Increased efficiency, spacious and quiet cabin, improved quality and finish, driving dynamics, visibility
Not the cheapest small car around, nor the fastest, notchy manual gearstick feel
OUR RATING 7/ 10
The all-new Subaru Impreza has taken significant steps forward in efficiency, quality and overall refinement.
The fourth-generation Subaru Impreza sedan and hatch go on sale in Australia in early-March 2012, at which time it will become the first mainstream small car to come with stop/start engine technology across the range. The new feature is among a number of enhancements to the 2012 Subaru Impreza that make it at least 20 per cent more fuel efficient that the model it replaces.
The new Impreza uses 6.8-7.1 litres/100km on the combined cycle – a significant improvement over the previous model’s 8.8-8.9 litres/100km efforts, and one that brings it much closer to the economy leaders in the small-car class.
The increased focus on improving the efficiency of the traditional Boxer petrol engine means a diesel-powered Impreza has been placed on the backburner. Subaru Australia managing director Nick Senior admitted the brand currently has no plans to offer an Impreza diesel.
“It is not a priority at the moment,” Mr Senior said. “It is on a wish list but there are many other things on the wish list before diesel.”
If you clicked through to this review to read how mental the new WRX is, we’ve got bad news there too. The Subaru WRX and WRX STI models will follow a different lifecycle to the mainstream Impreza. Although they will be based on the Impreza and use a high-performance version of its engine, the sporty Subarus won’t enter production for about three years. That means the current shape will have to soldier on until 2014. But enough about what’s not available…
On sale in Australia from March will be three grades: the entry-level Impreza 2.0i, the luxury-appointed Impreza 2.0i-L, and the sports-oriented Impreza 2.0i-S. The new names replace R, RX and RS and come into line with Subaru’s international naming structure.
Prices and specifications are still to be confirmed, but don’t expect the new Impreza to be cheaper than the old one. Subaru Australia general manager marketing, Andrew Caie, said the brand would ideally like to keep prices the same as before, but admitted if they were to change they would head north rather than south.
The outgoing range was priced between $23,490 and $30,490 before on-road costs, giving us an indication of what to expect when the new model arrives.
At that price, the base model 2012 Subaru Impreza will be considerably more expensive than some other entry-level competitors, including the Mazda3 Neo ($20,330), Hyundai Elantra Active ($20,590), Holden Cruze CD ($20,990) and the Ford Focus Ambiente ($21,990).
Every model in the 2012 Subaru Impreza range will be equipped with seven airbags and the rest of the expected safety kit, as well as cruise control, Bluetooth phone connectivity and audio streaming, USB and AUX media ports, and automatic air conditioning. Subaru Australia also expects all models equipped with the continuously variable transmission (CVT) to feature steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters (official confirmation still pending).
The 2.0i-L model adds 16-inch alloy wheels, a 4.3-inch colour multi-function display in the centre console, rear-view camera, dual-zone climate control, steering wheel audio controls, sunroof, rear privacy glass and front fog lights.
The 2.0i-S tops the range with HID xenon headlights, leather upholstery, eight-way power driver’s seat, and alloy pedals. Satellite navigation with SMS voice-to-text and voice command will be available as an option on the two higher-spec models.
Every variant will be available in four-door sedan and five-door hatch body styles, and with the option of a six-speed manual transmission or the ‘Lineartronic’ CVT. The CVT will come with a price premium (likely to be $2000), although Subaru Australia is yet to lock down pricing details.
One thing we can tell you all about is the new engine, as we were invited to put the Impreza through its paces (be it briefly and under restrictive conditions) at Fuji Heavy Industries’ private test facility in Japan.
Despite producing identical power and torque figures to the old engine (110kW/196Nm), the 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine is a completely new powerplant. The horizontally opposed FB Boxer engine integrates lightweight components, a longer stroke and Subaru’s Dual Active Valve Control System, which all translates to improved efficiency and more low- and mid-range torque.
The engine itself still has the rumbly start-up and metallic whirr that is characteristic of Boxer units, although it is considerably quieter and more refined than the engine it replaces.
Much of its performance is dependent on your transmission choice. The six-speed manual gives you the best performance, with a 0-100km/h acceleration time 0.8 seconds faster than the CVT (10.7 vs 11.5), although neither is exactly what you’d call zippy. The manual shifter can be a little tricky to handle. The H-patterns are positioned very close together and more than once I shifted straight from second gear to fifth. Fortunately, the truck-like gearstick vibration of the old model has been almost completely eliminated in the new car.
The CVT has a typically high-pitched, whiny note during acceleration, although that’s simply part of the deal when you buy an infinite-ratio gearbox. The CVT doesn’t offer the same level of driver engagement and enjoyment as the manual, but it hits the mark from an economy perspective (6.8 litres/100km combined) and will meet the needs of most small-car buyers.
The CVT’s paddle shifters allow you to flick between six pre-determined ‘gears’. While the system responds quickly and accurately, it doesn’t really add a lot to the overall driving experience.
At lower speeds, both combinations should be brisk enough to keep pace with traffic, although higher-speed on-ramp and overtaking manoeuvres will take a little more effort. Cruising at highway speeds is a breeze, with tall gearing leading to low revs and minimal engine noise.
Sound intrusion into the cabin is mostly muted at all speeds, with the loudest noise coming from the tyres. It’s a big step forward in refinement from the old model, and arguably puts the Impreza right up there with the quietest small cars.
It’s even quieter when Auto Start Stop takes over. In CVT models, the system is activated 0.5 seconds after the car comes to a halt. The engine kicks back on 0.35 seconds after you release the brake pedal, tap the accelerator or turn the steering wheel. The same times apply to the manual, although it’s a slightly more convoluted process. The system requires you to come to a stop, put the car in neutral and take your foot off the clutch. To restart the engine, you have to depress the clutch, put the car back in gear and then release the brake.
The new Subaru Impreza feels solid on the road. Although the electric steering offers less feedback than we hoped, there’s now more weight to the wheel around corners and at higher speeds. The all-wheel drive system gives you the feeling of being pushed rather than pulled, and both sedan and hatch feel composed and flat in basic manoeuvres. The pedals are well positioned and have a good feel. The brake is almost perfect: progressive, and without any early lightness or grabbing.
As is often the case, the new Impreza looks better in person than in pictures. It’s a lot less fussy than the old model, and appears larger and more assertive. One specific area Subaru’s engineers focused on was the door handles. On the old model they felt loose and tacky, but the new Impreza’s handles are perfectly solid. It’s a little thing, but often it’s the little things that make or break your purchase decision.
The cabin has taken a huge leap forward in terms of material quality, technology and overall layout. There are soft-touch plastics across the dash and on other surfaces you regularly come in contact with. The uncluttered dashboard layout, detailed MFD screen and the classy feel of the dials are among the highlights for front seat passengers. Unfortunately, Subaru has stuck with an old-school fixed key rather than a modern flip design.
The driver’s seat doesn’t offer a lot of side or lumbar support but it felt comfortable for the short stints we spent in it. Visibility is excellent out the front as Subaru has pushed the A-pillars 200mm forwards and reduced their width to great effect – and apparently without compromising structural integrity. The view out the back is also relatively unobstructed in either body style.
The Impreza’s rear-seat legroom is a triumph. The car’s wheelbase has grown by 25mm, and that extra inch has all been added between the front seatbacks and the rear passengers’ knees. It makes the Impreza one of the roomiest small cars on the market.
There’s 460 litres of space in the sedan’s boot and 340 litres in the back of the hatch (up 40 litres and 35 litres respectively). They’re not class-leading figures, but they’ll more than accommodate what most small-car owners generally need to haul. A space saver spare tyre sits under the floor.
If Subaru Australia can keep the price of the new Impreza close to that of the old model, it will have a seriously appealing small car in its showrooms. The new Impreza is better than the old one in almost every conceivable area. Most importantly, some of the old model’s weaknesses (efficiency, quality and refinement) have become some of the new car’s stronger suits. It won’t be the cheapest small car on the block, but if you’re after a dynamically strong small car that’s quiet and spacious, line-up a test drive of the new Impreza in the early months of 2012.