Good: typical Subaru character, practicality, comfort, enjoyable to drive, likely reliability
Not so good: expensive, rivals have bigger boots, thirsty, pricey tax, not as brilliant to drive as it should be
Let me digress before I even get going. The year is 1952 and the jet age is upon humanity. Already, the DeHavilland Comet is streaking airline passengers across the Atlantic on the thrust cones of its four jet engines, while Boeing has begun preliminary work on the 707 that will, in a few short years, utterly change air transport and, it seems not ridiculous to say, humanity forever. Saunders-Roe, a highly respected English aircraft builder thinks differently though - it still thinks that flying boats are the big idea.
So it builds something truly spectacular. The enormous, blunt-nosed, boat-hulled Princess, powered by no fewer than ten engines, all working together to turn six sets of propellers, four of which were contra-rotating. It is a gorgeous, wonderful, clinically insane piece of the engineer's art - needlessly complicated, out of date before it even left the drawing board. Three were built, only one flew and eventually all were ignominiously scrapped without ever having carried a paying passenger. The Comet, the 707, the DC-8, the Coronado - these were the real future of aviation. Yet it's impossible not to feel a warm sense of affection for the elegant madness of the Princess.
Which brings us rather neatly to the Subaru Levorg. Here is a car that, in terms of how the Irish car market operates in 2016, is a Princess amongst Comets. With more than 70 per cent of Irish buyers still preferring diesel power, and fewer than ten per cent choosing a practical estate body, Subaru has decided to aim at a vanishingly narrow arc of the market. The Levorg will only be sold as an estate, only with a 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engine and only with an automatic CVT gearbox. As if that weren't enough, it costs the guts of €45,000. It's almost as if it doesn't actually want to sell any...
In fact, that was the original plan. With no diesel engine option, Subaru Ireland had not intended to bring in the Levorg at all, but constant queries from customers (so we are told), fuelled by the publicity surrounding the model's achievements in the British Touring Car Championship (with Northern Ireland's Colin Turkington at the wheel) were enough to convince that a tiny, but sufficient market existed. So, Subaru people say, the target market is basically those who would once have bought an Impreza Turbo, but are now grown up and need something a bit gentler.
There is certainly some Impreza Turbo visual aggression in the Levorg. Around the front, there is a deep air dam and that big, hoovering air intake atop the bonnet. It's only feeding a 170hp 1.6-litre engine, but still... That engine is of course a flat-four, so when you fire it up there is the eerie absence of diesel rattle, just a distant chatter, as if someone three rooms away is shaking a paper bag full of knitting needles. Plant your right foot hard on the throttle and that classic forest gravel stage soundtrack is still there, albeit muted with an edge of refinement. The flat-four can still generate exciting sound waves when it wants to.
It's not massively fast, the Levorg, and the CVT transmission means that full throttle is held onto for longer than you'd ideally like, but it does shift along nicely enough, and that lack of diesel grumble is reason enough to enjoy it.
Fuel economy? Ahhh... Subaru quotes 39mpg, which can be equalled if driven very gently, but who's going to buy a sporty estate to drive gently? Drive it in the manner you'd expect and sub-30mpg is going to be a daily reality. And €570 a year motor tax an annual one. You're going to really want to have a Levorg to actually be prepared to pay for one.
Is it worth it? Well, the Levorg has some credits to its performance. It is nice to drive, with light, accurate steering and excellent body control. It's not a virtuoso performance though - good but not outstanding in dynamic terms, with an odd mix of body roll and a too-stiff ride around town at times. It's good on a twisty, damp road where the standard four-wheel drive plays a strong game of traction and the suspension gets its act together and starts to flow better. Then, you start to see some of the old Subaru magic - a sturdily built, practical car that has the soul of a rally car somewhere deep down inside.
The cabin is alright. The new touch-screen is a good one; it's fast-reacting, connects easily to your smartphone of choice and has a reasonably sensible menu layout. Elsewhere Subaru has made obvious strides in improving the quality and layout of its cabins, but the overall effect is still a bit five-year-old Toyota. On the upside, the seats are comfy and nothing is going to break. On the downside, space in the back seats and boot is only average.
It is very safe though - getting a big score on the EuroNCAP crash test and deploying Subaru's stereoscopic EyeSight camera system that triggers the brakes itself if it reckons you're about to run into something.
Would you actually buy one though? Well, to be honest, you'd be a bit mad to. Rivals such as the Mazda6 and Skoda Superb offer comparable reliability, with superior dynamics (in the Mazda's case anyway) and ridiculously better value. And yet we cannot quite bring ourselves to dismiss the Levorg. If you don't want diesel, if you hate unreliability, if you have €45k burning a hole in your wallet, if your bedroom wall still bears a Colin McRae poster and if the rest of conventional motor-dom just doesn't quite do it for you, then by all means buy a Levorg. We'll head off and buy something much more sensible. But we might be just a bit jealous when we see you passing buy. Flying boats are so much more charming than soul-less jets, after all.