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Car reviews - Subaru - Impreza - 2.0R 5-dr hatch

Our Opinion

We like
Build quality, smooth shifting auto, 2.0 engine note, side front airbags
Room for improvement
Interior packaging showing its age, lack of rear seat legroom, space-saver spare, excessive tyre noise transmitted into the cabin. Where’s the Momo steering wheel?

Subaru logo16 Dec 2005

By NEIL MCDONALD

ON paper it doesn’t look promising.

Gone is the torquey 2.5-litre flat four and in its place comes along a double overhead camshaft 2.0-litre with active valve control. What’s going on?

Is a peaky twin-cam four better than a 2.5? Well, as we found out, it depends on your driving style.

Along with other changes to Subaru’s sportier 2006 Impreza model, the 2.5RS tag makes way for the 2.0R model to bring it in line with the larger Liberty 3.0R sibling.

Although power is up 6kW – to 118kW – torque is significantly down by 37Nm.

The 2.0R also develops its peak power at a high 6400rpm and 186Nm at 3200rpm compared to the old engine’s 112kW at 5600rpm and 223Nm at 3600rpm.

Where the old engine delivered plenty of low-down pulling power the 2.0-litre needs some revs on board to deliver its best, particularly when mated to the power-sapping four-speed automatic.

The auto is a smooth-shifting unit but it will kick-down aggressively at low speeds. Once on song though, the spirited flat-four packs a reasonable punch for overtaking.

However, where the previous car could waft along at freeway speeds without needing to change down, the 2.0R will occasionally shift down a gear going up hills to maintain momentum.

Things do pick up markedly beyond 3000rpm, courtesy of the trick valve control, allowing a reasonable amount of mid-range urge. It’s all about driver familiarity really.

If you’re use to driving lazily in top gear then the 2.0R will be a surprise as the sweet flat four just loves to be revved in the manner of some European fours and its driving style is distinctly different to the 2.5.

We’d also opt for a five-speed manual over the auto.

Subaru claims the 2.0-litre will hit 100km/h time in 11.6 seconds for the auto, which is nothing out of the ordinary. By contrast the five-speed manual slices the time to 8.8 seconds.

Combined fuel consumption for the auto is a claimed 9.6l/100km, which is good given the extra weight and power-drain of permanent all-wheel drive.

Although there’s certainly nothing wrong with the 2.0R in the way it drives or handles we can’t help but feel there has been a trade-off in the engine department.

Fortunately, the packaging and price are competitive and the Impreza’s standard all-wheel drive is a distinct selling point.

Among the kit, the 2.0R offers dual front and side airbags, ABS, air conditioning, cruise control, four-speaker CD stereo, cargo security blind, height-adjustable driver’s seat, sports seats, 16-inch alloys and leather steering wheel.

Perhaps more importantly though, the added safety and security of all-wheel drive cannot be under-estimated.

In the dry there’s additional all-wheel traction but it is really only when road conditions deteriorate that you become acutely aware of its benefits.

In the wet, there’s no wheel-spin getting away from traffic lights and the 2.0R corners with the confidence absent in some of its two-wheel drive rivals.

As other cars will scrabble for traction, the 2.0R remains surefooted. On the open road, AWD also meant the 2.0R could be punted along with relaxed vigour.

Imprezas have always maintained a good balance between a compliant ride and sharp handling but the 2.0R’s $30,000 price-point is a tad high when you look at some of the newer SUV offerings available.

The Hyundai Tucson V6, Kia Sportage V6, Suzuki Grand Vitara V6 and Mitsubishi Outlander 2.4 come to mind – not to mention the perennial Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4.

The Subaru may have some sophisticated engine technology and all-wheel drive drivetrain in its favour but it is not alone as the crossover and lifestyle all-wheel drive segments become increasingly blurred.

Where the Impreza does show its age is in interior packaging. Some of the newer offerings offer more practicality and versatility.

However, the Impreza does impress with the manner in which it acquits itself on the road.

The ride, courtesy of MacPherson front struts and multi-link rear suspension, is reasonably supple while allowing the car to point and handle in a near-neutral manner. Linear steering and powerful disc brakes complete the dynamic picture.

Another priority among all-wheel drive buyers today is versatility and the 2.0R hatch manages to offer a well-sorted interior, with 60/40 fold down rear seats and adequate luggage area. Only the inclusion of a space-saver spare hits a sour note.

On the road, the 2.0R is a benign cruiser. Some tyre roar does intrude into the cabin over coarse-chip roads but at a leisurely 110km/h the cabin is reasonably relaxed and quiet.

As we discovered too, Subaru has fixed the headlights on the 2006 range and they now offer a broad and penetrating light at night.

However, the 2.0R is saddled with a budgie-squeak horn that will do little to scare animals off the road so you’ll need the good headlights.

Around the cabin, softer fabrics have improved the ambience but there’s no doubt the Impreza is showing its age, particularly the dashboard and door trims.

The dashboard, despite some tweaks here and there, looks tired and there’s a distinct lack of rear-seat legroom, further complicated by the convoluted manner in which the centre rear seatbelt works.

The front sports seats look inviting and for brief distances are but as we’ve found in other Subarus, the lack of cushion depth means a numb bum after a few hours.

The three-spoke leather steering wheel has a nice feel but it wasn’t too long ago that we remember a Momo wheel being offered on its sporty predecessors - just a few short years ago.

The Impreza has been around a long time but like all Subarus there is an overriding sense of durability in both the build quality and its flat-four engines. The 2.0R feels as though it will last a lifetime.

In design and packaging terms its age may be counting against it these days but if capability is high on your ownership list of must-have priorities, as well as strong resale values, then the 2.0R stakes up well – even with a smaller motor.

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