The new Impreza is a lot better than the old one, but it needs better mechanicals to compete in this tough sector
More than 20 years after Colin McRae’s domination of the World Rally Championship, Subaru is still feeling the after-effects of “rally hangover”. Public expectations of new Subarus haven’t really moved on, however much the company would like buyers to consider the brand’s three pillars of capability, safety and resilience.
In Subaru’s SUV-heavy range, the Impreza stands out as the brand’s most recognisable car, so it continues into a fifth generation on the new Subaru Global Platform, which has getting on for twice as much torsional rigidity as the old Impreza. The new car also benefits from a new interior, a new engine and – we’re told – newly-improved driving dynamics.
Subaru Impreza 2.0i SE Lineartronic
Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, petrol
Torque: 145lb ft
Top speed: 127mph
Fuel economy: 42.8mpg
CO2 emissions: 152g/km
There’s just one trim level – SE – and two non-turbo flat-four petrol engines of 1.6-litre and 2.0-litre capacity, both of them linked to a CVT gearbox. Unfortunately, as soon as you find a decent length of road, these drivetrains have you longing for the zippier performance and acceptable fuel costs of a turbocharged alternative. These Subaru engines combine a stodgy feel with less than excellent mpg and CO2 figures.
Of the two, we’d go for the 2.0-litre because, while still not quick, it brings a noticeable additional performance boost over the 1.6 at a relatively small £1000 premium. Press either engine for speed, though, and the CVT gearbox will screech with the effort of propelling the heavy Impreza along. It will do overtakes, but the lack of torque means you’ll be regularly resorting to the manual paddle shifters to get around the incessant whine of the auto. Things do quieten down when cruising speed is reached, bar a goodly amount of wind noise on the motorway.
There’s happier news on the handling front. The new chassis and standard all-wheel drive system deliver lots of grip and sharper turn-in, and the steering is a lot less wandery on straights than the old car. The handling is stable and predictable, but not as satisfying as that experienced in a Focus, Octavia or Golf. Ride comfort was fine on smooth Spanish roads, but odd bumps indicated a tendency towards firmness that might be less than optimal in the UK.
We have no complaints with the ride over the smooth Spanish Tarmac of our test route, but the few imperfections we encountered showed that it might be on the firm side when we get to drive it in the UK next year. Expect the Impreza to go further than anything else in the class off-road, though.
Few would describe the new exterior styling as groundbreaking, but the cabin has had more of a workover resulting in a nice mix of style, robustness and clean dashboard design. It’s a big step forward. Passenger space is ample front and rear for adults of most sizes. The boot is on a par with the Golf’s, but far smaller than the Octavia’s.
Worries about the solitary spec level are allayed by the generous list of equipment which includes an eight-inch infotainment touchscreen, DAB radio, Bluetooth, a reversing camera, heated seats and Subaru’s Eyesight safety system. Sat-nav doesn’t even feature as an option, but standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring makes it easy to run a nav app through your smartphone.
So, what do we have here? A better-driving Impreza with a better interior, a good tally of kit, and a more robust feel. And an Impreza that will probably take you further off-piste than its rivals, and in a reliable fashion if past experience is any guide.
That will satisfy Subaru loyalists, but new buyers may be more difficult to convince. High CO2 won’t tempt company car buyers, and the list price is up with the likes of the petrol Skoda Octavia vRS and VW’s Golf 1.5 TSI. Well done to Subaru for updating this iconic machine, but the time-honoured school report comment “must do better” is pertinent.