What Car? says...
The Subaru Levorg estate is rather oddly positioned here in the UK. You see, in Japan, you can buy one with the same turbocharged 2.0-litre petrol engine, suspension and four-wheel drive system as the old rally-bred WRX STi.
It’s hard not to agree that a 296bhp estate car with STi genes would be something quite tempting when you have a growing family but still want something exciting. But, over here, the Levorg is available only with a naturally aspirated version of that engine, and about half the power.
The Levorg arrived in the UK in 2015 before being updated in 2019. The bumper designs were tweaked, along with the grille and foglight positioning, but you’d struggle to notice the difference. Easier to spot are the new 18in alloy wheels with a two-tone finish.
As alluded to above, you can have only a 2.0-litre engine paired with a CVT automatic gearbox and Subaru’s symmetrical four-wheel drive system in the Levorg. There’s also only one trim level: GT. It’s well equipped, but that also means there are no overly affordable versions of the car, further limiting its appeal. Rivals such as the Skoda Octavia Scout are close in price but offer more powerful engines.
So, is the rugged Levorg a better buy than the sensible Octavia Scout? Read on to find out how it drives, what it’s like for passengers and if its boot is big enough for family life. And if you want to buy a Levorg, or indeed any other car, make sure to visit our New Car Buying section to see how much money you could save.
Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
The Levorg’s 2.0-litre petrol engine makes 147bhp – not particularly powerful for a family estate car. The lack of a turbocharger exacerbates this shortage, because it means you need to rev the engine very hard if you want to overtake or dart into a traffic opening. Despite the traction of the Levorg’s four-wheel-drive system, the 0-62mph sprint takes about 9 seconds, which is nothing impressive.
Part of the problem is its CVT gearbox. As is often the case with a Continually Variable Transmission (these use a single gear that changes in ratio according to engine power output), it never responds crisply to demands for acceleration and feels quite lazy as a result. There’s a manual mode that creates “virtual“ gears, but even then the shifts are inconsistent in their speed and have a certain elasticity. Engine noise is also a big annoyance; plant your foot and the revs are sent soaring for an uncomfortably long time while the gearbox works out what to do.
Although the turbocharger was lost in translation, the UK and Japanese versions of the Levorg both share suspension components that are taken from the Subaru WRX STi performance car. This becomes clear when you drive down a bumpy road. The ride is firm and won’t suit those looking for comfort above all, but the Levorg feels stable and stays planted on the road in the same way that a well-sorted sports car would. Almost as if it was designed to have double the amount of power, ironically enough.
Another benefit of the STi genes is precise steering that, even on a narrow road, allows you to easily place the car. Finally, being a Subaru, the Levorg is more capable off-road than many other cars, only hampered by its limited ground clearance. Ultimately, though, its engine simply doesn’t have enough power or refinement to make it truly enjoyable.
The interior layout, fit and finish
Settling down into the comfortable and supportive seat, it’s easy to find a driving position that suits you, thanks to plenty of adjustment for both the seat and the steering wheel. You sit fairly upright in the Levorg, so the view out over the bonnet is more akin to that of a small SUV rather than a low-slung estate car.
Around the top of the dashboard and doors are plenty of soft-touch materials that feel pleasingly squishy. Move to the lower areas, though, and things aren’t quite so good. Plastics get harder, scratchier and not very appealing; the Skoda Octavia Scout feels classier inside for similar money.
While it’s good that there are controls on the Levorg’s steering wheel, there’s a pretty overwhelming number of them (about 20), so it takes a while to get your head around what they do. As for the infotainment system, it’s some way behind the best out there, with small icons, slow response times and dated-looking graphics. Factor in instruments that can be hard to read – including a trip computer that’s mounted oddly high up – and you’re left with an interior that, while not unpleasant, is quite a way behind others in this price category.
Passenger & boot space
How it copes with people and clutter
There’s a fine amount of room in the front of the Levorg and just about enough room in the rear for a couple of large adults, although a third is a squeeze. The boot is a useful size, so it will be fine for a week’s worth of holiday luggage. However, if capacity is a priority, the Octavia Scout is a much better bet. In fact, even the regular hatchback Octavia has a bigger boot than the Levorg.
Folding down the 60/40-split rear bench is easy, thanks to a spring-loaded mechanism. Once the seats are down, you’re left with a completely flat loading bay that, again, is a useful size but still dwarfed by rivals’.
Buying & owning
Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is
This is an area in which the Levorg really does struggle against rivals. A relatively large-capacity, naturally aspirated engine with a CVT gearbox isn’t a very fuel-efficient combination; official CO2 emissions of 167g/km put benefit-in-kind tax for company car users at a hefty rate, while first-year road tax is similarly pricey.
As you may already have guessed, this means fuel economy isn’t great, either. The Levorg returns an official average of 32.6mpg, but you can expect it to achieve less in reality, especially with a lot of town driving. If you really baby it on the motorway and don’t cause the engine revs to soar, you can achieve more than 40mpg, but, by comparison, the exclusively-diesel Octavia Scout should return 50mpg at ease, with scope for more.
The Levorg’s purchase price is also pretty steep, considering its size and performance. Sure, you get plenty of standard equipment and four-wheel drive, but its interior feels too cheap. This ambitious pricing puts the Levorg roughly in line with the Octavia Scout but also makes it more expensive than many other more accomplished rivals, such as the Skoda Superb Estate and Volkswagen Passat Estate, which are generally more competent it in every area.
At least Subaru offers a comprehensive warranty: a full five years or 100,000 miles. That said, you might well not even need this, because the Japanese brand finished an impressive fifth out of 31 manufacturers in our most recent Reliability Survey.