Isaac Bober travelled to Japan for this first drive 2017 Subaru Impreza review with performance, safety, ride and handling, verdict and score.
In a nutshell: The new Subaru Impreza reveals that Subaru engineers can build a car that rides and handles as well as anything from Europe, and with improved safety, technology and packaging.
THE SUBARU IMPREZA first arrived in Australia back in the 1990s and went on to become one of the icon models in the range. Fast forward to now, and Subaru is hoping its new-generation Impreza will be able to carve out a greater niche in the small car passenger segment (the largest segment in the dwindling passenger car segment).
Currently selling around 400 cars a month, Subaru Australia boss, Nick Senior, wouldn’t commit to a sales target when he presented the new Impreza to Australian motoring journalists in Japan at the end of last week, but he did say he expected the new Impreza to grow on those figures. Mr Senior also said the new Impreza was the most excited he’d been about a new Subaru in all his time at Subaru, and this coming from a bloke who’s seen the birth of the WRX, the Outback and the popularity of the Forester.
“In the past we haven’t had all the ingredients to concoct an Impreza recipe that has really resonated with high numbers of small car buyers,” Senior said in Japan.
“But this new Impreza is a game changer – design, styling, safety, road dynamics, infotainment, quality, performance and innovation are stand-outs.”
What is it?
The new Impreza is, according to Subaru, more than 95% new when compared with its predecessor. And the shared bits, Impreza project boss, Masahiko Inoue, told us, were small, out of sight things like clips and nuts and bolts. That means, all the things you look at and touch are new…
The new Impreza is the first Subaru to sit on the brand’s new global platform which will underpin every new Subaru across the next 10 years (it’s the first new global platform since the Liberty was launched in 1989). The next model to be rolled out on the platform will be the Subaru XV which will be revealed later in the year.
The new Impreza looks like an evolutionary step ahead of the current model in terms of its design, which is a good thing because for too long Subaru would throw the baby out with the bath water as it moved from one generation to the next. But it’s the little things that almost no-one will ever notice that have lifted the quality of this new Impreza to a level never before seen in the family, things like the lack of seams in the door openings, little plastic covers in out of the way places in the tail-gate and more.
The new headlights give the front of the car a real hawk-like look with the chrome strip on either side of the badge in the grille hinting at Fuji Heavy Industry’s (Subaru’s parent) plane-building past. From the front and in profile, especially in profile the new Impreza looks a little bit like a Peugeot 308 and that’s high praise indeed because I think the 308 is a real looker. And, if you look closely at the flank of the thing you’ll notice a crease line in the metal that adds some definition and muscle to the Impreza by pumping the guards slightly… according to Subaru, this crease line is intended to mimic the sort of flourish you see in Japanese calligraphy.
What’s it like on the inside and how practical is it?
Subaru was pretty quiet with key details, and the final specification of Australian cars still hadn’t been confirmed, so, our assessment is based on the look and feel of the Japanese Domestic Models that we drove at the launch. As you can see from the pictures, the Impreza is a big step up from the current car with the quality of the knobs and switchgear right at the pointy end in this segment.
Whereas you can pick out the hard, scratchy plastic quite easily in the current Impreza, there’s almost none in the new car. And, what hard plastic there is has a nice texture to it that gives it a slightly soft feel, if that makes sense. Stitched edges on the centre console and in other spots around the car lend an air of quality to the car and the brushed aluminium contrasts are the icing on the cake. All of the switch gear is simple to use and falls easily to hand.
The Impreza runs a new 8.0-inch infotainment and communication screen which is nice and clear and, unlike the unit in the Levorg, doesn’t seem to be affected by glare; the unit in the Levorg can hardly be seen when the sun’s shining on it. We couldn’t assess the infotainment unit as it was a Japanese model but, locally TomTom will provide mapping services and the new system supports both Apple Car Play and Android Auto – a first for Subaru.
Besides the significant step up in quality, the Impreza, for the first time, runs an electric handbrake which sits at the back of the gear shifter… a CVT is also standard across the range
The front seats offer good adjustment and there’s reach and rake adjustment on the chunky, leather-wrapped steering wheel. The seats could do with a little more thigh support but that’s about the only criticism and that only reared its head when driving the very tight corners of the test track we were on at the launch. And that thigh grip shortcoming was only the case due to the high lateral grip the car generates.
Over in the back seats of the new Impreza there’s room for three adults and I know this, because I gathered up two of my colleagues at the event and had them climb into the back seat with me. We were all six-foot tall, or near enough as dammit, and none of us felt squashed and, despite the middle seat being more of a perch, there was enough leg room behind the two front seats that the middle passenger could share without it feeling too cosy in the back. Indeed, and while I wasn’t able to test this, I’d go so far as to say you’d get two child seats and just about squeeze an adult in between them. This sense of space in the back is down to the fact the cabin of the new Impreza is 35mm wider than the current car.
Subaru didn’t say exactly how big the boot was but it did say you could fit three golf bags into it and still close the cargo blind. The key improvement with the boot is the fact the opening is now wider than that of the current car and that makes loading and unloading larger items easier. The back seats fold down flat, but there is a lip meaning once folded the boot floor and the folded seats are on a different level to one another.
As a motoring journalist one of the usual ways to pinpoint quality of the interior is to scratch around on the dashboard looking for hard plastics. I’ve already mentioned that there was precious little of that in the Impreza and that the new interior of the new car is a big step forward. But if you want further proof, you only need to look at the windows… press the auto-up-and-down window button and the window will rise at one speed and then slow as it reaches the top of its travel; you’ll probably never notice it but it’s the sort of quality touch you’d find on a Rolls-Royce.
And speaking of the windows, vision all around is excellent in the Impreza and the wing mirrors offer a good field of vision.
What’s the performance like?
The new Impreza runs a ‘newly-developed’ variation of the current 2.0-litre four-cylinder ‘Boxer’ petrol engine which makes 5kW more than the current car and pushes out 115kW at 6000rpm and 196Nm of torque at 4000rpm. Subaru said that fuel consumption was improved, but wouldn’t say by how much.
The new engine is mated to a new CVT that mimics the unit in the WRX and Levorg by offering a stepped speed control and a seven-speed manual mode. It’s not the same transmission, but it’s smooth and responsive if a little noisy when being driven hard, probably harder than you ever will. And while I’d ordinarily say to steer clear of using the steering mounted paddles in a car like this, I’d actually recommend you use them, because they work well and respon quickly to inputs, as does the throttle to even minor variations.
Subaru claims the stop-start system works faster than it does in the current car and we’ll have to take its word for it as we didn’t get a chance to test it out. That said, Subaru’s stop-start is currently already one of the fastest systems on the market.
The engine itself betrays its on-paper output by feeling strong and responsive. The test track for the preview was tight and twisting with plenty of elevation change; all up a pretty demanding course for a non-performance car and yet the Impreza never felt like it was struggling for grunt. Sure, a little more torque would have been nice as it would have allowed the engine to work a little easier, but at the same time I never felt like I was having to wring the thing’s neck to get more from it.
What’s the ride and handling like?
Subaru said it benchmarked the new Impreza against the Volkswagen Golf, with the Impreza project boss, Masahiko Inoue, saying he wanted the Impreza to out-handle it. My short drive of the new car, just seven laps and one of them in the back seat of the car to get a feel for the ride away from the steering wheel, wasn’t enough for me to make a bold statement but I’d go so far as to say, Subaru might have made good on its aim.
Yep, the new platform offers improved body and chassis rigidity while the suspension has been fixed more rigidly to the body (via new mounting points) reducing body flex in hard cornering situations (the centre of gravity is 5mm lower than before). And this is revealed on the road, with reduced body roll and excellent body control (weight transfer) during direction changes.
While the road we drove across was well surfaced, there were a couple of patches in the road like you’d find on any road around the world and the Impreza soaked them up beautifully. There was no jolt, or shudder through either the seat or the steering wheel and even a patch right in the middle of one of the corners couldn’t upset the steering.
The steering wheel feels good in the hands and the speed, weight, and accuracy is excellent, but it’s lacking for outright feel. That said, this is a small passenger car and not a Porsche so we’ll forgive it the feel in this instance, but only because it’s so good in other areas.
As I mentioned, I climbed into the back seat, and was taken around the track at a fair old clip. The first thing I noticed was the excellent vision all around for back seat passengers. Headroom in the back was fine for me but taller passengers might find it falls away sharply towards the rear windscreen. That aside, it was comfortable in the back with enough support to keep you from sliding around under hard cornering.
We’ll have a more complete assessment of the new Impreza once it’s been launched locally in December.
How safe is it?
The new Impreza, from the mid-spec model and up will offer the third-generation EyeSight collision avoidance system that runs in the new Levorg. The new system is able to recognise pedestrians, when traffic ahead of you has moved off from a standing start (it can recognise brake lights) and much more.
In Japan, the Impreza is offered with a pedestrian airbag in the bonnet but we’ve been told that feature won’t be available in Australia. Beyond this, the new Impreza offers all-wheel drive, new-generation brake callipers, airbags, traction and stability controls.
Subaru said it’s anticipating a five-star ANCAP rating, and looking at its on-paper safety features and the fact the collision energy absorption efficiency has been improved by 1.4 times on its predecessor we’d suggest it should be pretty confident.