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The Top Gear car review:Subaru Impreza
For:Sharp chassis, vastly improved interior quality, cabin and boot space, grip and traction levels
Against: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?