If you poll American Subaru enthusiasts on what they want most from the Japanese automaker, you will hear countless requests for a new WRX wagon or hatchback. Or, perhaps better yet, the Japanese market Subaru Levorg wagon.
As I found out on a recent trip to Japan, that desire is justified—even as it remains unfulfilled. America needs the Subaru Levorg. Save for one fairly major deficiency, it’s absolutely what the doctor ordered to cure Wagon Madness.
(Full Disclosure: Subaru flew me out and another handful of American journalists to Fuji International Speedway, fed me endlessly, and put me up in a very lovely hotel in Tokyo so that I could get some seat time in STI models and attend the performance branch’s 30th-anniversary event at the race track.)
I’m not kidding about how obsessed enthusiasts are with Subaru wagons. When I asked Jalopnik readers on our Instagram and Facebook group what they wanted from Subaru or if they had any questions for the automaker, an astounding majority asked about the Levorg.
Take a look for yourself:
These people know what they want.
The last time America got a sporty Subaru with some extra rear overhang was with the last-generation WRX hatchback. It was also the only generation of an STI hatchback was brought to America.
Interestingly, sales of the STI hatchback versus the sedan for the last-gen car were about equal, Motor Trend reported in 2014.
Before that model went on sale here, the Japanese automaker sold a sportier, turbocharged version of its Outback wagon, the Outback XT, and prior to that, the Legacy GT wagon. And of course, the first generation of WRX that came to the U.S. had a wagon version too.
But currently, the only performance-focused models Subaru sells in America are the WRX and the WRX STI, which are both sedans. (It remains to be seen whether we can count the new Legacy XT in the “sport sedan” category.)
So when Subaru, STI, and the companies’ fans were celebrating the 30th anniversary of the STI brand at Fuji last Sunday, the Japanese automaker granted me a small taste of just what the American market is missing out on.
After putting a handful of laps in around a short circuit at Fuji in some new STI products, the one car that impressed me the most—somewhere between the new STI S209, BRZ STI Sport, and the JDM STI S208—was the Levorg STI Sport.
Though there’s no Subaru wagon that’s a full STI model—like what the WRX STI is to the normal WRX—the Levorg STI Sport is a trim that’s had its suspension retuned up by the performance brand and gets some sportier aesthetic bits thrown on as well.
It gets the WRX’s FA20 2.0-liter turbocharged boxer-four engine, this time putting out almost 300 hp, but unfortunately, like all other Levorg trims, it’s only available with a continuously variable transmission.
Of course, even with those performance bits, it wasn’t nearly the most powerful or most grippy of the bunch, but thanks to its forbidden fruit status to Americans like myself and its ability to mask its wagon-y mass while being thrashed on track, it was definitely the most memorable. It was also the last car I drove that day, so... that probably helps too.
Oh, and those other cars were great as well, but I expected them to be great. They’re track cars. Not plush wagons. I didn’t expect as much track competency from the STI-tuned Levorg. But I’ll talk more about some of those other cars later.
On track, the Levorg STI Sport felt just about as capable as a normal WRX. I was throwing it over curbing, diving into corners, giving the CVT hell, and, for the most part, the wagon took it like a champ. It cornered flat, boosted itself out of corners when I mashed the throttle, and slowed itself down without trouble. I was barely getting into what I expected would be waves of understeer, even as I overdrove the car. And this was all while I was trying to chase down another journalist in an STI S208 sedan in front of me. If I had more laps, I swear I would’ve had him. (Sorry, Blake!)
There was, of course, one seemingly major flaw for track use. That was the CVT. As journalist after journalist beat the Levorg around the track, the transmission appeared to become less and less happy. I can’t say for sure, but on-site STI staff appeared to be monitoring the CVT’s performance with a computer connected to the OBDII port once they noticed it was taking a beating. It also seemed like they were spraying the trans down with water during cool-down periods in pit lane.
And even though mine was in the most aggressive “Sport #” setting, it seemed to be behaving way more harshly than you’d normally expect.
This is all, obviously, why the Levorg needs a manual. But, at this point, with the car not even being sold here and whatnot, I’ll hold myself back from digging too deep into that trench.
Now, I want to be clear—as great as it appeared to me on track (CVT aside), I didn’t get to drive the Levorg, or any of the cars, on public roads. My testing was limited to just a few laps in each of the cars on a circuit that was only about a half-mile long.
I can’t say for sure that the Levorg STI Sport is the ultimate family-hauling, grocery-getting, track-ready wagon that we all want it to be. But what I do know is that from that very limited amount of time I spent in it, it was truly blissful. And really, anything that can handle itself like a WRX and have wagon practicality is probably a fine daily driver. That seems obvious.
After my time in the Levorg and getting inundated with questions from readers about the wagon, I spoke to STI’s general manager of product planning and development, Masuo Takatsu, and Subaru North American business planner Yoshihide Yano. I asked them about the decision to not bring the Levorg to America.
Before Takatsu made the move from Subaru to STI in 2016, he served as the project manager for the current-generation STI, and helped make key decisions on the model.
If there was any doubt, Subaru and STI are both very aware of how much American enthusiasts want another performance wagon.
“We together went frequently to the U.S., listening to the customers. We also went to fan events. The two major requests were ‘give us the wagon [and] more power,’” Yano told Jalopnik.
“If [Subaru] cannot do both, then we thought that more power had to be solved, rather than [building] the wagon,“ Takatsu told Jalopnik through a translator.
But I think that’s debatable. The last-generation STI came to America with 305 HP, and the new model, introduced in 2015, offers the same 305 HP. The STI has since been refreshed and now pushes 310 HP. As for the WRX, it got a three-horsepower bump when Subaru ditched the EJ25 it was using for the new, turbocharged FA20 motor in the new car.
No one denies these cars are fast and fun, but I do think—as you all seem to as well—that there is a true demand for a more practical wagon or hatchback bodystyle for these cars.
Anyways, I write this last part on behalf of my fellow WRX enthusiasts. Subaru, bring the damn Levorg to America.