THIS IS THE NEW 2017 SUBARU IMPREZA. LONGER, LOWER, WIDER, IT INTRODUCES A NEW SENSE OF STYLE TO THE IMPREZA RANGE.
More importantly, what you are looking at here is Subaru’s future. Below this car’s skin is a new Subaru global platform; modular, expandable, it will sit under every new Subaru - from the next generation XV, to the Liberty, Outback, and Tribeca.
These are pre-production models which Subaru invited us to drive in Japan. We drove the hatch version only, in Sport and Sport Premium models, but had the opportunity to also look closely over the new sedan (and its subtle ‘duck-tail’).
These are smart-looking cars, inside and out. The quantum leap is the very appealing, stylish interior. And, outside, the more-pronounced ‘wedge’ lines, though an evolutionary design, manage to look both unmistakeably new while also unmistakeably ‘Subaru’.
And, as we were to discover on a tight cycling track (of all things) some three hours South of Tokyo, they are quieter, turn tighter and flatter, are more comfortable and more stylish and feel greatly improved everywhere.
Subaru Australia MD, Nick Senior, describes the new Subaru Impreza and its impending launch in Australia in early December this year, as “one of Subaru’s most anticipated and exciting model launches”.
“With this one,” he said, “we have now got the recipe right. It ticks all the boxes for style and design, (is) a leader in safety and we expect it to be a match for cars almost twice its price.”
Four years in gestation under Project Manager Masahiko Inoue, Subaru describes the 2017 Impreza as “95 percent new”.
It comes with a new chassis and underpinnings, new front and rear suspension geometry, a new and marginally more powerful 2.0 litre direct injection boxer engine and lightweight CVT with seven ‘stepped’ ratios, an all-new high-strength safety shell and a totally redesigned and smartly appointed interior.
Importantly, it looks and feels “a fresh new car”, and Subaru has high hopes for its fortunes in the Australian market. With it, it is hoping to attract a younger audience and more female buyers to the brand.
As Nick Senior concedes, Subaru Australia needs “to be doing much better” than the 400 Imprezas it is currently selling per month. It’s a better car than that.
With this 2017 Impreza and its new-found sense of style and dynamism, it has more than a chance. This ambition, of course, is in the absence of pricing information. With a December launch, and the vagaries of currency movements, Subaru is planning to “leave it to the last minute before announcing pricing and sales volumes expectations”.
These are our drive impressions.
Ah, that’s better. While the current Impreza interior has its detractors, we don’t mind it too much (and it was always vastly better than the ageing one it replaced), but this new one, this is a really smart look.
In fact, if these cars come to Australia just like this, and we’re assured they will, buyers are going to be very surprised when they put their heads inside these doors.
The seats in both the leather-trimmed Sport Premium, and the fabric-trimmed Sport, are certainly among the best for shape and comfort you’ll find in the small car category. Not only immediately comfortable, they provide ‘just right’ under-thigh support, grip nicely at the sides and are also uniquely shaped for upper-spine and shoulder support.
The dark brushed metal, piano black and faux carbon-fibre garnishes add an understated sense of elegance to what is a very nicely styled interior.
In both sport and Sport Premium models, there are paddles at the wheel for manual shifting, and the multi-function wheel is sized right for a nice connected sporty feel.
There is no missing the big touchscreen dominating the centre-stack - in Japanese, we didn’t feel inclined to do much fiddling (even had we more time). But behind those Japanese characters in the display and the “third generation head-unit” is Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone connectivity, voice recognition, TomTom sat-nav (in Sport Premium), an all-new air-conditioning system, and what Subaru describes as “a rich array of information, similar to the home or office”. (We’ll need to check out the latter.)
There is also Subaru’s typical split display with a second screen in the dash for driver information, trip computer and functional readouts, and a similar configurable display between the large dials ahead of the driver.
The impression is both high-tech and sporty, and very appealing.
Also noticeable is a newfound sense of space. While the numbers are small - the new car is 10mm lower and 35mm wider - the platform and cabin redesign has created an unusually large interior with improved shoulder room, more footwell space for driver and passenger and improved legroom and knee space for rear passengers.
Importantly, this is a very quiet cabin. There is soundproofing everywhere isolating the safety cell cabin, new acoustic glass, and soundproofing in the firewall and pillars and even in the boot floor above the spare.
Subaru is expecting a 5-Star safety rating for its new Impreza. The big-ticket item is its third-generation ‘EyeSight’ driver assist system which will be found in mid- and range-topping Impreza variants.
Scanning the road ahead from cameras located high in the windscreen, and providing an early warning of hazards before activating the brakes (if the driver fails to respond).
Aside from the expected dynamic and passive safety features (front, side and curtain airbags), electronic stability control, ABS braking, and with improved (by a factor of 1.4) collision energy absorption efficiency, the 2017 Impreza range will also offer vehicle dynamics control (with active torque vectoring on the Sport Premium model).
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 2.0 litre direct-injection ‘boxer’/[email protected]/[email protected]
- Transmission: CVT automatic (with manual mode), seven-speed stepped ratios
- Brakes: Discs front and rear with new-gen brake calipers
- Suspension: Independent McPherson strut front, multi-link rear
No question, the new Impreza is a more finely-honed blade than the car it replaces. Sharper at the wheel, flatter on turn-in, and with a more precise feel at the front wheels, the new chassis and suspension holds great promise for the WRX when it arrives next year.
But this car is no slouch. On the tight circuit we were limited to - certainly wide enough, but just four kilometres around - the new Impreza showed that it can thrown deep into a corner, will tuck the nose in like a front driver, and can then find ample urge to get the AWD grip working on the other side.
A naturally aspirated 115kW is not a mountain of power to call on, and neither the 196Nm of torque. But, with the revs held high, it could find some good speed on the short straights and will happily sing at its 6000rpm peak power output.
The unsteady thrum typical of boxer ‘fours’ at idle is a thing of the past. At high revs it makes a really nice metallic wail and only then is the boxer breeding apparent, but all in a good way.
The new engine is beautifully balanced and the lightweight CVT one of the best we’ve driven. In automatic, it steps down pre-emptively when braking, and has none of the spongy drone of lesser units. In manual mode, flicking it through the ratios (via the paddles at the wheel) is like driving any conventional automatic with manual mode.
Subaru has done a very good job here. “Thank goodness”, you may be inclined to say, because there is no manual Impreza available (only seven percent of current sales are manual).
The main change in cornering feel comes courtesy of a very stable and well-planted back-end. It is a slightly unusual set-up with the rear stabiliser tethered to the body (rather than the lower arms), where it acts partly like a torsion bar, as well as apportioning load.
It feels rock solid, this new car, assisted no doubt by the increased body and chassis rigidity (diagonal and side-to-side).
It is also very quiet. There is a premium sense of serenity and solidity - like the Peugeot 308 - that will have the Mazda3 and Volkswagen Golf on their toes, two of the better segment rivals, when the Impreza goes on sale.
It is going to be a very interesting match-up when we can put these three into ‘the ring’ for a small car shootout.
It would be premature to ascribe a star rating. We’ll wait on pricing and range details and a longer, more conclusive drive on Australian soil.
But, you can take this as gospel, this is a very improved Impreza. It looks better, it feels smarter everywhere, and is certainly among the better-driving contenders in the small car segment.
It is also surprisingly roomy, carries some high-end safety features (like ‘eyesight’) that will add to its appeal, and looks sharp.
Given the sluggish sales of the current model, I’d guess that Subaru here is champing at the bit to get this one into showrooms. It’s going to make a mark when it arrives, that much I can guarantee, and you will love the remodelled interior for its comfort and features as much as for its style.
So, yes, one certainly worth looking out for.
Disclosure: Tim O’Brien travelled to Japan as a guest of Subaru Australia.
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