Due to its WRC (World Rally Championship) heritage, previous model Subaru Imprezas were branded by the motoring public as attainable for only a select few. But with Subaru's recent directive of trying to make all its models more accessible to a broader public, the new Impreza broke away from its sedan design and took on a hatchback persona. Will it impress the masses as well as the hardcore Impreza faithful?

For those who have monitored the progression of the Impreza since the early 1990s, the new model - specifically the 2.0R m/t loaned for this test drive - is a shocking change of direction. Obviously the movement from four door sedan corner carver to a family-friendly hatchback can be sacrilegious to the Impreza fanatic. But to the starting-out family man, woman-of-the-house or rookie yuppie, the hatchback approach is perfect since it retains the four passenger side door-plus-rear hatch setup - a tactic that Honda tried to do with the EG Civic (and introduced both sedan and hatchback variants simultaneously), but was considered way too ahead of its time. Apparently for some the move to a hatchback design may also be considered too revolutionary, but to this writer the hatchback look is fine, with the headlights' wingtip look paying homage to the previous model's wing-shaped headlights.

The inside pays homage somewhat to the middle dashboard-centered theme of its Tribeca SUV sibling, with a short, straight line from the left and right flanks and going into a cascade of sorts at the middle front area. A brushed aluminum beltline highlights the said design element along with the head unit and the three-knob aircon controls. Unfortunately the audio entertainment is just middling (it's wanting at both treble and bass ends) and the cabin needs constant blasts at the blower two level just to get decent cooling, but Subaru got the loading and child control elements right. The storage bins can hold up to a one liter water bottle, the rear backrests fold flat to handle odd-shaped cargo, and there are visible latches for child seats. One negative though - loading stuff with both rear backrests upright can be limited, with just a mountain pack, a paper bag full of clothes hangers, a full-face motorcycle helmet and a 10 kg laundry bag full of clothes barely nestling themselves in the cargo bay and the tonneau cover withdrawn.

Subaru made sure that the Impreza driving experience will carry over to the current Impreza, down to the base model provided for the test drive. Getting into the powerband takes some time (2,750 rpm onwards) but when the car gets angry it can slam you back in the seat, as observed in the (ECU-governed) 210 kph top speed and 9.55 km/l (four days mixed driving). The five-speed m/t's gearing is even and the stick's short throws are precise in general, but this writer found second and third to be notchy, rough even. There's also a dual range gear lever behind the m/t stick, used primarily for towing and inclines. Clutch take up is smooth overall, but the leftmost pedal itself can be weighty for those with an uneducated left foot.

Retaining the go-fast Impreza experience won't matter if the car is skittish on turns. The mix of the low-to-the-ground horizontally opposed four banger, Symmetrical All Wheel Drive, wide 17-inch Yokohama Advan A10s and a double wishbone rear suspension make the car dead stable, with traction breaking at 110 kph. Midcorner bumps and heaves don't break the car's composure either, and the chassis feels slightly softer over seams and cracks than before, but it's that extra compliance and a more favorable camber curve for the rear wheels that keeps the car's tires planted on the pavement. Sharp too is the steering feedback, which can be described as firm but not stubborn. Steering feel can be a bit heavy at low speeds, though.

Safety too is topnotch. A mere tap on the middle pedal is all one needs to make the car decelerate significantly, and the handbrake bites hard even in small increments. Exterior lighting is bright, and the side mirrors provide decent lateral vision on both flanks. Also, the side mirrors can also be folded at the touch of a button, a helpful convenience should one park the car in crowded areas.

With its exterior look, features, performance and pricing, the P 1.060 million Subaru Impreza 2.0R M/T proves that even the masses (or the family) can enjoy the beauty of the six stars without diluting the WRC experience.