There’s no arguing the fact that Subaru’s latest Impreza sits head and shoulders above its predecessor. It is more spacious, more luxurious and better to drive, while coming loaded to the rafters with standard kit. It remains hampered by poor powertrains and high running costs, however, and with finance numbers still to be revealed, the true cost of ownership is unclear. If you’ve bought one before, you’ve every reason to buy one again, but Subaru needs to be more flexible in order to appeal to a wider audience in such a crowded market.
Two decades ago, the Subaru Impreza was enjoying global fame at the top of the World Rally Championship. For many, it was a poster car that represented the best in automotive engineering; an all-wheel-drive super saloon that sold in its thousands and inspired countless race-inspired special editions.
More recently, however, the Impreza’s rally heritage has been somewhat diluted. In 2008 the range split in two as Subaru withdrew from the WRC, with the hotter WRX separating from the standard family car. As a result, the iconic nameplate has lost much of its fast car cache and many of its hardcore fans.
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But Subaru is keen to recover from its so-called “rally hangover” – and for 2018 it is placing the Impreza on an all-new platform, adding upgraded engines and a longer, more spacious body. The maker claims the car is up to 100 per cent more rigid, while a 5mm drop in ride height should ensure it’s more fun to drive, too.
For simplicity’s sake, Subaru is offering only two engine options and just one trim to choose from when the car arrives in the UK later this month. All cars get the firm’s tried and tested Lineartronic CVT automatic gearbox, and every model uses a front-biased (60:40) 4×4 system. Aside from high-end versions of the Audi A3 and BMW 1 Series, that puts the all-wheel-drive Impreza in a class of one.
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Prices start from £23,995 for the entry-level 1.6 petrol, while chipping in another £1,000 gets you this punchier 2.0-litre version. Finance numbers haven’t been revealed, but we’re told that Subaru’s accountants are looking at a ballpark figure of around £220 per month with a “realistic” deposit. We’ll need to wait for some concrete figures, but early indications appear competitive.
The only specification difference between the 1.6 and 2.0-litre cars is that the latter comes with paddle shifters on the steering wheel. Elsewhere, every new Impreza gets automatic LED lights and wipers, 17-inch alloy wheels, heated front seats, dual-zone climate control and an eight-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity.
Cabin quality is very good, and there’s no arguing the kit tally. But safety is a big selling point for the new Impreza, too. Bosses boast of the fact that it scored the highest ever rating in Japan’s NCAP crash tests last year, and they have every confidence it can do the same in Europe.
As such, each model comes with the brand’s innovative EyeSight technology – a camera-based system that constantly scans the road ahead for cars, bikes, pedestrians and lane markings. It claims to be more accurate than traditional camera and sensor setups, repeatedly creating 3D colour images and recognising specific objects – rather than simply reacting to unidentified obstacles.
In addition, the updated Impreza also comes with Blind Spot Monitoring, Lane Change Assist and Rear Cross Traffic Alert, as well as High Beam Assist and a plethora of airbags. Cruise control is included, too, alongside Hill Assist and a reversing camera.
On the road, the new 2.0-litre engine is certainly more pleasant than the alarmingly lethargic 1.6, offering acceptable performance in a market dominated by downsized turbo engines. It’s not what you’d call fast, and it can’t offer the same peppy nature as a force-fed petrol unit, but you won’t be left languishing on motorway slip roads or on the way out of speed-governed towns and villages.
The CVT box mimics a conventional auto’s steeped ratios, feeling natural enough and easy to control. This is especially true in the 2.0-litre model, which can be manipulated via those wheel-mounted paddles. Leave the car to its own devices and it’ll cruise quietly, but floor the accelerator and the four-cylinder Boxer engine screams unpleasantly to its redline. There is no manual option, as the complex EyeSight system only works with the CVT auto.
Elsewhere, the car’s new, more rigid platform results in a tight chassis and allows the Impreza to corner with very little roll. The steering is nicely weighted, too, and grip is good thanks to the symmetrical all-wheel-drive system. It even rides quite nicely, though our Spanish test route was predictably smooth and devoid of any harsh potholes. The true test will come when we try the car on wet and mucky UK roads in January next year.
But the apparent advantages of the all-new Subaru Global Platform (SGP) aren’t limited to the way the car drives. Space inside is much improved, while seats-up bootspace is five litres bigger than before. At 385 litres, it’s on par with cars like the Volkswagen Golf, but some way shy of the capacious Honda Civic and Skoda Octavia. Room in the back is pretty good, too, with the longer wheelbase and recessed roof offering decent leg and head room.
You’ll pay the price for that grippy chassis when it comes to filling the Impreza with fuel, however. This 2.0-litre model will officially return just 42.8mpg, while CO2 emissions of 152g/km make it a more expensive company car than far faster front-driven rivals. There’s no diesel model, and opting for the cheaper 1.6 makes little difference, either. That car will do 44.1mpg with 145g/km emissions, and many SUV rivals better this with improved performance.