Over the past few years, Subaru has something of an image change and undergone some big changes with their car lineup. Last year we said goodbye to the infamous WRX STI and at the other end of the scale, Subaru also dropped all their diesel engines. So what’s going on? I can understand the pressure to stop producing oil burners and start producing alternative powered cars, but why drop the one car that created a whole generation of loyal “Scooby” enthusiasts? Surely, this is cutting off your nose to spite your face?
Earlier on in the month, I was given the keys to the new Subaru Impreza. A car that used to be synonymous with rallying success and car-park “hooniganism” and has spawned a huge community of enthusiasts across the globe. However, this car is very different. Subaru has taken it upon themselves to have somewhat of a re-brand when it comes to the Impreza. No more loud “fart-can” exhausts and lairy car graphics or McDonald’s car park takeovers – this new Impreza is a sensible, safe and completely different machine altogether. Although, it does retain a few characteristics of the old model, such as Subaru’s Symmetrical All-Wheel-Drive set up that is now standard in every new Subaru bar the BRZ.
This is where the similarities seem to stop. Unlike the old model, this new Impreza, which is now based on the “Subaru Global Platform” which is the underpinnings of the Subaru vehicle line-up, and you can tell as soon as you sit in the new XV or any of the others. The ethos behind the new Impreza is to give you all the practicality and versatility of a modern SUV, all packaged up in more compact, fun to drive hatchback, and for the most of it, they’ve done a pretty good job. On the outside, it looks sharp, modern and well-designed with only the rear letting it down a bit. The tail light clusters and boot design seem a little off and the model I was given had a towbar which I found rather ironic given that the 1.6-litre naturally aspirated petrol engine only produces 114PS and roughly 111lb-ft of torque – giving it just about enough “grunt” to tow an empty wheelbarrow. Other than that though, I think it’s a rather handsome package with a good aggressive look front end, some nice sharp lines and decent size doors.
Inside, it’s very similar to the Subaru XV I drove last year – so similar, in fact, you might say it’s identical. Funny that… given that the XV is quite literally an Impreza on stilts. Subaru’s have some a long way with regards to interior fit and finish and I am happy to report that the Impreza is the best yet. I fell in love with the Outback due to its simple infotainment setup and well-arranged dash and the Impreza is even better. One thing I really like in particular is the steering wheel. It may seem a little cluttered for buttons at the start but you very quickly get used to all the controls and then you literally never have to take your hands off the wheel. It’s lovely to hold too, not too thin, not too thick and the perfect size. Another aspect of the interior I really like is the split infotainment screen in the centre console. This model was fitted with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto which mean I could plug my phone in and use Google Maps on the 8″ touchscreen and also scroll through my Spotify playlists (along with other, probably more important, vehicle information) on the smaller screen above -something I’ve found bizarrely frustrating in other cars fitted with CarPlay / Android Auto. I must also add that the 8″ touchscreen with Apple and Android integration along with DAB is standard in the Impreza. A nice little touch when you’re playing Top Trumps with hatchback specs!
There is one very big change inside the Impreza that some may not be too happy about, and it involves a third pedal, or more a lack of… All new Imprezas now only come with a CVT (or Lineartronic, as Subaru call it) transmission. This was something I wasn’t too sure about and in a car with this engine in, could really benefit from the freedom to work the revs a bit with a manual ‘box. Another big selling point for the Impreza, along with most of the rest of the range, is the class-leading EyeSight safety camera system. There are more cameras and sensors and collision avoidance gadgets in here that I can even begin to list, but I’ll try! The EyeSight system includes Adaptive Cruise Control, Pre-Collision Braking, Pre-Collision Throttle Management, Lane Sway and Departure Warning, Lane Keep Assist and Lead Vehicle Start Alert. The car also has Subaru Rear Vehicle Detection that includes Blind Spot Monitoring, Lane Change Assist, and Rear Cross-Traffic Alert – to simplify, you have to really try (or disable EVERYTHING) to get in a mess with this car.
All these safety gadgets are good and everything, but also utterly useless if the car handles like an old Corsa on tea trays in a wet carpark – Fortunately, for Subaru, this is not the case. Over the years they have had plenty of practice mastering the Symmetrical All-Wheel-Drive system to make sure you stay on the road, no matter what conditions are like and this car handles and drives as well as you’d expect. My commute to the office is fairly short in the grand scheme of commutes, however, it involves a lot of greasy and very often mud-covered bends and there was not one point where I felt the car may come unstuck. Something that could really only be improved by more power – and that’s where it all starts to get a bit negative from me, but fear not, it’s not all doom and gloom. You see, like a lot of Subaru Impreza lovers, what I really want from this car is lots of pops and bangs from a whopping great turbocharger and that whole Colin McCrae rallying hero experience, and if you want that, this is definitely not the car for you. Save your pennies and go and buy a slightly used WRX STI, or even an older generation Impreza with all the shouty bits bolted on. However, if you’re looking for a sensible family hatchback that you can pretty much guarantee will never go wrong, has a very good-sized boot, enough space for 4 adults or 2 adults and 3 children, class-leading safety standards that isn’t the usual boring Golf, then this might be a good choice.
There aren’t many hatchbacks out there with AWD apart from the odd BMW 1-Series Xdrive, the Golf R and Audi S3(and a few Quattro specced A3s) and they are all priced higher than the Subaru – but this brings me on to something I’ve mentioned before about the problem with Subarus in the UK and Europe compared to the more domestic brands – If you’re looking for a sensible hatchback for the family, you’re probably not fussed by AWD handling and a billion safety cameras, you’re more than likely going to be bothered by good PCP deals, fabricated diesel engine MPGs and a little bit of “keeping up with the Jones'” – something Subaru just can’t compete with here. The little 1.6 returned an average of 42mpg over the week I had it, and that included a drive into central London at the weekend, which isn’t bad for an NA petrol unit, but it’s nothing on what you can get out of a Golf GTD and as good as the improvements have been with the interior, the Germans just do it a bit better. I really like the Impreza – I didn’t at the start, but over the week it really grew on me, but I also drove a new Ford Focus with the 1.0 3-cylinder turbo petrol engine and a proper manual gearbox and it really was a no brainer for me choosing which one I’d rather live with every day.
So, in conclusion: The new Subaru Impreza is far from a bad car – the handling and chassis are probably the best you’re going to get from a hatchback, but the CVT ‘box and power deficit from the engines make it a bit of an odd-ball. Is it trying to be a sharp and focused dynamic driver’s car, or is it trying to slow things down a bit be more effortless…? It just seems to me like it’s not sure what it wants to be, and there are many hatchbacks out there that do know what they want to be… The one thing it does have in its favour is its simplicity when it comes to buying one. there are 2 specs, a 1.6i SE Lineartronic or a 2.0i SE Lineartronic. The 1.6 is £24,325.00 and the 2.0 is £25,025.00 – if you’re interested, I’d recommend the extra £700 for the 2.0 as that little bit of extra power (156PS and 196NM over 114PS and 150NM) is much needed!