Gripping tale: Subaru Impreza vs Mazda 3

Is four-wheel drive enough for the new Subaru Impreza to leave the Mazda 3 trailing?

Subaru has always carved its own niche. Its rallying heritage and driver-focused four-wheel-drive performance models have gained a cult following, but while motorsport has raised the company’s profile in recent times, its use of four-wheel drive has been a staple component for years. 

The latest all-wheel-drive model to arrive in the UK is the new Impreza. This is the fourth generation of the compact hatchback, and as well as permanent AWD, it features another Subaru trademark, a boxer four-cylinder engine. It’s only 1.6 litres, and doesn’t have a turbo, like past performance models, but the petrol motor adds to the car’s leftfield appeal.

For this test, we’ve lined up another hatch in the shape of the Mazda 3. It doesn’t have four-wheel drive, but it features sporty handling, while the 2.0-litre petrol engine has a definite power advantage. So, will the new Subaru’s unique characteristics give it something special to stand out in this compact hatch class?

Follow the links below to read individual reviews...

Subaru Impreza review

Mazda 3 review

Now scroll down to find out which hatch comes out on top...


Running costs

The Impreza plays second fiddle to the Mazda 3 thanks to the inefficiency of its 4WD system. However, the comprehensive trip computer allows you to keep tabs on your fuel use. There’s an efficiency gauge, plus instant and average economy figures, and a timer which logs how long the stop-start system has been active for on your journey.

Passenger space

The Impreza has wider opening doors than the Mazda, so access is a bit easier, but these cars are level pegging for rear seat space. There’s plenty of head and legroom and a trio of headrests, but space for three is a bit tight. Neither car has a fold-out centre armrest or air vents in the back.

Four-wheel drive

The Subaru Impreza is one of the cheapest four-wheel-drive cars on sale in the UK, and unlike other 4WD compact hatchbacks, like the Audi A3 quattro, it’s a permanent system, rather than reactive. It has a low-range box, which is engaged using the lever on the transmission tunnel next to the handbrake and the centre diff in the transmission distributes power to the axle with the most grip.


1st place: Mazda 3

The Mazda 3 takes a clear victory in this test. It’s far superior to the Subaru in almost every way, with sharp, involving handling, a smooth and powerful petrol engine, a well built interior and sharper looks inside and out. The ride is a little firm on larger alloy wheels, and it’s frustrating that you have to move up a trim grade to add some extras, but overall it’s well worth the extra £400 over its rival here.

2nd place: Subaru Impreza

The Impreza has been reintroduced by Subaru thanks to favourable exchange rates, but while models such as the WRX STi are sporting highlights, the standard Impreza is a letdown. It looks awkward, features dated cabin design and costs much more to run than the Mazda. On the plus side, the 4WD system delivers extra confidence on the road, but it’s not enough to offset the Subaru’s shortfalls.

Subaru Impreza vs Mazda 3: key specs

 Mazda 3 2.0 SE NavSubaru Impreza 1.6i RC
On-the-road price/total as tested£17,895/£17,895£17,495/£17,995
Residual value (after 3yrs/30,000)£7,400/41.4%£6,718/38.4%
Annual tax liability std/higher rate£571/£1,142£761/£1,522
Annual fuel cost (12k/20k miles)£1,725/£2,875£2,057/£3,429
Ins. group/quote/road tax band/cost17/£340/C/£3013/£315/F/£145
Cost of 1st/2nd/3rd service£499 (3yrs/37,500)£246/£361/£284
Engine4cyl in-line/1,998cc4cyl boxer/1,600cc
Peak power 118/6,000 bhp/rpm112/5,600 bhp/rpm
Peak torque 210/4,000 Nm/rpm150/4,000 Nm/rpm
Transmission 6spd man/fwd5spd man/4WD
Fuel tank capacity/spare wheel51 litres/repair kit55 litres/repair kit
Boot capacity (seats up/down) 364/1,263 litres380/1,270 litres
Kerbweight/payload/towing weight1,280/460/1,300kg1,295/545/1,500kg
Turning circle/drag coefficient11.3 metres10.6 metres
Basic warranty (miles)/recovery3yrs (60,000)/3yrs5yrs (100,000)/3yrs
Service intervals/UK dealers12.5k miles (1yr)/10712k miles (1yr)/59
Driver Power manufacturer/dealer pos.8th/12th16th/4th
Euro NCAP: Adult/child/ped./stars93/86/65/5N/A
0-60/30-70mph8.7/8.7 secs10.3/10.3 secs
30-50mph in 3rd/4th 5.2/7.0 secs6.0/8.6 secs
50-70mph in 5th/6th 9.0/13.1 secs13.9 secs/N/A
Top speed/rpm at 70mph 121mph/2,250rpm114mph/3,000rpm
Braking 70-0/60-0/30-0mph 49.9/35.6/9.0m48.2/35.4/9.1m
Noise levels outside/idle/30/70mph59/42/60/69dB55/42/61/67dB
Auto Express econ (mpg/mpl)/range40.2/8.8/451 miles33.7/7.4/408 miles
Govt urban/extra-urban/combined43.5/65.7/55.4mpg34.4/53.3/44.1mpg
Govt urban/extra-urban/combined9.6/14.5/12.2mpl7.6/11.7/9.7mpl
Actual/claimed CO2/tax bracket162/119g/km/16%194/147g/km/22%
Airbags/Isofix/rear parking sensorsSix/yes/no/noSeven/yes/no/yes
Automatic/stability/cruise control£1,200/no/no£1,500/yes/yes
Clim control/leather/heated seatsNo/no/noYes/part/yes
Met paint/xenon lights/keyless go£540/no/yes£500/no/yes

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