Can a bigger, better Impreza ensure Subaru’s survival in a changing auto landscape?
SINGAPORE — Calling this a Subaru Impreza review might be a bit naughty, because we only spent a little time with the car at a closed-off bit of road. So think of this as a first impressions kind of story, with more to come.
That goes for Subaru itself, which is promising plenty on the horizon, now that the new Impreza is here.
That’s because it’s built on what its maker calls the Subaru Global Platform — a new architecture that will underpin every new model from the brand from now on, meaning the next Legacy, XV, Forester, Tribeca and so on will sort of spring from the Impreza’s loins.
Of course, the upshot of that is that if it the new Impreza turns out to be a dog, then Subaru has some tough times ahead.
Might as well come right out and say it, then: the Subaru Global Platform is a good one. Local importer Motor Image laid out a test track for journalists to drive the Impreza on, back-to-back with other cars, namely an Audi A3, Mazda 3 and Volkswagen Golf.
What’s impressive is that the Subaru didn’t embarrass itself in such company. The new platform makes use of plenty of high tensile steel to give it strength without incurring a weight penalty (the Impreza is 70 percent stiffer than before but hasn’t packed on the kilos, and that’s in spite of an increase in size).
The body’s added rigidity makes the Impreza feel more refined. It tackles bumps without noise from the suspension (something the Audi was most guilty of, surprisingly), and it whips through corners in a reassuringly controllable way. Subaru says that body roll has been cut in half, and the car does sail through bends with plenty of poise.
Also on the plus side, the steering is quick enough to make the Impreza feel alert and eager to change direction, and the brakes bite strongly.
But driving it against other cars exposed a weakness in the Subaru’s game: a lethargic engine. Step hard on the accelerator, and the Impreza lopes into action like a drugged cat. It’s fine once you’re underway, but in a traffic light strewn road network like ours, the least you could ask for is a bit of vim from the start.
And we drove the more powerful 2.0-litre model with 156 horsepower, mind you. If that one feels lazy, the 1.6-litre version, with 114hp, must feel positively comatose. Both engines drive all four wheels through Subaru’s Linertronic CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission), which is smooth but tends to blunt acceleration.
The two engines are paired with two bodyshapes — a four-door sedan and five-door hatch — to create a four-model lineup.
Presently the range kicks off at $106,800 with COE for the four-door 1.6i-S (add $1,000 for the five-door body and $123,800 for the 2.0i-S. Given that the latter is only $4,000 cheaper than the larger (and excellent) Legacy, we’re betting that the vast majority of buyers will opt for the 1.6i-S.
That could also be why the 2.0i-S is an indent-only model in Singapore.
Whichever version you end up with, the new Impreza is noticeably bigger than its predecessor. Length and width are up 41mm and 38mm respectively, while the wheelbase has grown 25mm to 2,670mm. That’s still shorter than some class rivals (a Mazda 3’s wheelbase is 2,700mm), but the back of the car is adequately roomy.
The front of the cabin looks tidy enough, but the large touchscreen controls a huge number of features while the slim screen atop the dash displays a huge variety of info (including an angle of attack display), so making sense of it all will not be the work of a few minutes.
Still, Subarus have always been a bit quirky, so if there’s something out of the ordinary on the Impreza, it’s probably that way on purpose. And while it doesn’t have frameless door windows like Subarus of old, the Impreza does follow the brand’s essential playbook with a horizontally-opposed “Boxer” engine and a “symmetrical” all wheel-drive system — it’s basically symmetrical because the centre line of the crank and the propshaft all run straight down the middle of the car (sorry to geek out like that).
While staying true to Subaru’s core values, the new Global Platform is also ready for whatever propulsion system the market wants, say the brand’s engineers. That means it can accommodate hybrid, plug-in hybrid and full electric drive systems.
The whole idea is to future-proof the company’s product development, since no carmaker feels safe now with just plain petrol or diesel engines in its lineup. Given that Subaru is less than a tenth the size of Toyota by volume, that’s probably a sound strategy.
Still, judging from the Impreza, it does look like the next cars to be built on the Subaru Global Platform will be competitive. And that’s just on first impressions.
NEED TO KNOW Subaru Impreza 2.0i-S
Engine 1,995cc, 16V, Boxer four
Power 156hp at 6,000rpm
Torque 196Nm at 4000rpm
Top Speed 210km/h (est)
0-100km/h 11 seconds (est.)
Fuel efficiency 6.6L/100km
Price $123,800 with COE