The small car segment is incredibly competitive, but one car has long stood out among the masses in offering something different – and that’s the Subaru Impreza.
Using a horizontally-opposed boxer engine with all-wheel drive makes the Subaru Impreza rather unique. But does being technically different mean anything when it comes to the real world?
This combination of all-paw driving meant a great deal more back in the days when traction and stability control didn’t come to save the day if things got a little out of hand. But even now, if you frequent dirt or country roads, or find yourself driving a lot in wet or unpredictable weather, the benefits of AWD are numerous.
But the argument against the Impreza has always been that it costs more than its rivals because of this AWD system. But here's the thing: today we have the top-spec Impreza 2.0i-S hatch at $27,400 plus on-road costs, which is a $3590 drop in price compared to last year.
This is in part due to the age of the model, which is now nearing its end (there's a new one not all that far away), but also due to market adjustments. The Subaru regularly gets squeezed at the bottom by the Toyota Corolla and Hyundai i30, and at the top by the Mazda 3. Now the winner here is you, the consumer.
For well under $30k, the top-sec Impreza gets a load of features, highlights of which include an updated 7.0-inch media screen with satellite-navigation, 4.3-inch multi-function display, 17-inch wheels, dual-zone air-conditioning, two front and rear USB ports, 8-way powered driver's seat, leather seats and a sunroof.
Although the features are not unique to the segment, or even necessarily the best value in the segment, they do showcase that the Impreza, with its AWD advantage, can now be had for about the same price as its competitors, which is why it should make its way back on to your shopping list.
The fourth-generation Impreza, like most Subarus on sale today (bar, perhaps the very latest Liberty and Outback), is not the best looking car in its class. It’s rugged and its design is simple without being underwhelming. To its credit, since having made its debut in 2011, the shape hasn’t aged all that badly, which is more than one can say about the previous generation.
The interior, however basic it may appear at first, is also holding its own as well, with its simplicity and absolute focus on function over form, meaning that it won’t win any design awards, but you’ll easily get the defroster and stereo going without any fuss.
The updated infotainment system is a certainly better than the convoluted mess that came before it, both in terms of usability and look. Other interior updates to the Impreza include revised audio controls on the steering wheel, silver and metallic accents for the air con vents and front door arm rests while the exterior gains a changed grille as well as revised headlights and fog light cluster. Nothing major.
Inside the top-spec Impreza with its leather seats and sunroof is a surprisingly pleasant place to be. If not for the old school handbrake and some of the hard plastics, it could even be called elegant in its simplicity.
We paired our iPhone to the new infotainment system with ease and began streaming audio over Bluetooth in mere seconds. The six-speaker audio system is nothing to write about and we felt it lacked some of the higher and lower frequency sound reproduction of the equivalent system found in the top-spec Mazda 3.
The backseats provide reasonable room for two large adults, and you can stick two Isofix child seats in each corner without an issue. Though fitting an adult between them can be a tight squeeze. The hatch, as always, makes more sense than the sedan for families. The boot measures 340L with the rear seats up (460L for the sedan, but it’s the shape, not the size that matters here), but fold the rear seats flat and that becomes an IKEA-loving 771L.
As per the original car, the updated Impreza makes do with a 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine that delivers 110kW of power and 196Nm of torque. Coupled to a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT with no actual gears), the Impreza can sound a little whiney as it gets up to speed and there’s no sensation of a gear change. Subaru claims fuel economy figures of 6.8L/100km, but expect that to be around the high 7s in the real world.
It’s certainly not under-powered for most A to B tasks and inner-city driving, but going up a hill with a few souls on board will see the car make a great deal of transmission and engine noise and overtaking on the highway can be a challenge due to the limited torque.
Overall though, the Impreza's drivetrain won’t exactly disappoint. What it lacks in torque and outright grunt it makes up for in sure-footedness thanks to its all-wheel drive system. With torque going to every wheel (rather than just the fronts, like all its mentioned competitors), you will never worry about slippery surfaces and even a quick dip in the sand won’t stop this Subaru. There’s something reassuring about the car’s ability and while it’s not an off-roader, it has some of the same benefits.
On the dynamics side, the Impreza is well behaved both around the twisty stuff (thanks in large to its WRX and rally heritage, something the others can’t really claim to this degree) and around suburbia. Ride comfort is decent enough and the car settles nicely after encountering big potholes.
For $27,400 the top-spec Impreza makes a lot of sense for those looking for ultra-reliable transport with the added benefit and safety of all-wheel drive and now not having to fork out a few thousand more for the privilege. In fact, it’s perhaps the mid-spec, 2.0i at $24,700 (with auto) that is the most compelling, gaining most of the features of the top-spec (bar Sat-nav) for less.
Where Subaru can improve is servicing cost, which at 12,500km or six-month intervals, goes $299.96 (six-months), $299.96 (12-months), $390.84 (18-months), $514.39 (24-months), $306.78 (30-months) and $390.84 (36-months) for the first three years. It’s somewhat pricier than most of its Asian competitors, particularly the Toyota Corolla.
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