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.

Editor's Rating

What's it like inside and how practical is it?
What's the performance like?
What's the ride and handling like?
How safe is it?
Practical Motoring Says: Our short drive of the new Impreza in Japan has revealed it to be a competent car that's got more than enough room for a family, with handling that should put it at the sharp end of he segment. And, with mid- and top-spec cars running EyeSight and improved quality and packaging, Subaru well and truly has a contender on its hands.

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).

2017 Subaru Impreza review

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.

2017 Subaru Impreza review

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.

2017 Subaru Impreza review

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.

2017 Subaru Impreza review

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.

2017 Subaru Impreza review

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.

2017 Subaru Impreza review

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.

2017 Subaru Impreza review

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.

16 Comments

  1. tony coz
    September 14, 2016 at 7:55 am — Reply

    Its certainly an improvement on the current Impreza. I assume the next generation Forester will be built on the new platform also. Any indications from Japan when that is due out?

    • September 14, 2016 at 7:58 am — Reply

      Hi Tony, you’re right, the new Forester will be on this platform. But, no, they were like brick walls when asked about future product… all of a sudden blokes who could speak perfect english couldn’t remember their words 😉 – Isaac That said, new XV will be the next one here.

      • tony coz
        September 17, 2016 at 7:05 am — Reply

        I’m in a bind. Do I buy the current Forester 2.5s which seems like good value with all the bells and whistles or wait for the new Forester to arrive in a year or two and get the latest technology. So much I read says that the current 2.5 is anaemic when overtaking and when one wants some oommfff!. I cant justify spending an extra $10,000 on the XT plus there are questions about carbon deposits in the motors of direct injected engines.

        • September 17, 2016 at 7:25 am — Reply

          Hi Tony, all depends on whether you want a new car right now, or can wait. It’s hard to say what the new Forester will be like, but I can say that the new chassis under the Impreza is easily the equal and maybe better than anything from the VW Group. Yes, the engine could do with a little more oomph, but there’ll be other options in the Forester. It could be worth getting the Forester you want now and then trading up once you’ve had a chance to check out the new one? Pricing will either be static or up only very slightly for the new one and it will get a better infotainment unit and a better chassis… New XV won’t be far off. Could you wait for that? – Isaac

  2. CarLover
    September 14, 2016 at 10:34 am — Reply

    Do you have any idea whether the Impreza will come with Rear Cross Traffic Alert and Reverse Automatic braking like the new Mazda 3 does?

  3. September 15, 2016 at 2:45 am — Reply

    Please don’t forgive car makers for installing numb electric steering
    — and give them heaps for omitting a conventional handbrake working on the back wheels, which can be a life-saving steering aid if front-wheel adhesion is lost. Today’s manufacturers seem to have forgotten Murphy’s Law: if it can go wrong, it will.

    • DEVILTAZ35 .
      October 29, 2016 at 12:59 pm — Reply

      The cars are all wheel drive , you just never lose grip. At least not in the 2016 3.6R liberty i drive.
      They are amongst the safest cars on the road.
      I have never been a fan of the Imprezza but this does look good. Will be interesting when they WRX has this design as 115kw is way too low to test this car out.
      I also don’t like daytime running lights, nothing wrong with just using headlights all the time and these seem more of a trend than actually serving any useful purpose.

  4. Azmodan
    September 19, 2016 at 11:49 am — Reply

    Sorry haven drive the Impreza with this engine in CVT form, it’s simply terrible combo. There’s no way in hell this scores better than 2/5 for performance. Engine has alwasys been oridnary and the minor change still leave less than desirable. Making it CVT only is the final nail in the coffin and should have lost it plenty of points. 60% overall given it’s conservative dull as dish water styling.

    The Impreza now only exists as a platform for the WRX, if they didn’t have that they would be in dire straights, as you wouldn’t even contemplate the Impreza any more you would a Camry.

    • DEVILTAZ35 .
      October 29, 2016 at 1:02 pm — Reply

      The global platform will be used as a basis for the 2018 Subaru Liberty as well so who knows we may see the return of the Turbo Liberty then. I’ll stick to my 2016 3.6R until then though. It’s a nice enough drive.

    • Garry Petrisic
      December 7, 2016 at 10:24 pm — Reply

      I agree with the dull and very unimpressive styling. Their designers are on something that limits their imagination severely. CVT is crap and the performance is not as good as a 1.4 litre VW.
      I am constantly disappointed. As I said before, their four wheel drive system is hard to beat.

  5. Garry Petrisic
    December 7, 2016 at 10:15 pm — Reply

    How is it that they keep coming up with the ugly stick? Who styles these cars? They are a great piece of engineering, but do they have to be ugly as well? CVT transmission is annoying to say the least and the distinct lack of power is also annoying. No vents to the rear is also annoying. The thing that saves them is the brilliant four wheel drive that works so well. I may just be able to live with the uglies and the lack of power, and the lack of rear vents just for the safety factor at the right price.

  6. Garry Petrisic
    December 7, 2016 at 10:20 pm — Reply

    I do agree with Brian. The car manufacturers have given in to the people that play games in the car with touch screens, no handbrake, electric steering and the list goes on. I wish they would all get rid of the many distracting devices their adolescent designers have put in and get back to basics. It was much better to just drive without all the distractions. Only people over 60 should be able to design cars. Keep the passive systems and get rid of stupid touch screens.

  7. Pasco
    January 4, 2017 at 6:01 pm — Reply

    I own the current Impreza with CVT. Not sure if you’re aware that the current CVT version isn’t symmetrical 4WD in normal driving mode. Presume its a power/fuel consumption strategy to compensate for the poor engine performance. Most of the time most of the power is going to the front wheels with something like 20% going to the rear. Its only when you get slippage that symmetrical all wheel drive cuts in and boy – do you notice the power loss. (Why Subaru doggedly persists with the lack of engine power choice in Australia is beyond me. They offered it many years ago on a particularly popular & reliable model which had a 2.4 Litre option on the RX version). I’d be interested to know how it works on the new model. And for god sake Suburu when are you going to ditch the ancient locking mechanism – its dreadful! And no auto lock – & please don’t tell me its for safety reasons – its terrible!

    • January 4, 2017 at 6:46 pm — Reply

      Hi Pasco, thanks. Symmetrical all-wheel drive refers to side to side and not front to rear as you would think. I’d suggest the drive split is more like 60:40 or 70:30 on the old model, but I’ll check that and come back to you. – Isaac

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Isaac Bober

Isaac Bober