (one press) and for passengers (a second press) but quite often I found myself pressing the unlock button several times. The unlock button, represented by the Subaru badge on the fob, requires a strong press to get it to activate. That could just be the fob I’ve got, and I’d be interested to hear if anyone else has similar issues.
What’s the engine and transmission like?
The Levorg borrows its 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine from the WRX (this engine also does service in the Forester XT). Power is 197kW at 5600rpm and 350Nm of torque from 2400-5200rpm, this is mated to the same CVT that the WRX gets. Fuel consumption is a combined 8.7L/100km which is on the thirsty side and in our week of testing we managed 9L/100km.
Like the WRX, the Levorg’s CVT offers Subaru’s Auto Stepped Speed Control which is designed, among other things, to give the transmission, almost, the feel of a conventional automatic. Via the Subaru Intelligent Drive system which offers three driving modes: Intelligent, Sport and Sport Sharp (S#) the stepped shifting function will act like a six-speed automatic under “hard acceleration” or like an eight-speed when in Sport Sharp mode. When not being pushed and in either Intelligent or Sport mode, the CVT will respond to the throttle with both revs and speed rising and falling accordingly.
Most CVTs are awful and while there’ll be those who’ll argue that they’re no substitute for a manual transmission, or even a DSG, in a sporty car, but I’d argue that the Subaru unit is pretty darn good indeed. When in Sport Sharp and the unit switches to an eight-step mode it will control both acceleration and deceleration as well as any manual or DSG, with minimal running away when downhill.
Now, unless it’s a supercar I think paddles are about as useful as the proverbial ‘somethings’ on a bull. And while I will agree that the paddles work well on the Levorg when in Sport Sharp, the system does just as good a job when left to its own devices. The moral being, just don’t bother with them, but…
And there’s almost always a, but… should you be plonked in D for Drive and require speedy access to a particular ‘gear’ then you can grab one of the paddles to slip into a momentary manual control. Once the system has detected you’re travelling at a constant speed it will default back to automatic control. This is particularly useful if you’re on a steep, slippery road and taking off from a standing start as it means you can grab second gear to minimise wheel spin.
How does it ride and handle?
The Levorg GT runs the same suspension set-up as the WRX both front and rear and as we wrote in our launch review that car feels more composed and better balanced from front to rear. However, the GT-S runs Bilstein shock absorbers and this transforms the personality of the car dramatically. And not, in my opinion, for the better.
Across a smooth surface then the GT-S does indeed feel like it can be leaned on a little harder in corners than the entry-level GT, but smooth surfaces are very rare in Australia away from major highways. And when the surface deteriorates so to does the composure and body control of the GT-S.
Expansion joints on bridges or mid corner bumps and ruts will see the front end of the GT-S collapse noisily as the suspension struggles to deal with the compression, before the back end hits the same bumps or rut and then pogoes off it. The balance between the way the front end and the back end manage the compression is completely out of sync, and this probably has something to do with the weight over the front and the relative lack of weight over the back.
It results in a car that unless you’re on a race track you’ll only ever push it hard once into a corner, hit a bump and then never push it hard again. The GT is more forgiving and natural in its action and I’d suggest that Subaru should look again at the tune of the Bilsteins away from the smooth surfaces of Subaru’s test track. That said, this isn’t the first time Subaru has fitted Bilsteins to a sporty model and so you would expect the tune to be a little better.
That said, and ignoring the way the suspension handles bumps and ruts, the body control is excellent and by that I mean the thing sits flat through corners. And that’s the same with the GT and means that variant can be pushed harder than the GT-S simply because it’s got better balance, or is more forgiving, front to rear.
The steering is the same in the Levorg as it is in the WRX and that means its quick and accurate with balanced and consistent weighting throughout its action and at various speeds, but there’s very little feel. That, however, is only likely to be a serious issue for about 0.001% of drivers, and those are the sort of people you don’t want to be friends with.
One of the great benefits of Subaru product is permanent all-wheel drive which makes for a more neutral, predictable and confident cornering stance. The Levorg, like the WRX, gets both Vehicle Dynamics Control (VDC) which features Active Torque Vectoring and traction control, and these aren’t one and the same thing.
And the system is excellent, and you only have to tip the thing into a wet corner, as I did, to feel it working. The natural tendency for either a front-drive or all-wheel drive car when driven too hard into a corner, particularly a wet one, is to understeer away from the corner. In the Levorg, the VDC with active torque vectoring and traction control is able to reduce torque to the outside front and give more to the outside back wheel (as well applying some brake, limited-slip differential, and engine control) to help turn the car back in towards the corner.
Should you want to, and there are extreme situations where turning off VDC and traction control is a good idea, like on muddy or snow covered tracks, then you can do just that. Off is off. I don’t recommend turning it off when driving on the road.
Is it safe?
As mentioned above, the Levorg gets permanent all-wheel drive as well a clever traction and stability control system. But one of the standouts, is the third-generation EyeSight system which in the GT-S offers a new EyeSight Assist Monitor which is just a set of LEDs that sit forwards of the steering wheel on the dashboard, and light up in response to a specific situation, be it that you’ve wander out of your lane, or you’re about to run up the back of the car in front.
This Assist Monitor is simple yet effective and allows you to decipher the warning without taking your eyes off the road. If you wander out of your lane either to the left or right, then an LED on either side of the strip will light up. And the same goes if it detects an obstacle in front, you’ll get red LEDs lighting up as well as an audible warning.
- Red, simultaneous flash: Pre-collision primary brake, increased braking required warning, vehicle distance warning, pre-collision secondary brake, AT acceleration control for automatic transmission;
- Yellow, alternate flash: Lane Sway Warning;
- Yellow, one side flash: Lane Departure Warning, lane avoidance request warning (one side lit, one side flashing. Departure warning on the flashing side); and
- Green light: Adaptive Cruise Control, vehicle in front captured.
Beyond this the third-generation system has been tweaked with better stereo cameras and a more powerful 3D image processor. This means it now has a longer range and a wider field of vision than before, both fields have been improved by 40%. The operation range of the pre-collision braking has been lifted from 30km/h to 50km/h making it a more effective system in school zones where the speed limit is 40km/h.
The GT-S also offers Rear Vehicle Detection which is a suite of features, including a side view monitor which is great when parallel parking, high-beam assist, lane change assist, rear cross traffic alert, and blind spot monitoring. With the front structure of the Levorg identical to the WRX, it shares that car’s five-star ANCAP crash safety rating.