Sharp chassis, vastly improved interior quality, cabin and boot space, grip and traction levels
Neither engine is hugely refined or powerful, humdrum Lineartronic CVT, looks a bit generic
What is it?
The Subaru Impreza morphs into its fifth generation, but hold the celebrations; we’ve got to start with some bad news. Don’t start trying to imagine this hatchback with big wings, blue paint and gold alloys. The WRX STI is dead and, as far as the company is concerned, the fact that most people – when asked to name a Subaru model and then think of an image of said car – automatically go ‘Impreza’ before conjuring up mental pictures of a WRC Scooby on opposite lock in a dank forest somewhere, is a ‘problem’. Subaru’s word, not ours.
If it seems like throwing away such a strong brand identity is a bit risky for a company that sells in very small volumes in the UK (and in the wider European field), then prepare for more surprises. Subaru wants to be seen as an SUV brand, a ‘cut-price Land Rover’ – again, its words, not ours. So, with the WRX STI already killed off and the BRZ presumably on shaky ground, Subaru wants to leverage its robust reliability, its symmetrical all-wheel-drive know-how and the EyeSight safety tech as its key selling points, for cars like the XV, Outback and Forester.
Thus, the Impreza’s USP is that it's the only four-wheel-drive C-segment hatchback on sale this side of an Audi A3 quattro or a BMW 1 Series equipped with xDrive, two cars that are comfortably beyond £30,000. However, that EyeSight technology brings with it Lineartronic. That is Subaru-speak for a continuously variably transmission, or CVT, a gearbox that typically ruins a perfectly fine car with loud noises, acceleration that feels like clutch-slip and a general recalcitrance for it to do precisely what the driver wants.
Nevertheless, Subaru is pinning its hopes on Lineartronic and EyeSight, meaning a manual Subaru will soon be a thing of the past. It already is for the Impreza. It is offered in just one well-equipped SE specification, with a choice of two four-cylinder petrol engines – it’ll cost you £23,995 for a 1.6-litre Impreza or £24,995 for the 2.0-litre, with Lineartronic the only gearbox available on each. Pricier, then, than the starting prices for any of the extremely talented Ford Focus, Vauxhall Astra or Volkswagen Golf rivals, although none of those come with all-wheel drive unless we’re moving into hot hatch territory. So, is the Subaru worth checking out, on the strength of its all-weather abilities alone, or is there more to this hatchback than meets the eye?
Our choice from the range
What's the verdict?
In truth, unless you’re a Welsh hill farmer with a penchant for green laning, it’s kind of hard to recommend the Subaru Impreza. Its lack of a turbocharged engine, be that petrol or diesel, means it has higher running costs than key rivals, while the very drivetrain that Subaru is pinning its future to is compromised by a lack of refinement during high-performance driving. Lineartronic might be the best example of a CVT, but that’s like saying that a Pot Noodle is the greatest form of boil-water-to-prepare cup-based foods; it’s having to swallow a significant compromise because there’s nothing of a more advanced nature available. It’s also not the cheapest vehicle going in this class.
However, the Impreza remains a likeable thing, chiefly because it is shiningly obvious to see that Subaru has put some real, concerted effort into improving both the chassis and the cabin of this hatchback. While the dashboard might not have Volkswagen’s interior designers running for cover, it is every bit as good as – if not better than – the main rivals Subaru cites, which are the Honda Civic, Mazda3 and Toyota Auris.
And the Impreza’s new platform feels like a peach, one that deserves more in terms of the engine that propels it. Whether the five-door can actually do what Subaru wants it to do and drive sales remains to be seen, but this is an intriguing proposition that is simply crying out for the Japanese company to have a change of heart and give us the WRX STI iteration that everyone is surely craving. Sooner, rather than later, please.