Subaru Impreza 2017 Review

New Impreza gets more tech, luxury razzle-dazzle - without diluting its adventurous spirit

Subaru Impreza 2.0i-L
Road Test

With a fresh new attitude, a dynamic design inside and out, even more safety and technology features, and more cabin space, the new Subaru Impreza makes a compelling first impression. But in its rush to be all things to all people – adventurous youngsters, families and mature aged buyers – the Subaru may have lost sight of the trees. Priced between $22,400 and $29,190 (plus on-road costs), Subaru has gambled the house on this one, but it may just have paid off.

The Subaru owner’s oath
Ever noticed how Subaru owners are inclined to wax lyrical about how good their vehicle is? I’m yet to meet a Subaru owner who starts a car conversation with “Mate, it’s been nothing but a headache. The all-wheel drive is horrible, I can’t stand reliability and don’t get me started on that unique Boxer engine.”

For myriad reasons – rugged aura among them – Subaru has a legion of loyal fans who regularly return to the brand. And the new Impreza is unlikely to stymie the posturing from new owners.

Truth be told, apart from the all-wheel drive factor, this scribe never saw the appeal of the Impreza… but after spending a week travelling from coast to high-country and through the city, I’m beginning to see why buyers are so devout.

Simply put, the new Subaru Impreza is a considerable improvement on its predecessor and quite possibly the most significant model step-change for the car since its inception in 1992.

Rolling on tasteful 17-inch alloy wheels the car looks neat and tidy but the exterior design of the hatch is neither here nor there to my eyes, and to be honest I think the sedan has infinitely more aesthetic appeal. But once inside things improve… it’s almost like stepping into a premium car.

Great interior design, improved infotainment
The Subaru Impreza 2.0i-L on test is priced at $24,690 (plus ORCs) and brings an upmarket finish that’s been lacking from the ‘Pretza, starting with seats that appeal to the touch and the eye.

Back and shoulders are well supported and although leather seats are a no-show in this grade (the 2.0i-S for $29,190 is the next stop for cow-hide) comfort levels are sound.

Once settled in, the eye is drawn to the new dashboard, the styling of which has had some thought put into it, with multi-tiered levels and various flourishes. The centrepiece of the new-look cabin is an updated infotainment system, based around an 8.0-inch touchscreen.

The screen is big, bold and bright and looks fully integrated into the car’s cabin, unlike some of the aftermarket-ish designs we’ve seen before from Subaru. It looks more like a smart phone or a placid tech device than a traditional infotainment system and it works well.

There’s a number of hotkey buttons below the screen, such as ‘home’ and ‘app’ buttons which make navigating the system quick and easy. There’s no sat-nav on this model, but you can access navigation by plugging in your phone and using Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. Pairing your phone via Bluetooth is also a doddle and digital device fiends will appreciate four USB ports up front.

In front of the driver the instrument cluster has a thoroughly modern aesthetic, the sporty dials bisected by a small but functional infotainment trip computer. It’s got plenty of menus that are easy to navigate, so you can check average fuel consumption, time at the wheel and even how many millilitres of fuel were saved using the idle-stop function.

Minimised heating and cooling controls look good and even the electric window controls and mirrors have an elegant air compared to previous models. I like that you can hit a button to retract the side mirrors for tight parking spots and this model comes with dual-zone climate control with voice activation as well.

More luxury, more safety
The boot has a high load floor which compromises boot space. Rated at 345 litres it is large enough for a couple of large bags of fertilizer, and not much else. It expands to 795 litres with the 60:40 split-fold rear seat backs flipped down and there are loads of handy tie-down hooks to secure loads, shopping bag hooks too.

Three top tether anchorages and two ISOFIX connections mean child seats can slot in and there’s even a light in the boot.

Backseat room is impressive there’s enough headroom for a six-foot tall person. Legroom is good and there’s space under the seats for your feet so you don’t have to have your knees parked right up under your chin like a recalcitrant school boy.

No rear seat air vents won’t help passengers on hot (or cold) days but there are holy-sh*t handles at every corner, so if the driver starts ripping through corners like Fangio everyone has something to grab.

All the major touch points in the car, from leather gear knob and steering wheel to the improved plastic quality around the cabin, make operating the car feel a bit more special than many of its Asian rivals. Even the steering wheel controls have a satisfying rubberised pushback with every press.

Speaking of rubber, the door seals are super thick, to the point where I found myself having to slam them with more force than usual, lest they stay ajar. Annoying at times but then again, thick door seals contribute to a quieter cabin.

Drive it up hill, down dale, then around town
The new Subaru Impreza is a quieter, more serene cruiser than previously. It’s matured in many ways but those hoping for a glimpse into the future, as the 2018 WRX finally gets this more advanced architecture (cleverly named Subaru Global Platform), you’ll have to wait a while longer.

Ride quality is best-described as balanced, with good levels of comfort blended with enough response to ensure corners can be taken with a half-serve of gusto. But it ain’t no WRX.

The steering has improved slightly but its lightness is best-suited to commuting and urban driving, tight parking manoeuvres and sharp T-intersections, rather than turn two at Phillip Island race track.

The updated 2.0-litre engine bangs out 115kW (up 5kW) by adopting direct injection while torque of 196Nm is unchanged. In some situations the car motivates well but at other times the car feels sluggish. Engine response is far from class-leading.

The AWD system is an awesome feature and helps set it apart from its rivals but it adds weight and together with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) that whines more than my next-door neighbour when I play Barry Manilow at full noise, propulsion is lacklustre.

This car could really use a smaller capacity turbo powertrain to enhance response and also to reduce its thirst for fuel. On the freeway it’s satisfactory, sitting at around 1800rpm at 100km/h. Yet even with the idle-stop feature, when traffic lights and 60km/h limits are the norm, it turns into party-animal and really starts to drink.

With a 50-litre fuel tank that’s can deal with 91 RON fuel (according to the tech specs), it burns petrol at a claimed rate of around 6.6L/100km. Sounds good, right? Too good to be true, if you’re riding shotgun with the author. Away from the lab and in the real world, driving to and from work and down to the beach, it was sucking juice at much higher rate, 9.0L/100km.

Other ownership costs appear to have improved, with service intervals set at 12 months instead of six months and 12,500km, whichever occurs first. The warranty is okay at three years, unlimited kilometres, but there’s an option to snaffle an extended five-year warranty too.

Get off the road, mate!
Subaru’s Impreza is handy machine off the beaten track and feels sure-footed on unsealed roads, the AWD system coming to the fore when you take a dirt road corner too quickly or struggle for grip up a gravelly rise. With a bit more ground-clearance the Impreza would be a fun fire-trail explorer…

Then again, there’s always the XV, of which an all-new version is coming mid-2017.

Cruising highways, the Impreza is relaxing to pilot, supple ride quality and plethora driving assistants help make longer journeys less taxing. Dossing around in traffic can be pretty boring in any car but as mentioned at least this vehicle is easy to manoeuvre and has plenty of safety features via third-generation Eyesight technology.

Comprising several sensors and twin cameras, the car’s electronic ‘eyes’ allow the car to accelerate, brake and steer for you in certain scenarios… Often the scary ones you don’t want to get into. Features like autonomous emergency braking (AEB) that works at up to 50km/h and can detect pedestrians and cyclists with more accuracy, as well as cars, according to Subaru.

Adaptive radar cruise control, even brake light recognition and pre-collision steering assist are part of Eyesight too, which are super impressive standard features on a sub-$25K car. Realistically however, the drive-away price of this Japanese rig will be closer to $28,000.

Nevertheless, Subaru has a reputation as a “safe” car maker and together with these systems – along with seven airbags and a solid passenger safety cell – the car achieves a five-star ANCAP safety rating, the highest possible.

The new Subaru Impreza small car is a big step up from its predecessors. Okay, so it doesn’t have the dynamic chops of some its rivals but the improvements in comfort, convenience, refinement and safety make this one of the best Imprezas yet.

I reckon rusted-on Subaru buyers will love this car. And they won’t be shy about telling you about it either!

2017 Subaru Impreza 2.0i-L pricing and specifications:
Price: $24,690 (plus on-road costs)
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol
Output: 115kW/196Nm
Transmission: Continuously variable
Fuel: 6.6L/100km (ADR Combined)
CO2: 152g/km (ADR Combined)
Safety Rating: Five-star ANCAP