As we hope we have established in several reviews and comparison tests already, we think the new-generation 2017 Subaru Impreza range is a step up over the old version.
The first model based on Subaru’s stiffer and lower new platform, the MY17 Impreza is said to use 95 per cent new parts over its predecessor, and it puts them to good use.
It’s the biggest step change since the nameplate premiered in 1994, though like that car and all other iterations since, its exterior design is ‘sensible’, to be generous.
Perhaps the sweet spot within the four-variant range is the Subaru Impreza 2.0i-L, which sits one rung above the base car. We drive it here in sedan form, but the more practical hatchback can be yours for an extra $200.
At $24,490 plus on-road costs, the 2.0i-L sits above the 2.0i ($22,400), and below the 2.0i-Premium ($26,290) and 2.0i-S ($28,990).
Key to differentiating the Impreza is its all-wheel drive (AWD) system with active torque split, promising greater levels of traction in low-grip conditions than its FWD competitors.
All Imprezas also have a system called Vehicle Dynamics Control that brakes the inside front wheel (17-inch alloys on 205/50 Bridgestone tyres on the 2.0i-L) to improve turn-in. Indeed, the Impreza tucks in with alacrity, something the old model never did.
The dynamic equation is topped-off by all-round independent suspension with stabiliser bars at either end (struts at the front, double-wishbones at the back), and a new electric-assisted steering system.
The stiffer chassis, fettled suspension and revised AWD system make the new Impreza a pretty good drive for the segment. The springs are quite soft, giving the car a loping ride that eats up bad roads, but the dampers help the body recover swiftly after hits.
It’s a controlled country cruiser that lacks the ultimate sharpness of a Focus, but provides a balance of comfort with moderate dynamism. Make no mistake, you can hook along at a greater rate of knots than many small cars, with decidedly more comfort and control.
The AWD system comes into its own in extra-urban surrounds, giving surefooted dynamics even on ungraded gravel – where, by the way, the steering setup irons out rack-rattle – that limits stability control intrusion. The all-round ventilated discs stop the car well, too.
The steering also offers moderate feedback and good resistance – the rake- and reach-adjustable wheel is well-designed, too – while noise suppression is good, with much less tyre roar evident than in a Mazda 3. Subaru has added lots of insulating material.
Of course this quiet and composed nature translates well to daily urban duties, with the Impreza defining the word ‘liveable’. Excellent indeed. As is the 10.6-metre turning circle.
Under the bonnet of every Impreza model is an engine the company calls 80 per cent new, but which feels very familiar. It’s a 2.0-litre horizontal naturally aspirated petrol with a modest 115kW of power at 6000rpm and 196Nm of torque at 4000rpm, which paired with a kerb weight of 1417kg makes the power-to-weight ratio middling at best.
The power and torque figures fall well short of the little turbo engines in the upper-level Civics and all Focus models, and the 2.5-litre atmo Mazda, and while the engine offers sufficient rolling response in daily duties and an un-fussed nature in gridlock, the good chassis deserves a more inspiring option.
The lack of low-end torque seals its fate, making hills and punching out of corners tiresome.
That’s another reason why lower grade versions of the Impreza make sense. A sports car the Subaru is not, but a premium spec deserves a premium engine, which this unit certainly is not.
The fitment of stop-start helps reduce fuel use, which Subaru measures on the combined cycle as 6.6 litres per 100km. We managed to achieve 8.2L/100km over a 300km drive with mixed roads, scarcely bothering to conserve fuel. That’s good. The engine can also happily run on base 91 RON petrol.
The engine is matched to a standard CVT automatic designed to throw-up fewer vibrations and less whining, and programmed with seven artificial pseudo-ratios and a manual mode with paddle-shifters.
It’s not the worst CVT out there, but in terms of driver engagement it falls short. It’s fine for urban use, again, but the tonality and the decisiveness of a good torque-converter transmission is always going to have the edge.
Another area of the Impreza that’s received significant changes is the cabin. The layout is crisp and modern, the fascia dominated by an 8.0-inch touchscreen, topped by a novel dash-top trip computer with menus that show things such as your song choice, the AWD’s behaviour or the adaptive cruise control’s progress (more on that in a sec).
The steering wheel looks sporty, the soft-touch contact points and hardy cloth seats are excellent. There’s also a heap of storage scattered about. It’s all typically well-made and functional, but also a little swish now too.
The standard equipment for the price is hard to find too much fault with, aside from the lack of integrated satellite navigation. Instead, you get Apple CarPlay and Android Auto phone mirroring capability, so you can project your smartphone’s maps onto the screen.
You also get seven airbags, a clear and wide-field rear view camera, four USB points/two 12V inputs, Bluetooth, soft-closing power windows, dual-zone climate control that struggled on a nasty 40-degree Melbourne day, 17-inch alloy wheels and some of Subaru’s EyeSight stereo camera-controlled active safety tech.
These features include that aforementioned adaptive cruise control with brake light recognition that mirrors that speed of the car in front (but which beeps annoyingly when a car gets too close) and can stop to zero, then take-off by pressing the cruise button on the wheel, plus lane-assist and autonomous braking with pedestrian detection.
The 2.0i-S variant also gets blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert, giving the Subaru high-end luxury car levels of crash-prevention tech.
The cabin is hard to find flaw with really, with the only thing that bugged us consistently being the tinniness of the six-speaker audio system that just couldn’t do justice to our favourite playlist. At least the Bluetooth call quality was good.
The rear seats offer sufficient legroom, though headroom for anyone over 180cm gets tight. There are ISOFIX points and a flip-down armrest with cupholders for small and big children respectively, but some may be bothered by a lack of air vents.
In terms of dimensions, the Impreza is bordering on entering mid-sized vehicle territory, at 4625mm long, 1775mmm wide, 1455mm tall and sitting on a 2670mm wheelbase – the same as a fourth-generation (2009) Liberty.
As such, you get excellent cabin space for the class coupled to a decent boot capacity of 460 litres, heightened by folding the back row down. That said, Subaru’s regional fans won’t like the space-saving temporary spare wheel.
Another area where Subaru Australia’s importer has made big improvements is in cost-of-ownership. First, service intervals have been upped from six-months/10,000km to 12-months/15,000km (that new engine does have a positive, after all) – a policy that’ll be slowly expanded across the Subaru range with each new generation model.
Furthermore, the advertised servicing price for the first three years (also the warranty term) is $1298.19, which is $918.86 less than the superseded model. That’s vastly more affordable, and rectifies a key issue still found on other Subaru models.
That’s a good place to end this review. The improvement to ownership costs is emblematic of a more general upgrade across every area of the new Impreza.
From its nicer cabin, improved safety, sharper dynamics and more comfortable ride, it’s a winner. We’d love a more compelling engine that did the chassis justice, and a little more design savvy to drop the age demographic, but it’s a ridiculously easy car to live with that does some work at putting that conservative image (this is no WRX) to bed.
Put it on your shortlist against the Civic, Elantra, Octavia and Focus, for sure. Suddenly, the small-sedan market got very compelling indeed.