► All-new platform for Japanese hatchback
► Four-wheel drive and CVT gearbox as standard
► New tech, but can it live up to the name?
The unveiling of a new Subaru Impreza is always met with considerable intrigue. Not exactly known for doing things conventionally, the Japanese brand is known for an array of rugged, reliable all-wheel drive passenger cars that suit the needs of a niche but discerning band of customers.
Factor in that the 2018 Impreza is the first car to be launched in the UK on Subaru’s brand new Global Platform – which will form the backbone of all future models – and it’s fair to say our levels of curiosity are far higher than they would be for your everyday mainstream hatchback.
What makes the Impreza different from the rest?
Well, for starters, we would bet our bottom dollar that you can’t think of another car in this class that comes with symmetrical all-wheel drive and a CVT automatic transmission as standard. No? Us neither.
Then there are the trim levels – or rather trim level. Sitting proudly at top (and bottom) of the range is the solo SE spec, loaded to the gills with kit.
So all I need to do is pick the colour?
Not so fast. Customers are allowed to pick the engine, with the choice between a 1.6-litre and 2.0-litre powerplant – both of which are flat four-cylinder Boxer petrol units paired with a CVT automatic transmission. So no diesels and no manuals on offer.
What are they like to drive?
So far, we’ve only driven the top-of-the-range 154bhp 2.0-litre engine and, although the power figure suggests reasonable punch, the lack of torque (just 145lb ft) holds it back. Acceleration to 62mph is undertaken in a leisurely 9.8 seconds, with the Impreza lacking the turbocharged pulling power of more mainstream alternatives.
The initial pull away from a standstill is sharp – surprisingly so – but after this the power delivery, although smooth, feels a touch gutless, meaning overtakes need to be planned well in advance. The CVT transmission – although very smooth – can be sluggish on down-changes meaning that if you need a quick burst of pace it’s best to use the manual override paddles to get the engine in its power band.
All of this means you need to work the engine hard to make real progress, and be prepared to put up with the noticeable whining sound as the engine reaches its redline. Settle back down to cruising speed however and the refinement is decent, even if the levels of tyre roar are a touch excessive. Meanwhile, fuel economy and emissions are an unspectacular 42.8mpg and 152g/km of CO2 respectively.
Does it handle?
Those who still see the Impreza as a cut-price supercar-slayer look away now. Despite being stiffened and lowered compared with its predecessor this latest model isn’t that fun to drive, and, on a winding country road you could probably have more fun in a Ford Focus. There’s a fair bit of roll and predictable understeer – with a healthy dose of ESP intervention – is the order of the day if you push it too far.
Times change and the modern-day Impreza buyer may not have even heard of Colin McRae or the WRX STi. Start driving normally and the Impreza makes a whole lot more sense.
For example, there’s bags of grip on offer from the standard all-wheel drive system and the Impreza’s off-roading credentials are second-to-none. What’s more, the ride-quality is nothing short of exceptional on all surfaces and puts firmer, sportier rivals to shame.
How much equipment do I get?
Thankfully, Subaru has been seriously generous with Impreza’s levels of standard kit – especially when it comes to safety. Remember, there’s just the one trim level so every car gets the full works when it comes to equipment.
Creature comforts such as heated front seats, dual-zone climate control, keyless entry/keyless go, a reversing camera, cruise control and an electronic parking brake are all included. There’s plenty of tech, too, with an 8.0-inch touchscreen, sat-nav, DAB radio, Bluetooth and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto making their way onto the list.
As for the cabin layout, Subaru makes no bones about it – it’s not been designed for aesthetics. Ease of use is the name of the game and on that front it’s succeeded. The quality on offer is lagging behind the class leaders but there’s a real solid simplicity to the way everything is laid out.
And the safety systems?
Set to be introduced across the Subaru range, EyeSight is the name given to the Japanese manufacturer’s suite of safety and driver assist systems. It works like a friendly in-car Terminator by using two stereo cameras mounted near the rear-view mirror to recognise vehicles, bicycles, pedestrians and lane markings.
Included in the EyeSight package is adaptive cruise control, autonomous emergency braking, lane-departure warning, lane-keep assist and pre-collision throttle management. The latter alerts the driver if they accidentally select drive instead of reverse when the car is facing a solid object.
And, if that’s not enough to get the safety-obsessed execs at Volvo sweating, the Impreza also boasts Subaru’s Rear Vehicle Detection System (SRVD) tech, including blindspot monitoring and rear cross traffic.
Is the Impreza practical?
Indeed it is. Space in the two rear outer seats is impressive, with generous levels of legroom a match for most of the Impreza’s rivals.
The middle seat is tight, however, and the chunky transmission tunnel plus large runners for the front seats mean finding somewhere to put adult-sized feet is a struggle.
With the rear seats in place, bootspace comes in at 385 litres – more than the Golf, Astra and Focus – plus the loading lip is at a well-judged height. As a further bonus, the seats fold down relatively flat and offer up ample levels of flexibility should you need to transport longer items.
Subaru hopes to bring the Impreza to a wider audience in the UK with this latest model, and with a £24,995 starting price much of its success will surely depend on how competitive the manufacturer finance deals prove to be.
Will it trouble the mainstream class leaders? No. But with an impressive blend of equipment, cutting-edge safety tech, practicality and a near faultless reputation for reliability the Impreza would make a leftfield, yet capable choice providing the price is right.