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Car reviews - Subaru - Impreza - 2.0i-S

Our Opinion

We like
Standard safety kit, high-end cabin and build quality, generous rear legroom, low road noise, solid steering and handling
Room for improvement
Noisy engine can struggle, pillowy yet jerky ride, no rear air vents, small boot, active cruise calibration

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Subaru logo2 Nov 2017

By DANIEL DEGASPERI

Overview

A YEAR following its release, and the fifth-generation Subaru Impreza has near-tripled its annual sales volumes and is now inside the top one-third of the small car class – seventh among 24 rivals.

Finally, the Impreza has been allowed to challenge mainstream small cars on price, without commanding a premium for its class-exclusive all-wheel drive configuration. Each of the four model grades lines up competitively on specification, and most do exceptionally well for safety.

The quartet of models all get a 2.0-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder ‘boxer’ engine and automatic continuously-variable transmission (CVT), but $6590 separates the entry-level Impreza 2.0i from the range-flagship Impreza 2.0i-S, as tested here priced from $29,190 plus on-road costs.

Can this top Subaru hatchback match its top sales performance and indeed top the small car class?

Price and equipment

Although fast-approaching $30,000 – at which point several rivals such as the Holden Astra RS-V and Hyundai i30 SR Premium offer more powerful engines – the Impreza 2.0i-S is loaded.

The $24,690 2.0i-L is already well-equipped with an 8.0-inch touchscreen, dual-zone climate control air-conditioning, electric-fold door mirrors, leather-wrapped steering wheel and gearshifter, and EyeSight – the car-maker’s active cruise control and autonomous emergency braking (AEB) duo. Meanwhile the $26,490 2.0i-L Premium adds an electric sunroof and integrated satellite navigation.

A further $2700 to this $29,190 2.0i-S then adds larger 18-inch alloy wheels (up from 17s), side skirts, automatic on/off wipers and swivelling LED headlights, leather trim with an electrically adjustable driver’s seat and heated front seats, and additional safety features – including blind-spot monitor, lane-keep assistance and rear cross-traffic alert, although curiously sans parking sensors.

Holden and Hyundai charge $31,740 and $33,950 for roughly that level of equipment, respectively, and yet the Subaru hatchback comes with a pricetag still starting with a ‘2’. In fact, sedan versions of the Impreza are even $200 cheaper compared with the hatchback pricetags mentioned above.

Interior

Up-front the Impreza 2.0i-S feels more like a premium small car than a mainstream one. The dashboard delivers swathes of stitched, soft-touch material that extends to the upper door trims and even flows down the centre stack to flank the transmission-lever surround.

Perhaps glossy fake-carbon-fibre trim around the chrome doorhandles is an odd choice, particularly given it does not gel with the piano-black trim used around the climate controls and centre touchscreen, however there is no questioning the lush door trims and plush leather seats.

The whole ambience is brightened by red switchgear illumination, a colour driver display, and a brilliant 8.0-inch screen with intuitive menu layering, easy navigation and the standard alternative of Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone mirroring – although speaker quality should be better.

Further rearward and this Subaru plays a game of two halves. Legroom is generous and seat support is adequate, however missing rear air vents really grates. Both the i30 SR Premium and all Volkswagen Golfs get them. And while the 60:40 split-fold backrest aids practicality, the 345-litre boot volume leaves luggage capacity alongside the smallest of the segment (the 308L Ford Focus).

Engine and transmission

Not only does the Impreza have the second-smallest boot in the small car segment, but with a kerb weight of 1438kg it also takes the dreary dishonour of figuring as the heaviest hatchback in its class.

Blame the all-wheel-drive hardware, though some buyers will find that is a fair trade-off if regularly driving on muddy dirt or icy bitumen. Drive to all four wheels might not miraculously give the driver extra grip, when cornering for example, but it does increase traction where the tyres would typically not find purchase, such as when driving up a steep and rain-soaked hill.

The problem is the Subaru also has one of the least impressive engines for this price bracket, with only 196Nm of torque delivered at 4000rpm and 115kW of power produced at 6000rpm. A 1.6-litre turbo, 73kg-lighter Astra RS-V makes 300Nm at 1700rpm, and 147kW at 5500rpm, by comparison.

The 2.0i-S can feel slow and become noisy, with step-off acceleration (from a set of traffic lights) and rolling response (when overtaking) both lacking. The auto CVT is excellent and intuitive, but it forces the engine to rev to the detriment of economy (its on-test 9.2 litres per 100 kilometres was 1.5L/100km higher than claimed). Only in undemanding conditions does this hatch shine.

Ride and handling

Noisy the Impreza might be with its engine, but it is hushed for wind rush and road noise, which is most impressive on coarse-chip surfaces that can trip up several rivals the Astra RS-V in particular.

Built on a fresh platform, this new Subaru shines with its strong body, consistent – although slightly too-heavy – steering and tight dynamics. The 2.0i-S even gets active torque vectoring (ATV).

While never delivering the light and zingy feel of an Astra, this flagship adopts an unflappable cornering attitude with minimal bodyroll. The Impreza 2.0i-S is, however, let down by its suspension tune. Its springs feel stiff, with jerkiness over short and sharp bumps, while its dampers seem soft – delivering a pillowy ride on smooth surfaces, but minus control over undulations.

The calibration of the active safety systems is also questionable, with an easily panicked forward collision warning and – worst of all – an active cruise control that delivers a ‘beep’ each time a vehicle is detected ahead, and another one when a car moves out of the way. It is infuriating.

Safety and servicing

It is offered with seven airbags (including dual front, front-side, curtain and driver’s knee protection), ABS, electronic stability control (ESC), rearview camera, blind-spot monitor, lane-departure warning and assistance and autonomous emergency braking (AEB).

ANCAP has tested the Subaru Forester and it scored five stars with 35.80 out of 37 points.

Subaru’s capped-price servicing program requires below-par annual or 12,500km check-ups at a higher-than-average cost of $1298 for a trio of services to three years or 37,500km.

Verdict

With its high convenience and safety equipment level, a classy and beautifully made interior, and amenable driving manners, the Subaru Impreza 2.0i-S could be the pick of the small car segment for several sub-$30,000 shoppers. The sedan, in particular, also delivers a larger boot capacity for less.

However, for drivers looking for greater depth and sophistication in a hatchback, beyond soft-touch plastics and features and mere dynamic competency, there are several other better options. In undemanding situations, and for undemanding drivers, the Subaru is and will be fine. However, the engine is coarse and slow, and its ride quality is initially impressive but soon exposed as underdone.

As an aside, we tested a closely related, high-riding Subaru XV following this test, and it delivered notably improved suspension refinement compared with this oddly lumpy Impreza 2.0i-S.

An Astra RS-V or i30 SR Premium will be faster and more fun, while a Golf delivers greater polish, and refinement. This Subaru falls in between, reliant mostly on the lure of equipment and all-wheel drive traction to get punters in.

But as the sales figures show, it has been successful in doing so.

Rivals

Holden Astra RS-V from $31,740 plus on-road costs
Stylish, brisk, with brilliant ride and handling, it’s the all-rounder between i30 and Golf.

Hyundai i30 SR Premium from $33,950 plus on-road costs
Noisier and cheaper inside, but much faster and more fun.

Volkswagen Golf 110TSI Comfortline from $28,990 plus on-road costs
Lacks equipment, but this benchmark is a premium car masquerading as a mainstream one.

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