17 Oct 2018

Subaru Impreza 2.0i 2018 new car review

Small hatch is not quite the complete package
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In business they call it a USP – a unique service provider – and the 2018 Subaru Impreza 2.0i continues to have it, a standout feature or X-factor missing from most of the small car cohort.

That is, of course, Subaru’s all-wheel drive system, and it is packaged here within compact five-door hatchback dimensions complete with an entry-level pricetag that sees it duel squarely with mere front-wheel drive rivals.

At $22,600 plus on-road costs, the current-generation Impreza has essentially become a $20K special – given that an automatic transmission is included and that adds $2K to most rivals.

Consider the all-weather traction advantage, in concert with a 2.0-litre petrol engine, standard equipment and boot space all more than competitive with front-drive competitors on paper, and this entry-level Impreza 2.0i deserves revisiting two years after this new model debuted.

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Vehicle Style: Small hatchback

Price: $22,600 plus on-road costs

Engine/trans: 115kW/196Nm 2.0-litre 4cyl | continuously-variable transmission (CVT)

Fuel Economy Claimed: 6.6 l/100km Tested: 8.9 l/100km

OVERVIEW

Buyers will need to traverse into the small SUV segment to score all-wheel drive for around this pricetag. Even then, a Hyundai Kona needs $29,000 (plus orc) before drive goes to all four wheels, while a Mazda CX-3 needs only slightly less – $26,890 (plus orc). All of which makes this Impreza 2.0i seem like an all-paw bargain.

Okay, when do you really need more than front-wheel drive? If you live in the country, down the end of a slippery driveway, certainly. The other time is if the model grade you’ve just purchased has too much power and torque for the front wheels to handle. Unfortunately, though, Subaru hasn’t yet migrated the Levorg medium wagon’s 125kW/250Nm 1.6-litre turbo engine to this Impreza, and this 115kW/196Nm 2.0-litre non-turbo won’t trouble them.

But the focus with this new-generation Subaru isn’t merely on where drive is sent. Its latest hatch is bigger than before, with the promise of extra interior space that matches or exceeds front-drive rivals.

It is also surprisingly well equipped – but with a few exceptions. Standard are 17-inch alloy wheels, keyless auto-entry with push-button start and single-zone climate control, a trio of features that are rare for this price. Unfortunately, however, autonomous emergency braking (AEB) with adaptive cruise control and lane-keep assistance are among the items reserved for the $2090-pricier Impreza 2.0i-L, at $24,690 (plus orc).

THE INTERIOR | RATING: 3.5/5

Standard Equipment: Keyless auto-entry with push-button start cruise control, single-zone climate control, and power windows and mirrors.

Infotainment: 6.5-inch colour touchscreen with Bluetooth and USB connectivity, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone mirroring and six speakers.

Options Fitted: None.

Cargo Volume: 345 litres.

Not since the early-to-mid 2000s Liberty and Outback medium car – so obviously targeted at the European market – has a Subaru interior been this holistic and impressive. The entire dashboard of this current-gen Impreza is finished in stitched soft-touch plastic that runs right down to the lower console area and also matches the door cards that further score cloth trim.

Along with typically tight fit-and-finish, plus quality dimpled cloth, even this 2.0i feels good.

Look closely, though, and there are clues that this is an entry-level model grade. Compared with the 2.0i-L that sits one rung above it, this 2.0i misses out on a leather-wrapped steering wheel, chrome doorhandles, a larger touchscreen (8.0-inch versus 6.5in), a colour driver’s-side trip computer screen with digital speedometer and a colour dash-top information display.

Scrutinise closer still, and some soft-touch lower plastics are replaced with hard items, too.

Ultimately, along with the extra active safety technology, the 2.0i-L appears more than worth the extra over this 2.0i.

Beyond equipment, though, and both Imprezas score well for usability, with a large glovebox, and enormous centre console storage with rare-for-the-class twin USB ports inside. There’s no digital radio or integrated satellite navigation at this level, but even the smaller touchscreen is a high-resolution item complete with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto mirroring.

The front seats take a back seat to the, err, back seat for comfort, though. Where the driver and front passenger are positioned on comfortable cushions, the base is tilted too far forward and there is a slight lack of side support. Not so in the rear, which delivers generously deep padding plus a vast amount of legroom. Headroom is a tad squeezier, but it’s still average.

There’s also a fold-down armrest with cupholders and door bottle holders, but only one seatback map pocket and no rear air vents at all.

The 345-litre boot sits almost exactly between the Mazda3 (308L) and Hyundai i30 (395L), meanwhile, but the load area isn’t as square and versatile as some. Instead the Subaru loses load volume with a shallow space in terms of height, only to regain what it lost with depth. In essence, it will be difficult to stand items upright in the space, but laying stuff down is fine.

ON THE ROAD | RATING: 3.0/5

Engine: 115kW/196Nm 2.0-litre petrol 4cyl.

Transmission: CVT automatic, AWD.

Suspension: MacPherson strut front and independent rear.

Brakes: Ventilated front and solid rear disc brakes.

Steering: Electrically assisted mechanical steering.

It may be affordable for an all-wheel drive hatch, and especially cheap by older Impreza standards, but only two years after it launched the 2.0-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder petrol engine has not aged well.

The ‘boxer’ four makes competitive outputs, with 115kW of power at 6000rpm and 196Nm of torque at 4000rpm, but the problem seems to be the 2.0i’s hefty 1399kg kerb weight, compounded by a doughiness from the auto continuously-variable transmission (CVT).

Subaru’s CVT is one of the better examples of the breed, but off the line there’s no escaping a general lethargy that rears its ugly head once again when attempting to move from gentle cruising to quick overtaking.

The drivetrain is at its best through hilly terrain in the country or on the freeway, where the CVT picks up engine revs early to dramatically aid drivability. The downside is the engine revving hard, to the detriment of fuel usage – a disappointing 8.9 litres per 100 kilometres on test, up from a 6.6L/100km official combined-cycle consumption claim.

When today’s Volkswagen Golf delivers 110kW/250Nm from its 1.4-litre turbo engine, all within a lighter package, it’s clearly time this Japanese brand installed the 125kW/250Nm 1.6-litre turbo from the Levorg wagon.

It isn’t all bad news, though.

The Impreza offers mostly silky urban progress, thanks to a relatively soft suspension tune that pitter-patters over smaller road imperfections without fuss. The steering isn’t light or sharp, being a little too heavy in its weighting and slow across the ratio, but it’s at least nicely consistent and linear.

Utilising a brand new platform, incorporating sophisticated independent rear suspension (IRS) at the back end, even this 2.0i handles with a planted sturdiness. Teaming with decently subdued road noise, it helps it feel bank-vault-tight on the road – or, at least on smooth roads.

In undemanding driving, the Impreza 2.0i is fine, but a lack of body control is found whether traversing urban speed humps or rough country roads alike. While the ride quality is seemingly supple, there’s way too much lateral head-toss over anything other than minor imperfections. It’s the only other real chink in this Subaru’s otherwise drum-tight armour.

SAFETY

ANCAP rating: 5 stars – this model scored 35.8 out of 37 possible points when tested by ANCAP in 2016.

Safety Features: Seven airbags, ABS and ESC, and reverse-view camera.

WARRANTY AND SERVICING

Warranty: Three years/unlimited km

Servicing: Subaru’s capped-price servicing includes annual or 12,500km dealer checks at a higher-than-average cost of $1301 for the first three – or $434 each.

RIVALS TO CONSIDER

The Civic VTi offers an even bigger boot, more rear legroom (if not headroom) and greater dynamic verve than this Impreza – though it similarly lacks active safety technology and packs only a humble 1.8-litre engine.

Conversely, the i30 Active gets a spirited engine, more equipment including nav and digital radio standard, plus the option of adaptive cruise control and AEB while keeping bang-on $25K with an automatic included. It may not be sophisticated, but it’s simplicity done well.

The only thing is, the Mazda3 Neo Sport is cheap and sophisticated, now scoring AEB standard while trumping this 2.0i for overall performance, economy and dynamic finesse.

  • Honda Civic VTi
  • Hyundai i30 Active
  • Mazda3 Neo Sport

TMR VERDICT | OVERALL RATING: 3.5/5

The pace of change is rapid in the small car segment, and the expectation now is that even this Impreza 2.0i should have AEB as standard. If that can’t be delivered, then a higher standard of performance should be, because this Subaru is now the most sluggish in the class.

That in some ways is the price to pay for all-wheel drive, particularly given that this Japanese brand has kept the price of entry to about the same level as front-drive rivals, complete with some equipment such as keyless auto-entry and climate control that most competitors lack.

However, there is no denying the $2090 extra spend to the Impreza 2.0i-L is worth it, for the extra active safety tech and improved interior ambience alone.

If that model grade also scored a 1.6-litre turbo, plus more refined suspension to match its low road noise levels, then the small car with the most distinct USP could also become the small car class leader.

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