Some of America’s most extreme exotica, captured here for your delectation
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£24,095 when new
Mention Subaru, and a few people still hark back to the rally cars, to McRae and Burns, turbo-charged petrol engines and gold wheels. Trouble is, the WRC has moved on, and so has the world. Most people want ‘sensible’ now, which is why the present Impreza was launched as a hatchback. But a problem remained - the petrol engines didn’t suit this new prudential image. Too many emissions, too little fuel economy. Now, the Impreza has finally been given a 2.0-litre boxer diesel so everything should make more sense. While the Impreza’s 2.0-litre motor ticks all the right boxes for power (148bhp) and torque (258lb ft), it spews out too much CO2, and the fuel economy isn’t good enough - 155g/km and 47.9mpg respectively. Both are worse than more powerful rivals like the Audi A3 170 TDI quattro, and the Impreza is also quite expensive. So it’s style and perceived quality in the Audi, versus fun and reliability in the Subaru. But while the green credentials aren’t great, what can’t be faulted is the diesel itself. Because it’s a boxer lay-out, it’s inherently smoother than a standard in-line four, which means refinement and diesel rattle are rarely an issue. The engine noise disappears completely into the background as soon as you set off, and you only hear it if hitting the red line. Which there’s never any need to do, because the turbo builds from a usefully low 1,400rpm so it pulls very easily, even up long hills in sixth gear. That’s the beauty of this car - it does ‘relaxed’ very well. Plenty of torque, a six-speed gearbox now (the Legacy diesels used to be five) and a comfortable ride. Banish all thoughts of rally stages from your mind, and this is a good motorway basher. The only criticism comes when you’re sat at idle as the Impreza has an annoying habit of revving itself ever so slightly, as if a gremlin is blipping the throttle. The noise insulation isn’t quite as impressive as on other makes, so you can hear this revving more than you would on other cars. But overall the car is happier in its own skin. If only it were cheaper. It comes well-specced even in the basic RC trim but diesels are meant to be a cheap way to get about. The Impreza’s high running costs and initial price put paid to that. Fair enough to pay over the odds if you’re splashing out on a rally-bred special, but a diesel hatch? No thanks.
£17,570 – £34,340
It’s the car that Top Gear staffers tend to recommend when asked ‘what should I buy?’ more often than anything else.
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Ford Focus review: success in a hatch isn't just about the drive. The Focus has the rest of the bases well covered too.
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BMW 1 Series review: Brilliant engines, rewarding dynamics. BMW takes the 1 Series to the next level.
£20,500 – £43,215
Mercedes A-Class review: the new A-Class doesn't pander to the traditional road-test criteria. We like it for that. It goes its own way.
£20,170 – £38,490
The latest version of the car that defined the premium hatch sector stays classy
£18,150 – £27,770
Hold the front page: Focus and Golf drivers, here’s an Astra you may actually like