First Drive: Subaru Impreza

Subaru dares to be different…

Being wilfully different – it has become Subaru’s modus operandi. Never a company to toe the conventional automotive line, it has made a weird and often wonderful assortment of vehicles over the years, but one Subaru nameplate stands above all else: Impreza. The thing is, it’s not the turbocharged, rally-bred Impreza of yore any longer. Nowadays, it is designed to appeal to district nurses.

No, really; with the old fourth-generation 2011 model, Subaru said it was ideal for those who lived in remote, rural areas and who needed to be able to get anywhere, at any time, in any weather. Its stolid and dependable attributes of symmetrical all-wheel drive, an unburstable but dull 1.6-litre ‘boxer’ four-cylinder engine and Subaru’s legendary reliability made it hugely appealing to a minuscule percentage of the car-buying public.

Serving up the same again is therefore all well and good for satisfying staunch Subaru customers, but it’s not so great for attracting in new clientele. Thus, because Subaru continues to be almost needlessly contrary with this new, fifth-generation Impreza, it’s unlikely to be rewarded with widespread commercial success.

The Impreza Mk5 looks far better than its predecessor on the outside, being proportional, less front-heavy and generally more distinctive. Yet it’s hardly beautiful to behold. The cabin is much better, as not only is it spacious and well-equipped, but the quality levels have taken a drastic upturn from the old Impreza. The materials used for the dashboard and fascias, the solidity of the switchgear, the comfort of the seats and clarity of the displays are all excellent.

A pair of stereo cameras at the top of the windscreen are the EyeSight system, blessing the Subaru with six semi-autonomous driver assist safety systems, while Rear Vehicle Detection (RVD) bundles in three further driver aids. Both EyeSight and RVD are standard-fit, as there’s only one extraordinarily generous specification called SE – it includes, but is not limited to, heated front seats, keyless entry and go, dual-zone climate control, steering-responsive LED headlights, Subaru Starlink infotainment and a reversing camera.

However, Subaru says EyeSight must function with a continuously variable transmission, tagged Lineartronic. This is hooked up to either a 1.6-litre petrol boxer engine or, for an extra £1,000 outlay, a more powerful 2.0-litre variant. Either is attached to symmetrical AWD and neither sports a turbo to improve their economy, the 2.0-litre capable of modest data of 42.8mpg with 152g/km CO2.

Despite this, the 2.0-litre is the obvious choice because it’s much livelier to drive than the weak 1.6. And there’s a lot to like about the Subaru Impreza, such as its sharp handling, its supple ride and its generally refined demeanour. It also has masses of grip and mammoth AWD traction, making it feel remarkably sure-footed in all conditions.

But the coarse 2.0-litre drivetrain lets the whole package down. It’s noisy when revved, it’s particularly thirsty when operating on anything but partial throttle, and the CVT is typically frustrating, allowing the engine to scream and shout far too often and lacking for precision control when you really need it. A light-pressure 1.6 turbo with a conventional automatic would have been a far nicer proposition than this powertrain.

So the improved, all-new Subaru Impreza is certainly something different in the C-segment, a machine that doesn’t conform to the rules of the main herd. But therein lies the problem; it’s not quite as good as the best hatchbacks in this class. Therefore, the Impreza is destined to remain a unusual, niche oddity.

Model Tested: Subaru Impreza 2.0i SE Lineartronic
Price: £24,995
Range: £23,995 – £24,995
Top speed: 127 mph
0-62 mph: 9.8 seconds
Power: 156 PS (154 bhp)
Torque: 196 Nm (145 ft lb)
Monthly PCP*: £341
Official fuel economy: 42.8 mpg
Road test economy: N/A
CO2 Emissions: 152 g/km
Car Tax: £140
Insurance group: 18E
* Monthly PCP estimate based on 20% deposit, 36 month term, 5% APR, final payment of 40%.

Sam Baines

Sam is an automotive writer with experience of virtually every make, model and specification of car in the UK. If it's got wheels, Sam's got it covered.

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