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First Drive: Subaru Impreza

The story:
Subaru is attempting to return to businesses’ radar with the new Impreza. No longer a rally-bred performance saloon, the new car is a four-wheel drive auto-only in 1.6- or 2.0-litre form
Category:Lower medium
Key rival:Mazda 3
Subaru Impreza 2.0i SE Lineartronic
On sale:Now

Subaru is suffering something of an identity crisis in Europe, courtesy of what it calls a “rally hangover” from the days where it was known for Colin McRae firing the Impreza down forest tracks. But that image is entirely at odds with both the Subaru brand and the Impreza of 2017. 

The Japanese manufacturer is now focused mainly on building SUVs, which account for 82% of its worldwide sales, and the Impreza has become a sedate hatchback.

The new model comes in either 114hp 1.6-litre or 156hp 2.0-litre forms, both of which are petrol powered, linked to a four-wheel-drive system and come attached to a CVT automatic gearbox.

There’s just the one trim level, and it’s pretty well equipped, especially with regard to safety kit, because it comes with the Eyesight package the brand is fitting to all its cars Subaru Impreza 2017 - Image 8going forward. Eyesight is the reason the car has been delayed in Europe – it’s been on sale in Japan since last year – because bosses didn’t want to launch until it was available. The system consists of adaptive cruise control, pre-collision braking, pre-collision throttle management, lane-departure warning, lane-keep assist and lead vehicle start alert. Subaru claims the system has brought about a 61% drop in accidents involving its cars over four years in Japan. Most of the tech is as-seen in other brands, but pre-collision throttle management is interesting, because it warns the driver if they have engaged drive instead of reverse when the car is parked, and they’re about to hit an obstacle in front. Lead-vehicle start, meanwhile, alerts the driver when traffic ahead moves off.

On the road, the overwhelming sensation is that it’s a shame there’s no option other than the CVT, which makes for a raucous engine note and gives the impression of sapping power, especially in the asthmatic 1.6, which feels like it has significantly less than 114hp. Think a manual with a slipping clutch. It’s a world away from the latest powertrains, such as Honda’s 1.0-litre 129hp engine. The 2.0-litre is better, costs just £1,000 more and brings only a 7g/km CO2 penalty, so there’s very little reason to take the 1.6. The 2.0 is still noisy, but at least feels like it is offering some forward progress with it.

Subaru Impreza 2017 - Image 23Otherwise, the driving experience isn’t bad. The steering is quick to respond without quite having enough weight or feel, and ride quality and body roll are fine.

Interior quality is much improved over Subaru cabins of not very long ago, and the boot’s 385 litres is reasonable without being large, although it is shallow.

But the biggest problem is the emissions. Rivals of similar power are at least 20g/km better,which is a bit of a killer blow when it’s not the most pleasant package anyway.

It’s a shame, and Subaru will still appeal to fans that come looking for a bulletproof all-wheel drive workhorse, but the new Impreza isn’t a breakthrough car that will make the wider audience take notice.

paul barker

The verdict

Anonymous looks and a well-below-par powertrain for both emissions and performance do nothing to help an otherwise well-equipped but ultimately unremarkable car.