Car reviews - Subaru - Impreza - 2.0i-S 5-dr
Ride, comfort, smoothness, safety, all-wheel drive, cabin space, hatch practicality, handling, resale value
Room for improvement
Rattly rear parcel shelf, heavy-handed styling, muted steering feel, CVT can be infuriating, lack of engine fizz
18 May 2012
PERCEPTION and reality are often complete strangers who exist blissfully unaware of each other, and a shining example of this is Subaru’s smallest model – the Impreza.
Many enthusiasts will lament the demise of the first-generation model in late 2000 as the only ‘great’ Impreza, thanks in no small part to its sassy styling, especially when combined with the era-defining performance and value of the rally-bred WRX.
Yet subsequent iterations are better in virtually every way. Indeed, the third-generation model – available from 2007 to January 2012 – was the best-selling version in Australia.
So it comes as no surprise that the all-new fourth-gen Impreza serves up more of the same as before, but we do understand why fans of the original might feel disillusionment – again.
With its distinctive ‘Californian’ silhouette, the original was identifiably an Impreza from 100 metres away. In contrast, this one looks like just another hatch clone.
At least the previous model’s detailing was subtle. Today’s heavy-handed approach to the nose and tail looks as if the designers took to it with crayons and a bottle of bourbon instead of pencils.
Thankfully, some finesse can still be found inside what is a very spacious small car.
We particularly rate the ‘techie’ grain finish and visual symmetry of the centre console. Classy, too, are the leather-wrapped steering wheel and white-on-black instrument markings.
These lift the interior ambience, but not enough if you’re familiar with the salubrious insides of the Volkswagen Golf or Ford Focus.
Try as it might – and our top-spec 2.0i-S included some subtle seat stitching and red console lighting – the Impreza just can’t pull off premium. Not when the plastics in the lower part of the cabin seem so Bi-Lo grade.
Mind you, the Impreza’s pricing is far from premium when you factor in the standard four-wheel drive.
As for functionality, Subaru certainly has worked hard in that department.
Finding the right driving position should pose no problem at all, for example, since the seat and steering column offer ample adjustability. Nobody can complain that they cannot get a clear view of the road, as well as of the dials and controls, which operate with a satisfying precision.
The Impreza also offers comfy front seats – multi-adjustable ones with lumbar adjustment for improved support, in fact.
There’s now more room to move – a feeling aided by a low-set dash cowl, panoramic windscreen, extra A-pillar glass and deep side windows – whether you’re sat in front or luxuriating in all the available space behind. And big doors that open wider than before certainly help with access.
The climate-control ventilation and sound systems are effective, though the need to manually reconnect the Bluetooth phone and audio streaming after each journey is a pain.
Perched on top of the upper console is an intriguing window of information that can loosely fall into the ‘trip computer’ category. Along with the usual data is a very rally-car-like display that will either amuse or distract the Impreza’s occupants – including an ‘accelerator-pedal pressure’ and ‘kilometres since start-up’ readout. A big old digital speedometer might have been a more useful addition.
Rear-seat plus points include ample foot room beneath the front seats, a nicely padded cushion and a comfortably angled backrest. Again, though, the ambience is one of a cheap mainstream small car.
A big bonus for smaller families is the relocation of child-seat harness points from directly beneath the hatch lid to behind the rear-seat backrests, finally eliminating those boot-space-robbing tether straps. Sometimes car companies do listen to road-testers.
Subaru says the total cargo area is 340 litres – somewhat shy of the FWD brigade such as the Mazda3 due to the AWD hardware working away underneath.
Actually, our biggest complaint about sitting inside the Impreza’s cabin is road noise – it isn’t as intrusive as the Mazda3, but much of the competition is quieter inside. Perhaps the 17-inch wheel and tyre combo is to blame.
That’s not to say the Subaru is an unpleasant place to spend time inside. It is really easy and relaxing as a result of a fresh engine and CVT (continuously variable transmission) combination, boasting a smoothness that occupants actually notice.
The all-new horizontally opposed 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol unit retains the trademark ‘boxer’ thrum – albeit in a more muted way than before. With the 110kW power maximum kicking in at a heady 6200rpm, plenty of pedal pushing is required to get the most out of the available performance.
The CVT is brilliant but still infuriating.
In regular traffic conditions, step-off acceleration is more than sufficient because the engine revs are in the ‘sweet spot’ as long as possible. Performance is strong, refinement is high, fuel consumption is low and, cruising around town at around 50km/h, a stab of the accelerator will result in an instant and lively surge forward, even with all seats occupied and the air-con engaged.
However, when you need to push-on quickly, acceleration can be sluggish, since the CVT needs time to spool up, resulting in undesirable engine rev ‘flaring’ that puts so many critics off this sort of gearbox. Only when on the move again does the Subaru revert to its energetic self.
And at 1345kg the Impreza is no lightweight, so busy drivers probably need to floor the accelerator all-too-regularly, harming economy in the process.
Official fuel consumption is 6.8L/100km, thanks to the seamless ‘Auto Start Stop’ function. Re-ignition happens in as little as 0.35 seconds apparently. We did catch it out a couple of times when in a hurry, but overall it does fire up almost before you’ve decided that you’re ready to roll.
For us, the Impreza’s dynamics were spoiled by the steering feel. It was just too lifeless and dull, lacking on-centre sharpness. More steering feedback would be desirable. Doesn’t anybody care about directness anymore?
The chassis seems exceptionally sturdy and strong, and well insulated from the terrain below, with no discernable steering rack rattle that our awful test-route roads often expose.
Ride quality is exceptional, a comfortable and supple experience that puts many of the Germans using 17-inch wheels to shame.
The turning circle is nicely tight for easy around-town manoeuvrability, the brakes performed brilliantly during our emergency stopping tests, while the AWD tech gives the Impreza’s occupants extra peace of mind, especially in bad weather.
These are dynamic hallmarks that the company has long be renowned for, so in this way at least the Impreza continues to be a chip off the old block.
Overall, a week in the latest Impreza revealed a small car that proudly prioritises passenger safety, comfort and refinement over driver satisfaction. And that’s deeply ironic considering Subaru’s ‘All 4 The Driver’ advertising slogan.
Despite a lack of design desirability, engine fizz and dynamic involvement, it remains a competent and unique proposition against the leading Golf and Focus that will probably continue confounding old-school Subaru die-hards by selling as strongly as ever.
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