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Car reviews - Subaru - Impreza - 5-dr hatch range

Our Opinion

We like
Standard stability control and six airbags better value equation advances in refinement and ride comfort cleaner-burning and more fuel efficient engines smoother manual transmission huge side mirrors
Room for improvement
Conservative styling no sedan for 12 months increased bodyroll space-saver spare wheel/tyre flimsy luggage cover premium unleaded requirement WRX's lack of driving excitement

4 Sep 2007

AFTER the shock of Subaru’s bug-eyed second-generation Impreza and the two stand-out facelifts that followed, the third-generation Impreza hatch can fairly be labeled as ho-hum.

With a side profile that could have been lifted directly from BMW’s 1 Series and front and rear-end styling that could equally have come from the style book of its direct rival in Honda’s Civic, the latest Impreza hatch won’t offend anyone yet somehow manages to appear cohesive.

Step inside and the doors close with a familiar but more substantial sounding thud, before one’s eye is drawn to the complex instruments and stylized, cockpit-look interior. Design and build quality was first-rate on the cars we drove, but interior materials appear to have been the big loser when Subaru came to build a more rigid, less expensive Impreza.

Hard, cheap-looking plastics abound and the only soft-to-touch interior trim we could find was on the door armrests. Even the rock-hard, too-far-back centre armrest was a chore to use after a short period. And we’re not sure how well the cream-coloured plastic that adorns the lower half of most interiors will wear.

On the road, however, there’s no doubting Subaru’s claims of increased body rigidity. As the first Impreza to feature framed door windows, a fully lined boot and bonnet struts, the upmarket move in terms of body strength becomes evident not just over diagonal gutter crossings or ten-tenths cornering over broken surfaces, but every time one enters or exits the wider, taller cabin, which offers noticeably more legroom.

Gone is the creaky sound and flimsy feel of the two previous Impreza iterations, replaced by levels cabin quietness and refinement hitherto not experienced by Impreza occupants.

There's still the familiar light-weight feel to all controls, aided chiefly by a much less notchy-shifting five-speed manual transmission (especially into reverse, which is now only slightly baulky). Also helping retain the Impreza's user-friendly nature is direct, responsive steering that's effortless in tight parking situations.

Most Impreza buyers won't notice the sometimes violent steering kick, or bump-steer, that presents itself over sharp mid-corner bumps at speed which, when pushed, remains one of the few blights on this sharper, more substantial-feeling and otherwise vice-free Impreza.

But the biggest tangible change to the Impreza's familiarly neutral-handling all-wheel drive chassis is its vast improvement in ride quality. No more crashing over pot-holes with gritted teeth: Subaru's new hatch irons our road irregularities that would have seen its forebear's body shake, rattle and roll.

Speaking of which, the trade-off is more of the latter, with bodyroll slightly more pronounced in most cornering situations - even on the WRX's tauter, locally developed suspension, which is attached to higher-profile but still relatively narrow 205/50-section tyres.

Subaru says the body's greater rigidity allows the Impreza's carryover front and new Liberty-sourced rear suspension to be tuned more supplely without sacrificing grip. While that's probably true, there's no doubt more bodyroll and a floatier, less composed ride are consequences of the Impreza's new-found ride quality.

Similarly, the cleaner-burning and more fuel-efficient DOHC 2.0-litre flat four may meet Euro IV emissions regulations, but it's down on peak power. While 110kW is competitive in the small-car class, less than 200Nm of torque is nothing to write home about, so progress below 3000rpm (especially in the barely acceptable four-speed auto version) is hardly spirited.

As for the WRX, we have no reason to doubt the tenth-quicker 0-100km/h acceleration claim, but the new Rex certainly doesn't FEEL as quick as before.

Perhaps the earlier peak torque delivery masks the almost two-stroke-like turbo rush of past Imprezas, or maybe the reduction in engine and road noise understate its performance. But the fact is the MY08 WRX simply doesn't leap into life and lacks the aural assault of its predecessors.

Of course, there's no denying the WRX's enhanced driveability and flexibility thanks to a wider spread of useable power and most buyers of lesser Impreza variants will rejoice in the superior refinement in day-to-day use.

But for new WRX buyers it comes at the expense of excitement, which is what the iconic nameplate built it's reputation on.

Don't misunderstand: the latest WRX remains deceptively quick in a straight line, is difficult to beat point to point and still offers as much bang as any of its $40,000 hot-hatch rivals, including the Civic Type R, Mazda3 MPS, Focus XR5 and Golf GTI.

If it's the quietest, most civilised and most liveable WRX ever that you're after, then look no further.

But if it's a tied-down, wastegate-popping hard-core rally rocket you crave, then buy a superseded Rex or, better still, the current Lancer Evo.

Subaru admits the WRX won't attract the same (relatively small) group of enthusiats its two forebears did, but insists the upcoming STi will remain true to its traditional fan base.

Here's hoping they're right, and that Subaru buyers aren't forever disenfranchised from unadultered performance.

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