Although the 2017 Subaru Impreza may continue to be bread and butter for the Japanese all-wheel drive-renowned brand, there now appears to be two differences.
The four-tier hatch range – comprising 2.0i, 2.0i-L (as tested here), 2.0i-Premium and 2.0i-S – still does not go for the throat at the $19,990 end of the small market, with the now auto-only Impreza range kicking off at $22,600 plus on-road costs. Nor does it follow its exclusively front-drive competitors and eschew traction to all four wheels.
However, underpinned by an entirely new chassis tagged Subaru Global Platform, and introducing advanced active safety features that come under the banner of Subaru EyeSight, there promises to be a dusting of magic to the way this vehicle drives, and a sprinkling of high-end technology inside and under the five-door range.
Subaru’s bread and butter should hopefully be tastier than ever.
Vehicle Style: Small hatchback
Price: $24,690 (plus on-road costs)
Engine/trans: 115kW/196Nm 2.0 4cyl petrol | automatic CVT
Fuel Economy Claimed: 6.6 L/100km | Tested: 8.2 L/100km
Even the entry Impreza 2.0i arrives standard with 17-inch alloy wheels on the outside and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto and Pandora app touchscreen connectivity inside.
This lower-middle-tier Impreza 2.0i-L really steps things up, however, with a larger 8.0-inch screen, dual-zone climate control, leather-trimmed steering wheel and gearshifter, colour trip computer screen, even active cruise control, plus foglights, electric-fold door mirrors and forward collision warning with autonomous emergency braking (AEB). And it still costs under $25K at $24,690 (plus orc).
On paper it appears the ‘sweet spot’ of the exclusively 2.0-litre ‘boxer’ four-cylinder petrol-engined automatic range, though the $26,490 (plus orc) Impreza 2.0i-Premium includes a sunroof and satellite navigation.
The only disappointment is that automatic on/off headlights, blind-spot monitor and lane-keep assistance are reserved only for the $29,290 (plus orc) Impreza 2.0i-S that further scores larger 18s, leather trim, electrically adjustable driver’s seat and heated front seats. Also, oddly, the sedan costs $200 less in any of the four cases.
- Standard Equipment: Keyless auto-entry, power windows and electric-fold mirrors, active cruise and dual-zone climate control, multi-function trip computer and leather-wrapped steering wheel and gearshifter.
- Infotainment: 8.0-inch colour screen with Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto and Pandora app smartphone connectivity, voice control and six speakers.
- Options Fitted: None.
- Cargo Volume: 345 litres.
Subaru has hardly been renowned for producing high-end interior designs in recent years. Enduringly rugged, perhaps, but then the same qualities might also apply to multi-storey carparks. Older Imprezas have felt about as bright and premium, too.
By the standards of yesteryear this new-generation small hatchback takes the express elevator to a luxury penthouse; albeit a fairly cluttered and theme-less one.
The dashboard and upper door trims are of a consistently matched soft-touch variety complete with neat, white stitching complementing a mix of gloss-silver and – okay, questionable – gloss carbonfibre-look inserts. There is a lot going on, but at least the high-resolution colour screens and climate controls add a welcome splash of colour.
For $30,000 perhaps this interior is less convincing, but together with quality cloth trim it’s a real treat for below $25,000 before on-roads. There are, however, elements beyond the initial touch-points that could be improved.
Without electric seat adjustment the driver’s pew feels tilted too far forward for optimum under-thigh support – long an issue of manually adjustable Subaru seats. Backrest adjustment via a lever and preset steps also pales alongside that of an infinitely adjustable rotary dial found in the Holden Astra and Volkswagen Golf.
Finally, the headlights don’t even have auto-off functionality – they just ‘beep’ annoyingly when the car is turned off and a door is opened – and the touchscreen froze permanently during our testing, affecting the 2.0i-L’s usability score.
While up-front storage is generous thanks to a huge console bin, a wide tray beneath the climate controls, and bottle holders in all doors, the otherwise immensely spacious rear seat isn’t backed up by an entirely plush rear bench.
Air vents are also missing back there, while further behind once more, the 345-litre boot is hampered by a high loading lip and the all-wheel drive hardware beneath the floor. Luggage room is more generous than in a Mazda3 or Toyota Corolla, but not as capacious as an Astra or Golf, nor the equally new Honda Civic and Hyundai i30.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 115kW/196Nm 2.0 4cyl petrol
- Transmission: automatic continuously-variable transmission (CVT), FWD
- Suspension: MacPherson strut front and independent rear
- Brake: ventilated front and rear disc brakes
- Steering: electrically assisted mechanical steering
Subaru hangs its hat on the standard inclusion of all-wheel drive (AWD) over purely front-driven rivals, and in mud and snow the extra traction would be an advantage. It’s important to recognise, however, that AWD doesn’t provide any extra grip alone.
What it does is add mass, and the 1417kg kerb weight of this Impreza 2.0i-L is among the weightiest in the small car class. Although mostly a new engine, 196Nm of torque produced at 4000rpm, before 115kW is delivered at 6000rpm, remain average for the class even before noting the heft the 2.0-litre must contend with.
Thanks to an intelligently tuned and smooth continuously-variable transmission (CVT) the Impreza isn’t as slow as expected. But nor is at as perky as you’d hope, and the new platform’s impressively reduced wind and road noise are not complemented by the coarse racket of the engine revving hard, and often.
The turbo-petrol and six-speed automatic drivetrain in the similarly priced Astra, for example, relegate this larger non-turbo engine and CVT to a bygone era.
Happily, what the new platform also achieves is responsive and sturdy handling teamed with consistent and meaty steering when driven enthusiastically through country road corners.
Along with the lack of road roar and good grip levels from the Bridgestone Turanza tyres, the Impreza can be entertaining because it allows momentum to be kept up in the face of relatively dour performance.
The Subaru most enjoys smooth bitumen, though, with rougher roads or chopped-up urban arterials eliciting a curious sensation from the suspension that is also felt in the larger Liberty. That is, initial ride quality is supple, but the soft damping can create some occupant head-toss, or wallow; yet rebound response over speed humps is abrupt, not quite like a po-go stick but with springy reactions that prove far from ideal.
On the freeway, the Impreza is fine, except when using active cruise control that desperately needs a fix. While its actual operation is fine, the system inexplicably ‘beeps’ at the driver each time a vehicle is detected ahead, then ‘beeps’ at the driver again when the vehicle moves out of the way.
And so the driver-maddening process goes on, at least until a surely dissatisfied owner will never use the system again.
ANCAP rating: 5-Stars – the Subaru Impreza range scored 35.80 out of 37 possible points when tested by ANCAP in 2016.
Safety Features: Dual front, front-side, full-length curtain and driver’s knee airbags, ABS and ESC, autonomous emergency braking (AEB) and a rear-view camera.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years/unlimited kilometres.
Servicing: Subaru’s capped-price servicing includes annual or 12,500km dealer checks at a higher-than-average cost of $1298 for the first three – or $433 each.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
The Astra, Civic and Golf are all brilliant all-rounders, while the i30 is fittest in SR trim as the equivalent entry-level Active is notably less impressive. The facelifted Mazda3 hides major ride quality improvements, but its engine is as noisy as the Subaru’s and it is even more cramped, while the Corolla’s highlight is the benchmark-efficiency delivered by the middle-tier Hybrid. If economy is key, the Toyota’s the one.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
As the only small car with AWD, the Subaru Impreza 2.0i-L certainly continues to deliver unique traction-focused virtues that will suit parts of Australia.
The latest generation is also a far better base – or middle-tier – model than before.
The 2.0i-L is well-equipped and notably more upmarket inside, supported by more refined road manners, increased technology and a dynamic chassis. With the engine and suspension settings, however, some more development work ultimately needs to be done.
For now, the Impreza continues to sit firmly in the middle rankings of the small car segment – neither too basic, cheap and aged, nor supremely polished and high-end.