It’s not a secret that the Japanese market has been undergoing substantial changes over the past decade. Race cars for the road, such as the Nissan GT-R, Mitsubishi EVO and even Subaru’s own WRX and STI have simply gone out of fashion in the Land of the Rising Sun.
Lately, Japanese youth are more interested in getting a new gaming system or smart phone then they are an upgraded set of wheels. Tokyo Drift and Initial D? Just movies, not a lifestyle. Those that do opt for a car of their own are leaning towards small, playful cars like the best-selling Honda Fit and Toyota Aqua, instead of the road rockets we’re so fond of. Meanwhile, older buyers are staying with sensible cars like the Toyota Corolla and Honda Accord. What is a car maker to do?
Facing the very real threat of obsolescence in their own backyard, the Japanese parent of Subaru has been trying to separate itself from the rally racers it had become synonymous with. Remember the Impreza GT from 2008? Yes, that was an early attempt to move away from its WRC heritage. It was at this time that Subaru completely killed the WRX brand in Japan in favor of the GT label. The decision bombed in North America. But from that lemon, Subaru of America was able to make hard lemonade in the form of the 265hp, wide-body, 2011 WRX. You see, the failure of the Impreza GT fueled SOAs demand for a more potent WRX. Sales in North America were sweet once more.
In fact, sales have been astonishing here in America. Subaru is set to sell more than 420,000 vehicles in North America this year, for the first time surpassing Volkswagen. It wasn’t flaccid compacts like the Impreza GT that made this possible. It was a focused, no-excuses lineup including the phenomenal Forester, rugged XV Crosstrek, sensible Impreza and, yes, even the WRX, that rocketed Subaru sales forward.
So now the 2015 WRX has been announced and there there has been much hand-wringing and gnashing of teeth about the apparent loss of the wagon for the 2015 model year. But the WRX Wagon is alive and well, it’s just hiding in Japan under an assumed name (and with some extra bits of chrome to better hide its true identity.) It’s called the LEVORG and it was announced at the Tokyo Auto Show the same day that Subaru Announced the 2015 WRX over here.
Only, the LEVORG isn’t really a WRX. It, like the Impreza GT, is a “different” version of what we would expect from a car bearing letters W-R-X. So instead of dealing with the same press fiasco that was the Impreza GT, this time the GT stayed home, under an assumed identity. It also gives what is otherwise a potentially very decent car a fresh start. New name, no expectations.
So let’s look at this LEVORG, which is set to start production in Spring of 2014.
The compact sports tourer will be available with a choice of either 1.6-liter or 2.0-liter boxers, both with direct injection. The only transmissions available are either the Lineartronic CVT or Sport Lineartronic (2.0-only) which also appears in the 2015 WRX. Interestingly, all models will include the latest version of Subarus excellent EyeSight system – which can now also control steering in addition to brake and throttle. Interior trim is highlighted by piano-black finishes. The 1.6-liter model comes with standard 17-inch wheels, the 2.0 gets flashy 18-inch wheels.
Will the LEVORG find its way State-side? Naturally, Subaru of America doesn’t comment on future product. But there are two ways this vehicle could potentially find it’s way into our driveways: first, Subaru could bring it over as a unique product line, much like they did with the XV Crosstrek. Sell it as a tarted up luxury line, above the Impreza. But the name LEVORG will have to go. It’s rediculous. The second option would be to tear off all the chrome, scrap the piano accents, fit it with a proper 6-speed transmission, slap on some wider flares and sell it as a WRX. Yes, the option is there: The chassis exists, and is going into production next Spring. Then again, it’s quite possible that Subaru of America has planned a teired introduction of the WRX all along. We’ll have to wait until 2014 to know for sure.