Mazda 6 2020 review: Atenza wagon
Why SUV when you can wagon? The Mazda6 Atenza wagon could be the best reason yet not to follow the crowd.
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Need proof that the humble wagon is now the domain of the enthusiast? Subaru tells us the top-spec performance oriented STI Sport is its best-selling variant.
The Levorg is an odd one indeed, a seemingly unnecessary addition to Subaru’s wagon-heavy range in a world where mass consumerism has shunned low-slung bodies in favour of pumped up SUV-types. Practicality be damned.
The trouble with appealing to enthusiasts though, is you’d better get it right, or you’ll face a backlash. So, does the Levorg have what it takes to build one of those money-can’t-buy hardcore fanbases?
I took the Levorg STI for a spin around the heart of Subaru country in the Kosciuszko National Park at the height of winter to find out.
|Subaru Levorg 2020: STI Sport|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
We’re talking $52,440 for the top-spec car as tested here. You can get a seriously good mid-size SUV for that money.
A risk of building such a niche vehicle perhaps, and to be fair, it’s not one that Subaru is targeting volume with.
A sad state of affairs for the small wagon playing field, the list of Levorg competitors in this size bracket is seemingly limited to the Skoda Octavia RS 245 ($49,990), Mazda6 Atenza wagon ($51,190), or perhaps the Peugeot 308 Allure Touring ($27,990).
The Levorg’s natural advantage here is that it’s shares its underpinnings with the performance focused WRX (to go with the look), and so is unique among its wagon competitors.
Do you at least get good spec for your money? Well let’s see – you’ll get great kit from the base Levorg up, with our STI scoring 18-inch alloy wheels (with a WRX-esque design), full LED automatic and steering responsive front lighting, dual-zone climate control, an electric sunroof, a 7.0-inch multimedia touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, as well as built-in nav and DAB+ digital radio, leather interior trim with sports seats, heated front seats and an eight-way power adjustable driver’s seat with memory function, and keyless entry with push-start.
The STI differentiates itself from the 1.6-litre Premium variant by way of a body kit including stamped exhausts and highlight trims, as well as a re-tuned set of coil springs in the suspension.
It’s a lot of gear, and it’s all standard, taking the fight to competitors even without the fact that every Levorg also has all-wheel drive with torque vectoring and Subaru’s comprehensive 'EyeSight' safety suite which you can read more about in the safety section of this review.
So, the Levorg is pricey when stacked up against an SUV, sure, but when stacked up against wagon rivals, is actually impressively equipped.
I love the Levorg’s design. It’s slick, low and mean, and also unmistakably Subaru. It also plants itself right next to the WRX in the brand’s stable with that utterly ridiculous and unnecessary bonnet scoop, which does actually lead to a massive intercooler and thus is at least, functional.
The entire front of this car borrows so much from the boy-racer camp it’s just exciting to look at and, like any hot wagon should be, it’s party in the front and business in the back, with a paired-back rear end and side profile which says it’s ready for the family haul during the week.
The only giveaways from the rear are the chunky dual exhaust pipes and the almost aftermarket-style alloys which in our test car’s case were body-coloured.
Just like its WRX sedan brother though, the Levorg’s exterior design does lag a little behind the brand’s all-new Impreza and Forester ranges with it’s last-gen fittings exposing it’s last-gen underpinnings (rumor has it a new Levorg is on the horizon…).
The Levorg’s interior is as plush as it is chunky, with nice soft leather-trimmed bits placed along the doorcards and transmission column, as well as on the thick, purposeful steering wheel. Again, pundits who have helmed a WRX in the last few years will be familiar with all the fittings in here.
There’s little to give away the fact that the Levorg is older than the rest of Subaru’s range, it’s a modern dash design. It also suffers from Subaru’s obsession with screens as you have a TFT screen in the dash cluster, a information display in the binnacle atop the dashboard and a 7.0-inch multimedia touchscreen embedded in the centre stack. It’s just too much information from too many angles.
I will say I love the design of the analog instrument cluster, with its red highlights and the multimedia screen is definitely one of the better ones, with an easy-to-use interface and flawless phone mirroring (for Apple CarPlay at least).
It’s a symmetrical, cosy and aesthetically pleasing place to be.
Why buy a wagon? Well, for a start, you’ll be getting generally much better boot space than a hatchback or a small SUV (with the handling appeal of a car), but I’m willing to bet if you’ve read this far, you already knew that.
The Levorg’s boot, for example, offers up 489-litres (VDA) with the second row up or 1413L with the seats down. For a bit of perspective, that’s a good 47-litres more (with the seats up) than a mid-size Mazda CX-5.
It’s a big, flat practical space, too with tie-down hooks, and under the boot floor, there is a space-saver spare wheel.
Moving to the second row, passengers will get decent, but not stellar rear legroom as well as good headroom, but where the Levorg shines is the sculpted rear outboard seats which are comfortable to sit in.
The door trims continue the soft-touch surfaces, and have a single 500ml-sized bottle holder on each side.
The middle passenger sadly loses out on legroom due to the large raised tunnel for AWD running gear underneath, and there are no vents, with rear passenger amenities limited to dual USB power outlets and a drop-down centre armrest.
Front occupants score 500ml bottle holders in each door card, a big glove box, a decently-sized centre console box, dual-cupholders in the transmission tunnel and a huge binnacle under the climate controls, where a 12-volt, dual USB and AUX ports exist.
Visibility out of the Levorg is excellent thanks to big rear vision mirrors, a deceptively tall windscreen and the naturally wide aperture of a wagon rear window.
Ergonomics are pretty good for front passengers too, with sporty, supportive seats and dial controls in all the right places (fan speed, temperature, volume, and tuning).
What you will miss out on over Subaru’s SUV range is the easy entry and exit that comes with a taller ride height. You’ll really need to drop yourself into the Levorg’s low-set seats.
This section starts out sounding actually very good. Powering the two most expensive Levorg spec levels is a 2.0-litre turbo boxer engine, producing a strong-sounding 197kW/350Nm, power outputs that once would have been in V6 territory.
Where the enthusiast audience is let down though is the rather pedestrian continuously variable transmission (CVT) auto which the engine is mated to.
There’s no option of a manual here, nor is there a more performance-oriented dual-clutch, even in our top-spec car.
All Levorgs use Subaru’s own all-wheel drive system which includes torque vectoring on 2.0-litre variants.
An unfortunate side-effect of the Levorg’s slightly older 2.0-litre engine architecture is a minimum fuel requirement of mid-grade 95 RON unleaded to fill its 60-litre tank.
The Levorg STI’s claimed/combined fuel figure comes in at a not-low 8.7L/100km, against which we scored 9.6L/100km blasting around back-country roads in the Kosciuszko National Park for several days.
It’s a high fuel use figure, but at least a semi-realistic one given the type of driving we were doing. Again, with a more enthusiast audience, a few extra litres here and there won’t shake potential buyers, but there is better to be had elsewhere from lower-capacity engines.
The Levorg is great fun to drive, but it still falls short of that stenciled red ‘STI’ badge that lives on its front and rear.
I’ll explain. There’s plenty of power on offer here, it’s just how you’re able to use it. When you’re as close to the ground as you are in the Levorg it should be engaging, with maximum driver input and minimum interference.
The trouble is the CVT takes that idea of control out of your hands. It’s rubbery and unnatural, and a bit dull when you’re pushing the otherwise-tightly tuned chassis around corners.
It’s a shame because everything else is so close to excellent. The steering is superb, direct and with just the right amount of weight to it, and when you’re enjoying the Kosciuszko National Park’s best B-roads you can really feel all the grip delivered by the torque vectoring all-wheel drive system. It’s a blast and very reminiscent of the WRX.
Setting the drive computer to 'Sport Sharp' mode tightens up throttle response and keeps the CVT revving harder. This is best enjoyed using the paddle-shifters to bring the revs up in corners and hold them for longer in the straights, allowing the Levorg to behave as closely to a normal auto as possible.
It’s the best way to drive it, but demands the right road. It’s also a little less fun because there’s no penalty for getting it wrong. Rev too hard or drop the 'gear' too low and the computer will simply switch the transmission back to auto mode.
The suspension is a lot of fun on a back road, but decidedly less so around town. In the case of the STI with its extra firm springs, it’s best described as brutal, crashing low and hard over road imperfections. It also allows far more sound into the cabin than in other Subaru products, with tyre roar picking up at freeway speeds or on coarse bitumen.
Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed the Levorg’s drive experience more than I had even expected to, but it’s not for everyone and won’t please the die-hard enthusiast either.
5 years / unlimited km warranty
ANCAP Safety Rating
The Levorg beats out most competitors, and even most mid-sizers at this price with Subaru’s awesome EyeSight safety suite, which is genuinely different from the solutions put forward by other brands.
On the active safety front, this means that you score auto emergency braking (AEB) with brake light detection and forward collision warning (FCW), lane keep assist (LKAS) with lane departure warning (LDW), blind spot monitoring (BSM), rear cross traffic alert (RCTA), and active cruise control.
Unsurprisingly on the basis of that active suite which is still one of the most comprehensive in the price bracket, let alone the class, the Levorg has carried a maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating since 2016.
Expected refinements also include stability controls (with the added benefit of torque vectoring). There are also three top-tether and two ISOFIX child-seat mounting points across the rear seats.
Subaru offers a five-year/unlimited km warranty across its entire range, which is on-par with competitors, including the Octavia and Mazda6.
Like the Skoda, Subaru also offers the ability to buy service plans in three- or five-year packages at the time of purchase, doing so includes other benefits including a free service hire vehicle and three years of roadside assist.
The 2.0-litre Levorgs, including our STI cost between $319.54 and $671.85 per six-monthly 12,500km service interval for a total cost of $4,540.92 for the life of the five-year warranty.
That breaks down to an average cost of $908.18 which is actually very expensive considering the Octavia RS costs less than half that at $340 per year, and it’s a European car.
The Levorg STI Sport is a niche car that flies so close to true greatness. It’s a bucket load of fun… but not fun enough for the true enthusiast. A practicality, equipment and safety hero… but too brutal to be cross-shopped with an SUV… It’s an awesome car that’s just too narrow in its appeal to find a large audience. One thing is for sure – it will be interesting to see what Subaru does next with the Levorg badge.
|Price and features||7|
|Engine & trans||7|