Subaru Impreza review
The Subaru Impreza is a quirky alternative to mainstream hatchbacks, thanks to its grippy four-wheel-drive chassis and flat-four engines
In the fiercely fought family hatchback sector, the Subaru Impreza is an often-overlooked model. What’s more, the entry-level models have had to play second fiddle to the fire-breathing, rally bred WRX and STi versions. But take a closer look at the Impreza and you’ll discover a solid and capable performer. Unlike mainstream rivals it benefits from a confidence inspiring four-wheel-drive chassis and smooth-revving flat four engines. However, with only one trim level to choose from, no diesel option and high prices, the Subaru has its work cut out against the talented VW Golf and Ford Focus.
Our choice: 2.0RC
After soldiering on for many years with a saloon only bodystyle, the Subaru Impreza finally got a practical hatchback layout in 2007. While it’s not as eye-catching as a SEAT Leon or Ford Focus, it is a handsome and well-proportioned machine. The well-equipped RC model is the only trim choice, which comes with either a 1.5-litre or 2.0-litre petrol engine – the latter is identified by its 17-inch alloy wheels and racy bodykit. While the design of the cabin is dated and some of the plastics a little cheap, it is robustly constructed and logically laid out. There’s plenty of kit, too. Heated seats, cruise control and Bluetooth phone connection are all included.
What separates the Subaru from rivals is its excellent four-wheel-drive system. The permanently engaged set-up delivers strong traction, helping to make the Impreza a confidence-inspiring, all-weather choice. And while the light and direct steering lacks feedback, the Impreza’s poise and grip make it a surprisingly engaging companion. The entry-level 106bhp 1.5-litre flat four engine is smooth and refined, but lacks performance, taking a leisurely 14.0 seconds to power from 0-60mph. We’d recommend the slightly more vocal, but much more muscular, 148bhp 2.0-litre unit. No matter what powerplant you plump for, the Impreza can’t match the VW Golf for refinement. However, a wide range of seat and wheel adjustment means getting comfortable is easy.
With its four star Euro NCAP rating, the Impreza trails mainstream rivals in the safety stakes. Still, it’s not all bad news for the Subaru, as electronic stability control, six airbags, active head restraints and side impact beams all feature as standard. There’s also the confidence-inspiring traction provided by the car’s all-wheel-drive system in slippery conditions. The Impreza also has a strong reputation for reliability, thanks to its robust mechanicals and solid build quality. Better still, Subaru dealers regularly score strongly in our annual Driver Power satisfaction surveys.
When it comes to practicality, the Subaru turns in an average performance. The cabin will accommodate five adults at a pinch, while opening the tailgate reveals a 301-litre load bay. Rivals such as the VW Golf or SEAT Leon provide more space for both occupants and their luggage. Still, the cabin of the Impreza is littered with decent cubby space, while folding the 60/40 split-fold rear bench flat liberates a flat load area and a useful 1,216 litres of space. What’s more, the four-wheel-drive system’s limpet-like grip makes the Subaru a sensible choice if you’re planning on towing – although you’ll need the extra grunt of the 2.0-litre engine for pulling heavy loads.
There’s no denying that the Impreza struggles to make a strong financial case for itself. Not only is it hobbled by a high list price, but it’ll also cost more to run than the competition. Ever since Subaru pulled the plug on the diesel-engined version, the Impreza has looked like an expensive long-term proposition. The entry-level 1.5-litre engine emits an incredibly high 177g/km and returns 37.2mpg. Yet your tax and fuel bills will be even higher with the 2.0-litre, which struggles to return 30mpg and pushes out a staggering 199g/km of CO2. Combine these figures with the hefty price tag and the Subaru is a costly option for both private buyers and company users.