Subaru Impreza first drive: keeping the faith

Damien O’Carroll
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Subaru New Zealand's recent launch event for the long-awaited Solterra EV was something of an exercise in contrasts, because while it was launching a cutting-edge all-electric SUV - a combination of the powertrain of the moment and the biggest-selling body style by far - it also launched another vehicle that is almost on the endangered list: a small hatchback powered by a petrol combustion engine with no form of electrification whatsoever.

It is, of course, the latest incarnation of the Impreza hatch, long a mainstay of the Subaru lineup in new Zealand, but one which has become increasingly sidelined thanks to the rise in popularity of SUVs.

Handily outsold by its SUV counterpart - the Crosstrek - that was originally known as the Impreza XV and is essentially a jacked up version of the Impreza hatch, the Impreza was even shorn of its performance cred when, similar to the XV, the WRX was spun off into its own identity. Albeit ones that owe much of their underlying substance to the Impreza...

Still, Subaru NZ felt there was still enough interest in non-performance and non-SUV small hatchbacks to stick with the Impreza, albeit now just as a single model. But while the last Impreza was a single base-spec model, the new one is completely kitted out, packing all of Subaru's latest tech.

Positioning the Impreza at the top of the range in terms of equipment has seen it take a jump in price, up to $44,990 over the last models $39,990 price tag. Given the sheer amount of gear jammed into it though, it arguably represents better value for money and, in terms of high-spec small hatches, only the Toyota Corolla ZR undercuts it. And even then it is only by $1800.

Of course the bigger issue at play there is that fact that the Corolla ZR is a hybrid, while the Impreza has nary an electric motor to be seen anywhere in its 2.0-litre petrol powertrain. Not even a mild hybrid assist.

While the lack of any fuel-saving electrical assist is disappointing (the e-Boxer hybrid model just isn't being made available to the New Zealand and Australian markets), the sheer amount of standard equipment on off in the Impreza package is impressive.

Satellite navigation, 18-inch alloy wheels, leather accented upholstery and heated front seats, a Harmon Kardon 10-speaker audio system, an electric sunroof, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a reversing camera, a tyre pressure monitoring system, wireless phone charging, a 360 degree camera system and an 11.6-inch infotainment touchscreen all come standard in the Impreza.

The Impreza has nary an electric motor to be seen anywhere in its 2.0-litre petrol powertrain. Not even a mild hybrid assist.

The Impreza also gets a full suite of safety and driver assists, including automatic headlights, rain sensing wipers, reverse automatic braking and Subaru's EyeSight crash avoidance technology, with pre-collision braking, lane keep assist and adaptive cruise control.

Then there is the one standard feature that no other car in its class offers for the price; all-wheel drive. The Impreza matches its 115kW/196Nm 2.0-litre petrol engine to its "symmetrical" AWD system driven via a continuously variable transmission with an 8-speed manual mode.

While not exactly powerful (it's around par for the segment) the 2.0-litre is perfectly adequate and never gets coarse or unruly, which is impressive for a smallish engine hooked up to a CVT (sorry, "SLT" for Subaru Lineartronic Transmission). But then Subaru's SLT has long been arguably the best CVT in the game (not that that means much to some people) and it continues to make a strong case for itself here.

The manual mode, while being largely just a marketing gimmick these days, is actually quite excellent, with swift responses that mimic a DSG with its decisiveness and fast responses. Fun for a while, but the relative lack of power quickly makes it redundant outside of a few downshifts for old-times sake.

But then the Impreza isn't about sparkling performance, despite Subaru making much of its WRX-derived steering (which, given both share the same underpinnings is... meaningless?).

Then there is the one standard feature that no other car in its class offers; all-wheel drive.

No, the Impreza is much more about being an impressively refined, remarkably well-equipped small hatch with an excellent ride, better-than-it-really-needs handling and the peace of mind of AWD, and it pulls this off very well indeed. It's just a shame about that utter lack of electrification.

ENGINE: 2.0-litre petrol boxer POWER: 115kW/196Nm GEARBOX: continuously variable transmission, AWD CONSUMPTION: 8.3l/100km (3P-WLTP), CO2 170g/km PRICE: $44,990


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