Ford Focus VS Subaru levorg
- Great chassis
- Surprising engine
- Optional advanced safety
- Better tyres would be nice
- Too many optional colours
- Roomy five-seat wagon
- AWD + EyeSight = safety plus
- Great entry level engine
- Poor ride
- Now an old platform
- 2.0-litre can be thirsty
Ford's small hatch, the Focus, is criminally under-bought in Australia. The latest model is one of the best hatchbacks on the road and when you chuck in the decent price, impressive equipment and absurdly powerful engine for its size, it's a winner.
But you lot? You don't buy it in nearly the kinds of numbers it deserves. Partly because there isn't a bait-and-upsell boggo model to lure you in, partly because it's got a badge that is not exciting Australians any more and partly because it's not a compact SUV.
Or is(n't) it? Because alongside the ST-Line warm hatch is the identically priced and therefore technically a co-entry level model; the Focus Active. Slightly higher, with plastic cladding, drive modes and a conspicuous L on the transmission shifter, it's a little bit SUV, right?
|Engine Type||1.5L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
Subaru took its slow-selling Levorg five-door, five-seat wagon back to the drawing board in 2017, refreshing the line-up to include two models that offer a new-to-the-brand 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine and lowering the car's entry price point as a result.
Will it give the Levorg a new lease on life?
|Engine Type||1.6L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
Ten years ago, the idea that the higher-riding version of a hatchback would be a good city car would have been laughable. The Focus Active is pitched as a kind of SUV with its different low-grip driving modes, which you'll never touch if you stick to the city.
The Ford Focus is genuinely a brilliant car, no matter where you take it. The Active takes a terrific chassis, tweaks it for comfort but, ironically, doesn't lose much of the speed.
It's easy to suggest that the Levorg is simply an Impreza wagon (and the 2.0 is a WRX wagon to boot) – but it's not quite the case. The Impreza has now moved onto a new, improved platform, which has left the older generation Levorg in its wake.
With its line-up saturated by wagons, Subaru is finding the Levorg a tough sell, though the new entry level model is a step in the right direction.
Ultimately, though, the relatively inferior ride comfort of the Levorg may well be the element that plays against it the most.
The sweet spot in the range in this case is the entry level 1.6 GT. With better ride and handling than even the range-topping 2.0 STI Sport, a punchy yet economical engine and attractive pricing, it's definitely worth a look.
If you're looking at Subaru wagons, is the Levorg on your list?
For a fairly conservative hatchback, the Focus came under fire for what some termed its derivative styling. I quite like it, and not just because the styling work was led by an Australian. The front end is very much family Ford, as long as it's the European arm of the family, fitting in with its smaller sibling, the Fiesta. The Active scores the usual black cladding, higher ride height and smaller diameter wheels, in exchange for more compliant, higher-profile tyres. All of that takes nothing away from a design that I think looks pretty good.
The cabin is well put together, with just that oddly angled touchscreen causing me a bit of a twitch. The design is a fairly steady Ford interior with a lot of switchgear shared with the Fiesta, but it's all quite nice. The materials feel mostly pleasant and the hardwearing fabric on the seats feels right for this kind of car.
From the front, the Levorg is almost a direct mimic of the brand's Impreza and WRX, especially with the bird-swallowing bonnet scoop that's used on all four cars. The front end has been lightly tweaked for the 2017 upgrade, but it's still obvious which car the Levorg has morphed from.
The rear end is different, of course, and it's something that needs to appeal to the eye of the beholder. It's strong, prominent and almost bulbous from some angles, yet very resolved and flowing when looked at from other directions. There's no body kit, as such, as it's all integrated into the car.
The large overhangs – the distance between the wheels and the outer edges of the bumpers – aren't especially handsome, though, while its high-waisted sides can make the alloys disappear into the fenders. The low ride height helps here, but also means the Levorg is an on-road proposition only.
On the interior side, if you've seen the last model Impreza, then you'll know what the Levorg looks like; a clean, almost underwhelming layout with clear, well laid-out controls, while the extra dimensions of the wagon style gives the cabin a lighter, airier feel.
The Focus is quite roomy compared to other cars in its class. The rear seat has good leg and headroom, with the feeling of space accentuated by large windows. Annoyingly, though, all that work put into making the rear a nice place to be is ruined by a lack of amenities like cupholders, USB ports or an armrest.
Front-seat passengers fare better with two cupholders, a roomy space at the base of the console for a phone and a wireless-charging pad. The front seats are very comfortable, too.
The boot starts at a fairly average 375 litres - clearly sacrificed for rear-seat space - and maxes out at 1320 litres with the seats down. While you have to lift things over the loading lip and down into the boot, it's one of the more sensibly shaped load areas, with straight up and down sides. Ironically, the smaller Puma has a noticeably larger boot.
The Levorg really hasn't changed much from the Impreza-derived wagon that debuted in 2016, aside from styling tweaks, new adaptive headlights, a triple-fold rear seat and revised multimedia systems across the range.
The boot space holds 486 litres with the seats up, which one-ups its Forester sibling by 64 litres (maybe it 64-ups it, then?).
The size increases to 1446 litres when the 60/40 split-fold seats are dropped down. Tie-down points and a 12-volt (12V) socket are present in the rear, along with flip-down switches for the rear seat backs.
There's plenty of room in the rear seats for head room and leg room, though three-across is a tight squeeze for adults.
There are a few not-so clever touches, though, including a myriad of controls on the steering wheel that could easily be reduced. The multimedia system, too, is starting to show its age, even though it offers access to apps like Pandora (which has now been killed off).
Another irritation is the roof-mounted sash belt for the rear centre seat.
There are ISOFIX child seat mounts for the outside rear seats, and a cargo blind for the rear area is included. A run-flat spare lives under the boot floor, too.
It's nice to see a pair of USB ports for rear seat passengers. There's also a USB port in the centre console bin as well as in the storage area under the centre of the dash. Bottle holders live in all four doors, while cup holders are present front and rear.
Price and features
The Focus Active wears a $30,990 sticker but the several people I know who bought one haven't paid that much, so Ford dealers are obviously keen to do deals. Even at that price, it's got a fair bit of stuff. The Active has 17-inch wheels, a six-speaker stereo, dual-zone climate control, reversing camera, keyless entry and start, front and rear parking sensors, cruise control, auto LED headlights, LED fog lights, sat nav, auto wipers, wireless hotspot, powered and heated folding door mirrors, wireless phone charging, a big safety package and a space-saver spare.
Ford's SYNC3 comes up on the 8.0-inch screen perched on the dashboard, which weirdly feels like it's facing away from you slightly. It has wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, sat nav, DAB+ and also looks after various functions in the car.
The panoramic sunroof is a stiff $2000 and includes an annoying perforated cover rather than a solid one.
The Levorg range now stands at four models, with the new 1.6 GT having the added benefit of kicking the range off at a lower price point of $35,990 before on-roads.
Standard kit includes all-wheel-drive, 17-inch alloys, dual zone air conditioning, automatic LED headlights, automatic wipers and a multi-stage throttle map button known as Intelligent Drive, which gives you two different throttle maps via switches on the steering wheel.
There's also a colour multimedia screen that's complemented by a small TFT screen above it that displays vehicle info like boost level and fuel economy.
It also has automatic wipers, a leather-clad steering wheel, alloy pedals, a dual-tone cloth interior and LED daytime running lamps.
The $42,890 1.6 GT Premium, by comparison, adds 18-inch wheels instead of 17s, leather upholstery with heated front seats and electrically-operated driver's seat, more safety with blind-spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert and lane change assist, and a larger 7.0-inch multimedia system with sat nav.
The 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine is retained for the 2.0 GT-S, which now starts at $49,190. It's effectively an almost-$5000 cost increase from 2016, thanks to the new, cheaper 1.6-litre powered cars. It shares the same specifications as the GT Premium, aside from the addition of black rims and a sharper 'Sport#' mode for the drive mode system.
Burgundy coloured leather seats form part of the 2.0 STI Sport package, which also includes a unique front bumper and grille, different 18-inch rims and Bilstein shocks. It's available in Subaru's famed World Rally Blue, as well as other colours like white, grey and black.
Engine & trans
Ford does an excellent range of small turbo engines. The "normal" Focus range (such as it is, now the wagon has disappeared from the market) comes with a 1.5-litre turbocharged three-cylinder engine. Bucking the SUV-this-size trend (yes, I know it's not really an SUV), this punchy little unit delivers an impressive 134kW and 240Nm. They're both very decent numbers for such a small engine.
The big numbers continue with the transmission boasting eight gears, a number you don't often find in a hatchback. It's a traditional torque-converter auto, too, so those of you who have bad memories of Ford's old PowerShift twin clutches should worry no more.
Power goes to the front wheels only and you'll get from 0 to 100km/h in 8.7 seconds.
The newest motor in the family is a 1.6-litre single-turbo four-cylinder boxer unit, and it's the first of this size to be turbocharged for the brand. It's backed by a continuously variable transmission (CVT) auto.
It makes 125kW and 250Nm of torque, though it honestly feels like it makes more horsepower than the engine specs suggest. The key element is how that torque is delivered low down in the rev range.
This means 197kW of power and 350Nm of torque, complemented by a multi-mode throttle control known as Si Drive.
The CVT gearbox sports an eight-step 'manual' mode that can be activated with paddles behind the wheel. CVTs have a bad reputation for dulling the driving experience, but drive this one before you dismiss it out of hand; it's well behaved, reasonably quiet and it complements the car's intended purpose well.
Of the four models, the 2.0 GT-S offers the best towing capacity of 1500kg of braked trailer, with a towball weight max of 150kg. The Bilstein damper-equipped SGTI Sport can only cope with 1200kg and 120kg on the ball.
The 1.6-litre cars, meanwhile, are essentially unsuitable for towing anything larger than a box trailer, offering just 800kg of braked trailer ability and just 80kg on the towball. The max towing capacity for all Levorgs for trailers without brakes is 750kg.
No diesel or LPG options exist for the Levorg, while off road performance is very limited due to its low ground clearance.
Ford's official testing for the big window sticker delivered a 6.4L/100km result on the combined cycle. In my time with the Focus, I got 7.2L/100km indicated on the dashboard, which is a pretty solid result given the Focus spent a good deal of the time on suburban or urban roads.
With its 52-litre tank, you'll cover around 800km if you manage the official figure, or just over 700km on my figures.
The Levorg 2.0-litre is capable of a fuel consumption figure of 8.7 litres per 100km on the combined cycle, according to Subaru, while the 1.6-litre is more economical at 7.4L/100km.
We recorded a dash-indicated 11.2L/100km over 300km in the STI Sport, and 8.0L/100km over 320km in the 1.6 GT.
All four cars have a 60-litre fuel tank, and all four require 95 RON fuel as a minimum. Weight varies between 1539kg for the 1.6 GT to 1591kg for the STI Sport.
Despite the very mild off-road pretensions, if it's a comfortable city ride you're after, the Active is the Focus to have. While the ST-Line isn't uncomfortable - not by a long way - the Active's more compliant tyres and higher ride height (30mm at the front and 34mm at the rear) iron out the bigger bumps without sacrificing much of the sportier car's impressive dynamic prowess, even with the low-rolling-resistance tyres.
The cracking 1.5-litre turbo is responsive and well-matched to the eight-speed auto. The big torque number pushes you along the road and makes overtaking much less dramatic than a 1.5-litre three-cylinder has any right to.
Ford's trademark Euro-tuned quick steering is also along for the ride, making darting in and out of gaps a quick roll of the wrist, which has the added benefit of meaning you rarely have to take your hands off the wheel for twirling. That darting is aided and abetted by the engine and gearbox, with the turbo seemingly keeping the boost flowing with little lag. It's almost like they planned it that way.
You have good vision in all directions, which almost renders the fact that the blind-spot monitoring is optional acceptable. Almost. It's very easy to get around in, easy to park and, just as importantly, easy to get in and out of. Compared to, say, a Toyota Corolla, the rear doors are very accommodating.
The Levorg was a late starter on the last Impreza platform, and it's suffered as a result, particularly in the area of its suspension tune. In short, its ride quality is below average for a car in this price bracket, though the entry-level GT fares better thanks to its smaller rims and taller profile tyres.
The main issue is the Levorg's rear suspension architecture. While the front end uses Impreza-spec MacPherson struts, the rear layout has been compromised to accommodate a large cargo area.
This means the rear springs and shocks aren't physically long enough to give the Levorg enough wheel travel to effectively absorb bumps and lumps and also maintain a decent level of ride quality.
There's lots of physical grip available, though, from the all-wheel drive system which Subaru has backed for a long time. It does add weight and complexity, but it does also give a sure-footed level of behaviour in all weathers.
The smaller 1.6-litre engine isn't exactly a powerhouse, and it's 2.3sec slower between 0- 100km/h than the 6.6sec 2.0-litre car. It does, however, make the most of what it has by serving up the majority of its torque in a very useable range.
The Levorg accelerates away from rest more than adequately, and can maintain its pace at national limit speeds without qualm. It needs a bit of coaxing in steep terrain with four people aboard, but all told the 1.6 is a smooth, strong little unit.
The 2.0-litre WRX-spec engine, meanwhile, really hustles the Levorg along, especially when provoked, with torquey performance across the rev range.
The Active has six airbags, ABS, stability and traction controls, forward AEB (low speed with pedestrian avoidance and highway speeds), forward collision warning, lane-departure warning, speed-sign recognition and active lane-keep assist.
Annoyingly - and I can't for the life of me work out why this is a thing - despite some advanced safety features in the base package, you have to pay $1250 extra for blind-spot monitoring, reverse cross traffic alert and reverse AEB, which are part of the Driver Assistance Pack. No, Ford is not the only company to do this.
The back seat has two ISOFIX points and three top-tether anchors.
The Focus scored five ANCAP stars in August 2019.
The EyeSight camera system is the Levorg's big ticket safety item, and it includes automatic emergency braking, brake light recognition, pre-collision steering assist, adaptive cruise control and lane departure warning.
Lane sway warning, lead vehicle start alert, pre-collision braking system, pre-collision brake assist and even pre-collision throttle management are also built into the system that operates via a pair of cameras at the top of the windscreen.
The entry level 1.6 GT misses out on a secondary level of EyeSight functionality - known as Vision Assist - but still gets AEB, lane sway warning a pre-collision steering assist. All other cars get the full gamut of functions, including rear cross traffic alert, rear AEB and blind spot monitor.
It can be more finicky than other systems, and can be fooled by a dirty windscreen in direct sun. This third generation version is much more robust and sophisticated than the earlier versions, though.
Six airbags, including full-length curtain airbags, are standard fare, helping the Levorg score a maximum ANCAP mark of five from five (tested 2016).
The first five services cost $299 each and also include a free loan car and a 12-month extension to your roadside assist membership for up to seven years.
Subaru has a three-year, unlimited kilometre warranty on the Levorg, and occasionally adds another two years as a dealer offer; it's definitely worth asking about it.
The service interval on a Subaru is shorter than most other cars at six months or 12,500km, thanks to the boxer engine needing more frequent oil changes – and it's false economy to miss a service, too. Trying to sell your Levorg without a fully stamped owner's manual will be hard.
A six-visit capped price servicing regime for the Levorg averages out at around $375 per service, which includes labour, parts and fluids, and even fees like oil disposal levies.
Reliability is generally good with Subarus if you keep them serviced, with few problems or issues reported.