The Subaru Impreza has always been one of those special cars. Unlike most mainstream models in the compact class, the Impreza has always given a different, a more distinct driving feel than the rest.
Now Motor Image, the distributor of Subaru in the Philippines, have got a next generation model for us. Will it live up to the Impreza character they've established in the past?
Walking up to the car and seeing it in person for the first time, well, personally I'm not impressed. It's really a Subaru thing now to expect to be unimpressed in terms of designs, unless you're talking about the STI versions. The resemblance of the front end to the larger Legacy is unmistakable, and that's a good thing. The front is properly edgy, but the rear end on this 2.0i sedan seems really out of place. And that's putting it very mildly. Perhaps it's the rather dull silver that this Impreza came in or those 16 inch wheels, but overall, I just didn't like the look of this new generation model.
Sometimes, however, the designers make up for it with a great interior. Well, sadly, that wasn't the case. Sitting in the driver's seat for the first time and examining the dash, again it's unimpressive. The choice of colors, the materials used, the buttons all look very run of the mill; very ordinary. The head unit is the same one from the previous generation of Subarus, and things like the wiper and headlight stalks are definitely from the Toyota parts bin (TMC does own 16.1% of FHI, Subaru's parent). Also, the driving position feels more upright compared to before. Again, not impressive.
But this is the point when the Impreza got better. Even though the design left a lot to be desired, in terms of features, it's pretty well loaded. You've got your usual power features, cruise control, a multi information display and fuel computer, HID headlamps, a 2-DIN audio system with USB input, iPod functions and an Aux port, cruise control and an automatic climate control system. And it's got 6 airbags (dual front, curtains and side airbags), four wheel disc brakes, traction control and stability control. There's also an abundance of very useful compartments and pockets, as well as a rather large trunk.
Twist the key and the signature Subaru growl emerges from the engine bay, lighting up that 2.0 liter boxer engine. Unusually, the engine (while all-new, as Subaru says) doesn't have any obvious output improvements over the old model, as Subaru didn't add the D4-S direct injection systems found in the 86/BRZ/FR-S, bolstering its the 2.0L boxer motor's output to 200 PS. Nevertheless, 150 horsepower (metric) and 196 Newton meters are plenty to play with, especially since it has 6 manual gears to choose from. Subaru, however, claims an improvement over the old EJ20 engine through reduced friction and increased efficiency.
Off the line acceleration feels great in the new Impreza. It may only have 150 horses, but you can really use each and every one of them. Fuel economy is good too, able to return 8.4 km/l in the city (moderate traffic) and does a very good 15.4 km/l (no traffic) on the expressway at a steady 100km/h.
There's an unusual lightness and smoothness in the way the powertrain delivers its power, especially with the smooth 6-speed manual. And of course, the symmetrical all wheel drive system gives such stability and confidence at any speed, even if you're hit by a heavy, sudden downpour on the expressway as we did while doing a 100 km/h.
Subaru really knows how to engineer a great handling car (that's why Toyota partnered with them for the 86/BRZ) and it really shows with the new Impreza. The old hatchback I drove handled decently, but this one is much, much better. That straight line stability translates into very well balanced handling in the corners, and you're able to feed the power easily as you're about to clip the apex. The suspension is incredibly well tuned to deliver such fun handling dynamics that coupled with the great powertrain, together they can almost erase the misgivings on design. Well, almost.
That's really the problem with the Impreza. Impressive as the drive is, you won't be on the highway all the time, nor will you be carving through the mountains, WRC-style everyday. Chances are, you'll be driving it to and from work or school everyday, stuck in some kind of traffic more often than not. While the Impreza drives smoothly, comfortably and efficiently around town, I would rather be inside either a Civic (an interior I don't like), a Lancer (rather plain but works), the Elantra (most definitely), the Focus (oh, yes) or even just the Corolla... and that's saying a lot.
In a strange twist, Contributing Editor Inigo Roces had the XV at the same time. The XV, while essentially a slightly raised Impreza hatchback, looks much better both inside and out. Again, it may be the color, but the interior and other bits feel much better executed than the Impreza. For some reason, the Impreza felt a little left out when compared to the XV, with the latter garnering better sales (locally) than Subaru's long-time best seller.
There really is no excuse for shortcomings on design. Look at Hyundai, Kia and Ford; proof positive that good design and style does not have to be expensive. For the PhP 1,158,000 price of the Impreza, it should look better, especially with regards to the interior.
Honestly, I really wanted to like the Impreza. The much improved dynamics of this new model makes it something I would want to drive. Overall, however, it's a different story.
What do you think?