The Subaru Impreza has become a familiar fixture both on Aussie roads and in CarAdvice reviews since the sedan and hatchback family’s ‘all-new’ remake back in 2017.
Reviews, comparisons, mega-tests and long-term loans: it’s been put through the assessment lens many times and consistently asserts itself well as good value, safety laden and quite likeable.
But the story that, for me, defines why the Impreza should never be overlooked on your small-car short list was 2017’s $30k Family Car mega test, where each competitor was picked as its best-value contender in its own segment.
No spoilers here, but I will say this: not only was the Impreza hands down the best bang-for-buck small hatchback in qualifying for the mega test, nothing else from other segments could match its blend of practicality and equipment for around 30 grand.
Which bring us to this, the first range face-lift three years into the model-range life cycle, here in 2020 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Premium hatch form at a seductive $28,590 list price (while the four-door sedan twin can be had $200 cheaper). ‘Premium’ grade sits three rungs up the Impreza ladder, just below the flagship ‘S’.
A full rundown of face-lift changes can see found here, but the crux of it is a bit of a styling refresh and an equipment fiddle across all four variant tiers in either hatch or sedan body styles.
Much of that fiddling is trickling down a smattering features from higher to lower-grade variants, though the entire range does get revised suspension tuning and a new Magnetite Grey Metallic colour choice.
Our test car, though, is in Quartz Blue Pearl, which makes the Impreza hatch look quite upmarket and fetching on the new-design grey and silver multi-spoke 17-inch wheels used across the range (only the S gets 18s).
The remodelled grille, front bar and fog light treatment is restrained and pleasing enough, though the smoked-out tail-light effect is a bit blink-and-you‘ll-miss-it.
There’s not a lot gained in the cabin that maintains Subaru's preference for a bit of three-screen, button-festooned ostentation – just how so many brand loyalists love it – with the exception of updated door trims and a more premium seat cloth that remains more hardy than swanky.
Premium spec misses out on leather and electric seat adjustment, but otherwise loads in the same goodies as the flagship S, including an electric sunroof and the marque’s high-end 8.0-inch infotainment with proprietary sat-nav, DAB+, smartphone mirroring and surprisingly clear and punchy audio quality.
There’s no inductive phone charging – no foul for a sub-$30K prospect – but the Impreza does fit a total of four USB and two 12-volt outlets in the first row, though it’s a shame the second row misses out on creature comforts, including the absence of air vents.
Row two is certainly spacious enough for what’s a plus-sized small hatch. You don’t have to go too far back in history for this sort of package to be labelled medium. Generally, there’s nothing new to write about: 40:60 split-fold seating, a decent 345L of boot space, and a space-saver spare wheel under the boot floor.
For someone who’s been quite vocal in misgivings about Subaru’s contemporary approach to powertrains in general, I’m really quite (ahem) impressed by how the Impreza drives. It doesn’t appear on paper as if engineers have been massaging nuts and bolts or ones and zeroes, but our test car seemed like quite a fit specimen.
It’s certainly more responsive, co-operative and satisfying to drive than the Euro-badged tester wanting twice the price that I’d swapped out of prior to my week with the Sube hatch…
Two litres of naturally aspirated flat-four are good for 115kW and 196Nm, the latter of which ramping up from idle to its 4000rpm peak so demanding you dig well in to access it. And yet, our test car’s response to the throttle is immediate and surprisingly assertive.
The boxer engine still howls away at high cold idle, and the CVT remains a bit notchy as it ‘steps’ through its faux gear-changes, but it gets along fine with plenty of satisfying tractability and not much in the way of fuss.
Fuel consumption remains as we’ve found it prior in this generation: a combined claim of 6.6L/100km that returns closer to mid-eights during actual mixed driving. Not bad, and more favorable than what we found recently with the Forester Hybrid, and it’ll happy run on regular 91-octane fuel at that.
Suspension changes are said to improve comfort, response and agility. The first point, comfort, is interesting because thus far the Impreza has suffered, if anything, too soft a tune, where its bump compliance was pretty good, but it would we be floaty and wallowy in rebound recovery.
In fact, it was so soft in compression that the chassis would bottom out over speed bumps with four adults aboard, which isn’t great for a device with a primary role as a family hauler.
A little thing called 'social distancing' prevented retesting bump integrity with four adults aboard, but this retune certainly seems to have injected more support and body control. It’s a keen and co-operative chassis that’s enjoyable around town, and the narrow 205mm tyres and lack of active torque-vectoring smarts (as fitted to the S) form no handicap. The nice, light and direct steering seems an evolution in the right direction.
Safety tech? It’s utterly gushing with it. And even though some of it seems not overly advantageous (the forward-facing camera in the small ‘trip’ screen) and twee (the ‘check the back message’ on shutdown), Subaru’s all-encompassing safety nets at this sub-$30K pricepoint are impressive and praiseworthy.
The Impreza is covered by Subaru’s five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty. There’s a five-year capped-price servicing schedule available at 12-month/12,500km intervals, priced between $350.25 and $784.77 per visit (averaging out to $486.60 per year for five years).
Slightly different styling and a bit of an equipment list massage is no paradigm shift for a solid and likeable machine that continues to make for a compelling, small, family-friendly hatchback for those who just can’t ‘do’ SUVs.
But it’s really the suspension enhancement, fixing the old crook damping and injecting a bit more driving enjoyment, where this 2020 update moves the Impreza game along nicely indeed.