The 2017 Subaru Impreza is the biggest generational change in decades, and it's a stronger competitor than ever as a result.
Car brands habitually overuse the phrase 'all-new', but in the case of the 2017 Subaru Impreza hatch and sedan range, it's apt.
Under the MY17 Impreza's evolutionary skin sits the new modular platform that will underpin next-generation Subarus until 2025; a more tech-savvy and premium cabin; and a different, though conceptually similar, drivetrain.
All up, Subaru claims that 95 per cent of the car's parts are new, with only some nuts, bolts, casings and other hidden bits carried over from the old model.
This iteration also has a much more more reasonable servicing plan that's more than $900 cheaper over the first three years, addressing the old car's issue in this area, while offering novel mobile servicing.
As such, the properly new Impreza is the best-equipped yet to fight within a declining though still hugely competitive small car market, led as ever by the Toyota Corolla and Mazda 3, but also featuring the impressive new Honda Civic, plus the Ford Focus, Volkswagen Golf and Hyundai i30/Elantra.
One key point of difference with the Impreza is the buying model. Just like with the BRZ and STi, you will also soon be able to purchase the Impreza online and arrange to pick it up from your nearest dealer if you prefer, or visit one of Subaru's new pop-up or fixed shopping centre stores operated by dealers. All of this is designed to lure more younger buyers, something the old car failed abjectly to do.
Small wonder, then, that Subaru is projecting this new Impreza will double sales compared to the old one, and help drive the company to a projected all-time sales record in 2017, eclipsing this year's tally. Subaru Australia has already taken 700 orders, and all cars delivered by December 31 get an extra two-years warranty.
Subaru purists can relax, because the staples remain, led by the symmetrical all-wheel-drive configuration with a 60:40 front to rear torque split. But as we'll discuss throughout this launch review, the new model brings to the table a sense of premium design and nimble driving dynamics not offered on the outgoing car.
The value equation is also greatly improved, given the unchanged starting price of $22,400 plus on-road costs for the 2.0i sedan variant, climbing to $24,490 for the 2.0i-L, $26,290 for the 2.0i-Premium and $28,990 for the 2.0i-S (up $1090). The bigger-selling hatch version of each is $200 more expensive than the sedan.
Matched to all variants is a new 2.0-litre normally aspirated and direct-injected petrol engine with 115kW at 6000rpm (up 4.5 per cent) and 196Nm at 4000rpm to 5500rpm (unchanged, but the torque curve is flatter), matched to a standard CVT automatic transmission with paddles, and the brand-staple permanent AWD.
Fuel consumption varies between 6.6L/100km and 7.2L/100km on the combined-cycle, thanks in part to the new stop-start system, which is well damped. However, you have to fill the 50L tank with pricier 95 RON premium petrol to meet manufacturer recommendations.
It's a modest engine at best, sufficiently zippy around town but lacking low-end oomph and sharpness up hills or in situations that call for lots of throttle application. The kerb weight averages out across the variants to about 1400kg, which is at the heavier end of the class spectrum.
One of the reasons for this is the AWD system, though the surety it offers, the stability on slippery and broken surfaces, is a worthy trade-off. Subaru has staked its reputation to this configuration, and its large market share in country areas attests to its wisdom.
What really sucks the fun from the engine is the CVT with seven stepped-ratios, which again is unobtrusive around town, but emits a signature drone and a keening whine under heavy throttle, and which dulls the response from the drive-by-wire throttle.
A conventional slushbox would be a better bet. Subaru Australia's importer has also axed the option of a cheaper manual gearbox, which seems odd given the 13 per cent take-up rate on the previous model was actually relatively high against the class norm.
This is a shame, because the new chassis is outstanding, much stiffer than before, with a lower centre of gravity, yielding clear improvements to the ride and handling. Characteristically safe and prone to gentle understeer when pushed, the new Impreza nevertheless ducks into corners eagerly and stays much flatter mid-corner.
It's helped in large part by the new electric-assisted steering system, which offers a nice amount of resistance and a quickness from centre, much like the sharp new Civic. Dreary engine aside, this new Impreza is genuinely fun to drive and as such deserves a sparkier engine. Bring on the 2018 WRX and STi.
There's no ride comfort penalty, either on 17- or 18-inch wheels depending on spec (with Bridgestone or Yokohama tyres). The springs are soft so the car absorbs and isolates big or sharp hits effectively, yet the damper resistance calibration means the body control remains adept, with the ability to settle rapidly.
It's supple, yet flat and predictable, much like the Australian-tuned Hyundai Elantra, and will appeal in particular to country buyers. Subaru knows its core demographic. The launch program's roads suited a lunar rover, and yet we felt comfortable and secure even after rebounding off the bump stops.
The only minor bugbear is a very slight 'bounciness' at the rear when unladen by people or luggage, despite the sophisticated double-wishbone setup, though it's largely well-controlled.
Much has improved in this generational change beyond the vastly superior driving dynamics. The cabin is both more premium in its design and high-tech in its equipment allocation, especially considering the very reasonable pricing.
The base 2.0i has a 6.3-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, rear-view camera, cruise control, Bluetooth/USB, steering wheel buttons and 17-inch alloy wheels. There are also seven airbags and the maximum five-star ANCAP rating on all variants.
The $2090 walk up to the 2.0i-L adds an 8.0-inch screen, nicer seat cloth, climate control, electric folding mirrors, daytime running lights, a tyre-pressure monitor, better trip computer and Subaru's EyeSight camera-based driver-assist system with: radar cruise control, lane-departure warning, lead vehicle start alert and pre-collision braking.
It's a no-brainer. We commend the value here, though we're taking an editorial line than brands should be fitting AEB as standard, and as such would prefer EyeSight at least be available at base level.
A further $1800 for the 2.0i-Premium adds an electric sunroof and factory sat nav powered by TomTom, with free map updates, for those who don't like relying on phone data for navigation.
Finally, the $2700 jump to the 2.0i-S ($28,990 for the sedan) adds active torque vectoring to improve turn-in, automatic lights and wipers, heated leather seats, a body kit, 18-inch alloys, full LED headlights and Vision Assist with: blind-spot monitoring, lane-change assist and rear cross-traffic alert. It's a sub-$30k luxury car.
The design is much more upmarket and contemporary than before, with a good central screen offering crisp resolution and fast-loading, simple to navigate infotainment; Subaru's familiar trip computer atop the dash; chunky ventilation dials and clear instruments with a digital speedo. The steering wheel is smaller and chunkier than before, too.
The familiar bulletproof Subaru build quality is on display, but the premium soft materials used are excellent, while the switchgear feels European and will delight suckers for nice tactility. Even the base 2.0i-S feels a cut above your average fleet special.
The large side windows also make outward visibility good for the class, which is one positive benefit of the dour styling. The rear seats are good in terms of shoulder- and leg-room thanks to the long 2670mm wheelbase that matches the Hyundai Tucson and the 2009 Gen-4 Liberty, though headroom for those over 180cm is on the tight side.
You get two ISOFIX anchors for child seats. Rear occupants get cupholders, while the seats on both body styles fold flat. The lack of rear air vents is the only downer, though yours truly wasn't too fazed.
The car's cargo capacities are 345 litres for the hatch (expanding to 795L with the seats folded) and 460L for the sedan, all but unchanged over the old car, while there's only a temporary spare wheel under the floor instead of the full-size spare favoured by country buyers, just like before.
It's safe to say, then, the new Impreza is a greatly improved car, and as mentioned, it's also more affordable to own. The service intervals have been bumped up to 12,500km or 12 months (they were 10,000km and six months previously), while the cost over the first three years of $1298.19 is $918.86 less than before, which you can read about in more detail here.
On the downside, the three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty is inferior to a number of rivals, especially the Koreans.
But when all is said and done, the 2017 Subaru Impreza family is an impressive step up for the brand. The new iteration looks a little dour and could use more power, but it's well-made, good value, rides and handles better than the class average and is backed-up by an innovative company, looking at new ways to be experiential with its buyers.
Crucially, the AWD gives it a strong point of difference in a crowded segment jam-packed with outstanding offerings. This launch score errs on the conservative side since it covers all variants, but it's safe to say that this new Impreza will appeal to the diehards, and lure a whole new crop of buyers as well.