Subaru invented the crossover when it released the first Forester back in 1997. That all-wheel drive wagon with raised suspension went on to become an enormous hit. The Levorg, the company's newest additional model, won't be a massive seller but what it does represent is a new niche for the brand, sized between where the Impreza and Legacy wagons used to sit.
Not exporting the Levorg to the US is understandable, given American buyers' aversion to wagons. In that context, Subaru keeping this compact estate from its largest global market somehow makes its availability here in Britain a bit special.
What started out as a concept at November 2013's Tokyo motor show became a production model in 2014 in Japan, build being at the Gunma plant. The LEVORG concept ('Legacy, Revolution, Touring') was also the first time we had seen a new 125kW (170PS) 1.6-litre DIT direct injection turbocharged engine, with a 221kW (300PS) 2.0-litre unit also debuting in the prototype. Both units also feature in the car, though only one of them in the UK.
The Legacy part of the concept's name was misleading: Subaru likely wanted people to think of the then future Levorg as a car which would be priced above the Impreza sedan and hatchback. The thing is though, this model is really the wagon version of what's now the old-shape Impreza. Moreover, apart from its platform, hasn't got much in common with the Legacy, a larger car.
Subaru, a car maker of fairly limited resources, despite its alliance with Toyota, has pulled off this trick before – witness the current WRX no longer having an Impreza prefix. Both the superfast sedan and the Levorg might technically be part of the previous generation Impreza line-up but their maker doesn't acknowledge that fact. Each is marketed as a separate model, and this does seem to be work.
The addition of the Levorg helped the brand to an eight percent year-on-year gain in its UK sales, though the actual number of cars sold isn't going to scare the big three of Volkswagen Group, Ford and GM Vauxhall.
IM Group, the UK importer of both Subaru and Isuzu vehicles, can be pleased that its dealers have managed to keep the six-stars brand ahead of a surging Infiniti over the first seven months. The SMMT's numbers show Subaru on 1,976 deliveries versus 1,964 for Nissan's posh brand. Yes it's a strange comparison, but apart from Bentley (1,149), Abarth (2,185), MG (2,201) and SsangYong (2,635) there are no other brands selling vehicles in the low thousands. Above SsangYong, it's a jump to Alfa Romeo (3,138) and then to Porsche (7,348).
The Levorg has been available here since September 2015 but my six-month stay in Sydney over the northern hemisphere winter meant I missed testing this model until recently. Even though Australia is per capita Subaru's most successful market, the importer held off from offering the Levorg until a few months ago, probably due to the usual exchange rate challenges: the A-Dollar has for decades been one of the rich world's most volatile currencies.
IM Group had a stroke of luck earlier in 2016 as the Yen sank but we all know what happened to Sterling on 24 June. Given that backdrop, importing Subarus manufactured in the company's home market has not been a business for the faint-hearted in recent months, especially with the Japanese currency having strengthened lately. All that means that the Levorg will remain a rare sight on British roads.
Unlike in most other countries, the word SUBARU appears on the tailgate or bootlid of vehicles sold in the UK – brand awareness is such that having only the Pleiades star cluster logo as is the case in Asia-Pacific and North America wouldn't make sense here. And there is the biggest problem associated with not just the Levorg but its maker. When was the last time you saw an ad campaign for any of the company's models? Such a shame as the cars are always a good, if unusual alternative to the cars they have been designed to compete against.
IM Group brings in the Levorg in GT form only, which means sporty looks, compete with rally heritage style bonnet scoop, side skirts and big rims. A 1.6-litre turbo engine is standard, and that's linked to a CVT and all-wheel drive.
For GBP27,495 (US$36,103), you get sports seats with blue stitching and heating, a factory-fit 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment and navi system, lots of leather trim, rain sensing wipers, 18-inch dark grey alloy wheels, two 12-volt power outlets, four USB ports (two in the front, two in the rear), dual-zone air-conditioning and a reversing camera. Three years' free servicing is the latest addition to that list.
The engine has that wonderful Subaru burble but is 170PS (125kW) enough power? Not really. The torque output is better, at 250Nm. It's a real shame that Subaru's superb Boxer diesel isn't available in this car as that would be a cracker of a combination. As it is, the handling is almost up there with the best of the second tier C segment wagons – think Vauxhall Astra, Kia cee'd, SEAT Leon or Toyota Auris – but grip is much, much better. This really is a fun family car, and even better, it looks the part.
Try as hard as you can, it's just about impossible to chirp the front tyres and the Lineartronic transmission, as Subaru calls it, is well matched to the torque – if only there was more shove. Probably as a result of the car's 1,551kg weight, CO2, at 164g/km, isn't that great. Economy was in the low 30s but I was mostly driving for enjoyment, not economy. The importer the Combined figure is "nearly 40mpg".
Like the WRX STI and Outback, the Levorg has Active Torque Vectoring (ATV). This works by both lightly braking the inside wheels when cornering and apportioning more torque to the outside ones. The result is reduced levels of understeer and oversteer and it certainly makes the car feel firmly placed.
What I'd really love to see is the 2.0-litre turbo engine that's available in Japan with 220kW (299PS) or even the 200kW (272PS) version sold in Australia. Trouble is, the pricing would probably be around the GBP35,000 mark and for that sort of money, Subaru would be competing with the BMW 330i Touring.
Overall then, the Levorg GT is an off-beat alternative to most family estates, and IM Group probably won't have too much trouble selling the 500 or so examples it plans on importing each year.
Euro NCAP has just awarded the Levorg a ***** rating. See the crash tests here.