This is the new Subaru.
No, we know it’s a new Subaru – the 2017 Subaru Impreza, to be clear – but there’s more going on here than just a new small hatchback.
That’s because this all-new Impreza model is built on a new platform, which is aimed at making the car – and all future Subarus that will be built off the same underpinnings – better.
The new platform is set up to be stiffer and stronger, and it has a lower centre of gravity, too – plus there are other tricks to improve the way the new Impreza drives. We’ll get to that soon.
But a lot of the talk at the launch of the all-new Impreza in Japan was on the fact the new architecture allows the Impreza to be “more cool”, to appeal more to younger buyers. (And get this, Australia was the only international media allowed to visit, which gives you a good idea of how important the local arm of the brand thinks the new Impreza will be.)
Cool? We’ll leave that up to you to decide for yourself, but there’s no denying it’s more stylish and less square than before, which should make it appeal more to all buyers—not just younger ones.
Subaru has intimated that it sees this as a rival for the likes of the Volkswagen Golf and Mazda 3, and the company’s local boss, Nick Senior, said he thinks the new model will be stacked up against higher-spec versions of both of those cars.
For that to work, you’d expect that the interior would have to take a big step up compared to the old model, and while it remains quite austere and functional, it certainly does have more going for it than it used to.
The materials, for instance, are significantly better. The soft-touch dash, soft door top finishers and other trims are all notably more upmarket than before, but not in a chintzy try-hard way. It still feels honest, and the practicality side of things is still very good, with all the expected storage caddies including decent door pockets with bottle holders, cup holders between the front and rear seats (the latter in the drop-down armrest) and more.
While one of the big points for younger new-car buyers is connectivity, we didn't get to sample the promised new infotainment system which will be available across the range with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity. Lower spec models will have a 6.5-inch touchscreen, while the high-spec versions will have an 8.0-inch unit. Expect a rear-view camera to be standard on all models, while the brand's EyeSight collision warning system now has autonomous braking, and it should be fitted to all models except the base variant.
The back seat is roomier, too – there’s about an inch more legroom, and the Impreza was already decent in this class, so it’s certainly spacious in the back row. And the fact the roof line is still fairly high means there is still good headroom, and we even did the old “three Aussie journos in the back” test to see about the width of the pew, and it was perfectly acceptable.
What arguably isn’t as good is that there are no rear air vents. We’ve been assured by Masahiko Inoue, project senior manager of Subaru product and portfolio planning division, that the brand is investigating adding these at some point, but they won’t be there from launch. He said the company ”improved the front air vent and air conditioning, so we decided to stop the rear air vents”.
The boot of the hatchback has been improved for access, with the tailgate aperture now 10 centimetres wider than it was. That means loading in broad items like golf bags or prams will be simpler, though there’s still quite a high boot lip, and there’s a ridge when you drop the rear seats down, too. Boot capacity is not much better than before, up five litres to 345L.
As for the drive experience, the new underpinnings have transformed the way the Impreza handles itself on the road.
CarAdvice accessed the current-generation model in Australia before heading to Japan for this far-from-representative-of-daily-life test – at a cycling road track about 3.5 hours outside Tokyo, where there were hardly any bumps, zero roundabouts or traffic lights, and minimal straight stretches of bumper-to-bumper – but the differences are pretty clear.
That the car’s mass sits lower to the ground and the suspension has been revised means the new model feels considerably more agile and stable through corners than the old one.
The steering is improved, too, and some models will be offered with a torque-vectoring by braking system the applies brake force to the front inside wheel, making it feel like the nose is tucking in more through the bends. That tech, according to Subaru, is fitted to models with 18-inch wheels that we suspect will be the flagship variant (at launch those wheels were clad in 225/40/18 Yokohama Advan Sport tyres; the 17s had Bridgestone Turanza 205/50/17 rubber). It is pretty impressive how the system minimises understeer, even if you can hear the brakes doing their thing through little chirps and buzzes.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the new Impreza is its balance and composure through corners. Where the previous model seemingly didn’t have much communication between the front and rear axles, the new model – with its body-mounted stabiliser bars – felt notably assured through the twisty corners of our short course track.
Although the engine is new – a 2.0-litre four-cylinder horizontally-opposed ‘boxer’ engine with direct injection – it hasn’t seen much change to its outputs. There’s 115kW of power (previously 110kW) and torque remains the same at 196Nm. It requires premium (95 RON) fuel, too.
The engine revs smoothly and is noticeably quieter than it was previously, and it still possesses a hint of that boxer rumble that this type of engine is renowned for, though not in as dramatic a fashion as previously. The refinement, then, is good – but its performance could be better.
It doesn’t have the pep of, say, the Honda Civic with its 1.5-litre turbo engine, and while it gathers pace decently on the flat we came away from the launch feeling that the new platform will happily deal with more power.
The lack of punchiness in part comes down to the CVT automatic gearbox, which behaves fine when you’re not asking too much of it, like pottering around at urban speeds with minimal change in pace or topography. As soon as you approach a hill, though, it gets revvy and starts to feel a bit short of breath. The manual mode – paddles were fitted to all cars at launch – was better than in the previous model, too, with crisper shifts and less flaring.
The new-generation Subaru Impreza is undoubtedly an improvement on its predecessor.
It is more mature, more sophisticated and more grown up, while also offering more appeal to younger buyers with its arguably prettier design, improved infotainment and better road manners.
We can’t wait to see how it’s priced for the Australian market, and how it stacks up in this highly competitive part of the market.
Click the Photos tab above for more images of the 2017 Subaru Impreza.