Subaru levorg VS Holden Calais
- Roomy five-seat wagon
- AWD + EyeSight = safety plus
- Great entry level engine
- Poor ride
- Now an old platform
- 2.0-litre can be thirsty
- Plenty of cabin space
- Safety gear on-point
- Punchy V6
- Fuel use on the high side
- Four-cylinder turbo petrol unavailable
- Diesel not an option
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|
If Holden had a dollar for every time someone had criticised the new and international flavour of Australia’s formerly home-grown hero, it would surely have more than enough spare cash to blow the dust of that vast South Australian factory and restart local Commodore production immediately.
Hell, there’d probably be enough left over to relaunch the Camira while they were at it. And maybe even knock out a new Gemini or two.
So we’re not going to do that again here. The all-new Commodore, in this case the Calais Tourer, is now here - granted having travelled further than the one it replaces - and so we’ll be playing this review with the straightest of bats.
Because the truth is, if you peel the badging - and thus the swirling emotion - off its elongated rump, then you’ll find this German-built Tourer is, really and truly, a very good thing.
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
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?
A best-of-both-worlds option that should have us questioning our SUV obsession, the Calais Tourer delivers plenty of practicality perks and a higher ride height in a dynamic and car-like package. The equipment levels are spot on, including the comprehensive safety package, and it you act smartly, you'll get a hugely long warranty to boot.
It sure is thirsty, though, and we can't help but think plenty of owners would be happier with a smaller, more-efficient engine.
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.
Less an SUV (happily), and more a high-riding wagon, the Calais Tourer borrows a little from the Subaru XV in its exterior design, sporting the same plastic cladding over each wheel arch. Clearly there is a whole heap of shared DNA between the Sportwagon and Tourer, and so it offers similar perks; like its SUV-shaming boot space.
Elsewhere, the Tourer shares the same soft and rounded edges as the rest of the Commodore range, and while it is genuinely quite handsome from most angles, it is at its best viewed front on, where a simple front-end is bookmarked at each corner by a narrow headlight on top, and an encased fog light below. It’s all a touch understated, sure, but it looks sharp in the metal.
Inside, it’s a clean and functional cabin design, with most of the touchscreen functions controlled by a simple row of four horizontal buttons, and with a gloss-black surround encasing the centre console. The thin leather wheel feels lovely under the touch, and the contrasting door trims and soft-touch materials find their way into the backseat, too.
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.
The Tourer serves up identical storage space to its Sportwagon near-enough twin, with 793 litres of storage (to the roof line) with the rear seats in place, and 1665 litres with the rear seat folded down. That’s about 200 litres more than the regular Commodore hatchback.
Where the Tourer does differ from the Sportwagon is in its exterior dimensions, measuring 5004mm in length (versus 4986mm in the Sportwagon) and 1525mm in height (versus 1483mm). Width and wheelbase are identical, though (1871mm and 2829mm), and so the interior space dimensions - like headroom and legroom - are identical no matter which of the estate-style Commodores you opt for.
The key dimension here, though, is ride height, with the Tourer offering 20mm more ground clearance (42mm greater height overall) than the Sportwagon. That, combined with the on-demand all-wheel-drive system, allows for some light off-roading - though you won’t be conquering Everest.
Up front, expect two cupholders hidden under a gloss-black cover, as well as power and USB connections located in a central cubby. The back seat is home to two extra cupholders hidden in a pulldown divider, and there is room in each of the doors for bottles. The back seat is also home to air vents (but no temperature controls) and two USB charge points located just below the vents.
Price and features
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.
The Calais has long formed the most luxurious rung of the Commodore ladder, and the wagon-ish Tourer is without doubt the most practical version. It will set you back $45,990 ($47,990 drive-away) in the guise we’ve tested here, and $53,990 In Calais V specification.
Not to be sneezed at, then. But it does arrive with plenty of stuff to help justify your investment.
Outside, you’ll find 18-inch alloys, a handsfree auto-opening boot, heated mirrors, keyless entry with push-button start, a remote start function, rain-sensing wipers and automatic headlights with LED DRLs. Inside, expect leather seats that are heated in the front, a leather-wrapped wheel, dual-zone climate control, standard satellite navigation and a wireless charging pad for compatible phones.
On the technology front, an 8.0-inch touchscreen pairs with an eight-speaker stereo, and it’s both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto equipped. There’s also a genuinely impressive standard safety package, too, but we’ll drill down on that under the Safety sub-heading.
Engine & trans
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.
A really rather good 3.6-litre V6 engine Is parked under the bonnet, feeding 235kW at 6800rpm and 381Nm at 5200rpm to all four wheels as required, thanks to an on-demand all-wheel-drive system. The suspension is tuned specifically for its high-riding antics, too.
The 3.6-litre engine means a braked towing capacity of 2100kg, and an unbraked max of 750kg.
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.
Not so good, I’m afraid. The offical number is on the high-side at 9.1 litres per 100 kilometres on the claimed/combined cycle (though that's less than the equivalent Subaru Outback), but we were averaging a smidge under 14.0L/100km after what was admittedly quite a lot of city driving. Still, that’s high.
Emissions are pegged at 212g/km or C02, and the Tourer’s 61-litre tank will accept cheaper 91RON fuel, or an E10 blend.
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.
Really very good. That 3.6-litre engine (why they haven’t offered the Tourer with the smaller and smarter turbo engine is something of a mystery) might be a touch old-school and a touch thirsty, but it’s a rich and powerful thing, and it gives the Calais-stamped Tourer a perky personality that defies its dimensions.
The Calais Tourer was built in Germany, and fitted with an engine and transmission from the USA, before undergoing local tuning here in Australia (think bespoke steering and suspension tunes calibrated both at the company’s testing facility and after a 200,000km test on Aussie roads), and it’s the last of those Dr Frankenstein ingredients that have had the biggest impact here.
The Tourer’s ride is fantastic, perfectly poised between firm composure and everyday comfort, and - like most good wagons - it will honestly leave you wondering why so many people are clamouring aboard the SUV train when you can all the space with better dynamics in a humble estate.
The nine-speed ‘box is smooth and sharp in its operation, too. But the fuel use is a concern. Sure, we spent the bulk of our time in the city, where stop-start traffic naturally uses more fuel. But then, surely so would most owners?
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).
You’ve got to hand it to the Lion for the standard safety package here, which includes the Holden Eye camera system as standard, adding auto emergency braking (AEB), lane keep assist, lane departure warning and forward collision warning. You’ll also find semi-autonomous parking, a reversing camera and rear parking sensors.
The Calais Tourer adds blind-sport monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert to that pretty comprehensive package. All of which helps the Commodore range qualify for the maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating.
Finally, you can add six airbags and two ISOFIX attachment points to the mix.
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.
Holden has recently relinquished the initial warranty offering, now including the Commodore in its seven-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty program, meaning it mixes with the very best in the aftercare business. For now, at least; normally, the Commodore carries the brand's standard three year/100,000km warranty. But be on the lookout for the return of this deal if you miss out this time.
Service intervals are pegged at 12 months or 12,000kms, and the Commodore falls under Holden’s extensive capped-price servicing program, and it will cost between $259 and $359 for each of the first seven annual services.