SUBARU IMPREZA

A WELCOME RETURN TO FORM THAT PULLS UP SHORT OF GREATNESS

MIKE DUFF

UBARU’S model plan often feels like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates: you never know what you’re going to get next. Sure, with the exception of the BRZ they’re predictably boxy and send drive to all four corners, but dynamic quality is far more hit and miss.

The outgoing Impreza (2011-16) was one of the most boring cars to ever wear Subaru’s six-starred badge.

No longer – the new car is vastly better. If we were handing out a gong for the biggest improvement of the year then the Scooby would have scooped it. It’s across-the-board, from design to handling, with generous standard kit and competitive pricing sharpening its case.

While the old car was as blunt as a wooden spoon, this one practically has a serrated edge.

Subaru expedited two Imprezas to take part in COTY ahead of the car’s official Australian launch. Meaning that the static going-over session was the first time most of the judging panel had seen one up close, and reaction was generally positive. The exterior looks good – taut and muscled where its predecessor was amorphous and flabby – but it’s the cabin that’s the revelation, with smart design and much higher quality trim than any Subaru owner will be used to. Here’s proof the brand can do interiors if it wants to, and that it does indeed have access to materials other than the low-rent plastics it normally uses.

It’s spacious, too – not a word used in connection to the last car. The rear seat is particularly roomy, though we were intrigued to see that only the door trim finishes in the front get a gloss finish; the ones in the back are matte.

The proving ground element demonstrated the fundamental quality of the chassis, which is both impressively compliant over bumps and taut feeling when asked to play in corners, but also revealed the limitations of the powerplant.

No surprises that Subaru has stuck to the time- S honoured formula of a flat-four engine sending drive to all corners, although the intermediate stage is a no-alternative CVT. But the atmo unit can only produce 115kW and low-down torque is notable only by its absence. Making decent progress in an Impreza requires making frequent interface between the throttle pedal and the carpet. On the plus side, all-wheel drive is unique to the segment, and comes in the basic 2.0i for under $23,000, while the $29,190 2.0i-S hatch adds torque vectoring that could be felt working to tighten the car’s line in slower corners.

There was no surprise that the Impreza was unanimously voted through to Round Two, but things got progressively tougher once it found itself on road. The chassis had the occasional body-control issue out in the real world, though the lesser lateral loadings meant it became harder to feel the 2.0i-L’s lack of torque vectoring. And Impreza’s pace over twistier sections of our route was as fast as anything else.

For all the inherent poise of the chassis, the Scooby’s anaemic engine struggled to deliver confident passing when asked to muster appropriate thrust to safely overtake slowermoving traffic, the CVT ’box slurring like a post-Logies Karl Stephanovic. The fixed ratios of the transmission’s manual mode also came in for particular criticism, proving slow to engage and unable to deliver any significant engine braking.

Economy was better than we were expecting given the previous form of over-stretched flatfours; 9.9L/100km on test put it within a whisker of the supposedly super-efficient Audi A4 1.4T.

The Subaru scored particularly well on safety with the optical Eyesight monitoring system working extremely well, if proving itself to be a bit over-keen when it came to reporting lane departure. Radar cruise is good and in our AEB tests the Impreza earned a star from teacher, its system working faultlessly at spotting and reacting to threats, putting many (much) more expensive rivals to shame.

While the new Impreza approaches greatness, it’s not there yet. A turbocharged engine with more low-down torque would cancel most criticism, but it’s a massive leap forward, and a welcome return to form, for what was once one of the world’s most compelling car brands.

SUBARU IMPREZA

BODY Type 4-door sedan/5-door hatch, 5 seats L/W/H 4460/1775/1480mm (hatch) 4625/1775/1455mm (sedan) Wheelbase 2670mm Track f/r 1540/1545mm Boot capacity 345 – 460 litres Weight 1386 – 1438kg DRIVETRAIN Layout front engine (north-south), AWD Engine 1995cc flat 4 (115kW/196Nm) Transmission CVT automatic CHASSIS Brakes ventilated discs (f/r) Tyres 205/50R17 – 225/40R18 Spare space saver ADR81 fuel consumption 6.6 – 7.2L/100km CO2 emissions 152 – 163g/km Front airbags Side airbags Curtain airbags Knee airbags Collision mitigation Crash rating 5-star (ANCAP) Prices $22,400 – $29,190 3-year retained value n/a Service interval 12 months/12,500km

O N E P L A T F O R M , A L L S T O P S

The Impreza is the first car spun from the company’s new SGP architecture (that’s Subaru Global Platform) – the component matrix that will soon underpin everything the brand produces. It’s a scalable architecture that will be able to accommodate cars of different sizes and different technological complexity, and will also allow future electrification. It’s much more rigid than before, Subaru claiming improvements of between 70 and 100 percent, with the new Impreza’s stiffness obvious in the way it drives.

“APART FROM THE GAP BETWEEN FLOORING IT AND DRIVE ENGAGING, IT’S IMPRESSIVE”

NATHAN PONCHARD

“PERHAPS ONE OF THE BIGGEST AND MOST PLEASANT SURPRISES OF THE YEAR”

BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS