Subaru Impreza hatchback
"The Subaru Impreza four-wheel-drive family hatchback is likeable but flawed"
- Impressive safety equipment
- Four-wheel-drive grip
- Spacious interior
- Noisy engines
- High running costs
- Ordinary performance
The Subaru Impreza name has become somewhat forgotten in recent years. Once associated with top-flight rally cars and famous motorsport personalities, the sportiness baton later passed to the high-performance WRX STi which became a standalone model in 2008. The Impreza name has since been reserved for practical and plain family hatchbacks – but this latest version hopes to return to the limelight after too long in obscurity.
While the previous Impreza didn't take many sales from its Ford Focus, Vauxhall Astra or Volkswagen Golf rivals, this latest aims to raise Subaru's profile and is intended to sell on a combination of driver appeal and all-weather versatility. And with competition as talented as the SEAT Leon, Honda Civic and Renault Megane, the Impreza needs to be a well rounded car to live with, too.
The latest Impreza is all-new from the ground up, growing slightly compared to its predecessor to allow a more spacious, comfortable interior, while also sitting slightly lower to reduce cornering lean. The structure is claimed to be up to twice as stiff as before, too, in pursuit of enhanced body control.
The Impreza won't be mounting a broadside offensive against the entire model range of rival cars, though – it's only offered in a single driver-focused trim level to compete with higher-spec models such as the Ford Focus Titanium X and Renault Megane GT. There are two petrol engines to choose from: an entry-level 1.6-litre and a more powerful 154bhp 2.0-litre, but both the Renault and Ford offer more power than the more expensive Subaru.
The Subaru is also different in its use of a CVT automatic gearbox, while power is transmitted using a four-wheel-drive system that sends slightly more to the front wheels for foolproof handling. The 2.0-litre promises more driver involvement than the smaller engine permits, thanks to steering-wheel-mounted paddles for changing artificial preset 'gears'.
No manual gearbox is offered, partly because Subaru's 'EyeSight' safety technology only works with the CVT gearbox. It controls an autonomous emergency braking system, which joins blind-spot monitoring, lane-keeping assistance and rear cross-traffic alert on a long list of standard safety equipment that have helped the Impreza secure an impressive five-star result in Euro NCAP crash-testing. Other features include 17-inch alloy wheels, automatic LED headlamps and wipers, heated front seats and dual-zone climate control, plus an eight-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity. There's a reversing camera, too.
While the hi-tech features are impressive, and the Impreza is an accomplished car for a country road blast or a comfortable cruise, it's sorely let down by lacklustre engines. Perhaps in an effort to avoid stepping on the toes of the more powerful WRX STi, the Impreza seems rather unbalanced, offering neither impressive performance nor cash-saving economy.
Dedicated followers who enjoy the Impreza way of doing things will no doubt find the latest car a big step forwards, but it can't match the breadth of talents displayed by its best European rivals.