The regular Subaru Impreza is far more fun than you'd think
The WRX might be the car that gets all the glory, but the standard Impreza is an entertaining enough and dynamically-pleasing car in its own right.
While small, affordable sedans it must be said are, by and large, a bit of a snoozefest, the Subaru Impreza is one that has always stood out as a somewhat more fun alternative in the dreary segment.
While cars like the Toyota Corolla are great for what they are – affordable, low-fuss, A-to-B transport – the Impreza has always presented itself as a truly different alternative.
Featuring all-wheel drive as standard just like its big brother, the WRX – something its arch-rival the late Mitsubishi Lancer couldn’t match in non-Evo or Ralliart form – this added dash of capability has always been the icing on the great value cake that the Impreza has always been.
Having always been rather a good looker, the current iteration I think is one of the very best of the bunch, with it still looking sleek and modern despite launching back in 2016 for the 2017 model year. It’s a shame there’s not yet been a WRX based on this fifth-generation model – the WRX as we know it is still based on the prior fourth-gen Impreza – as I don’t doubt it would really look the part.
Of course, a minor facelift for 2020 has helped with keeping the Impreza looking fresh, with a redesigned front bumper, grille, and wheels on all models really bringing it right up to date visually, with a new adaptive LED headlight assembly on this top-spec 2.0i-S model only helping it look even smarter.
While often top-spec cars at this price point can feel to be frivolously expensive compared to lower-tier variants in the range, the Impreza 2.0i-S actually feels to be the best value in the range in my eyes as the level of standard equipment is incredibly impressive given the $31,160 price tag.
Leather seats with heating and power adjustment up front, an 8.0-inch infotainment screen with TomTom satellite navigation in addition to the 6.3-inch screen atop the dashboard and the 4.2-inch one in the gauge cluster, an electric glass sunroof, keyless entry, automatic lights and wipers, front and side-view cameras in addition to rear, and the complete EyeSight active safety suite which includes one of the smoother adaptive cruise control systems, too.
Aside from a brand-name audio system, there’s really not much I could think of that was missing from this thing, and as far as the interior fit-out is concerned, it felt to be above its price point in that regard.
The array of materials used inside all feel fairly high-quality which only bolsters that, as does the typically-Subaru exceptional build quality. It’s roomy, comfortable, and well-laid-out as well, and feels to be about the best interior Subaru has cooked up in my eyes since the third-generation Liberty.
Unfortunately though, a glance at the spec sheet reveals that the power outputs the Impreza claims seem to have come from the era of the third-gen Liberty as well. Packing a 2.0-litre naturally aspirated flat-four under the bonnet, it makes just 115kW and 196Nm, and while that is admittedly on par for the class, there is quite a lot of power loss through the drivetrain to contend with.
That comes down not to its Lineartronic CVT transmission – which is, in fact, designed to reduce power losses – but because of its full-time Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive system, as driving all four wheels constantly really requires more torque than this little boxer engine can muster up.
However, it’s better to have it than to not, as the real charm of the way the Impreza drives comes down to that signature all-wheel drive system. While it’s the WRX we always think of as the real corner muncher, the regular Impreza is every bit as tractable, as the way it grips and puts the power down is truly impressive for a car in this class.
Granted, the wider and stickier Yokohama Advan rubber fitted to this S model’s 18-inch alloys is certainly lending a helping hand here, but you really can drive this thing like a complete idiot and it’ll figure it all out and simply flatter you.
It simply feels impossible to get it unstuck – go hard on the brakes on entry, plant the throttle hard through the corner, and really yank the wheel, it’ll all do nothing to upset it – which clearly makes sense given the tech it packs all originates from the world of rallying.
The steering feels well-weighted and responsive which only helps it out more in this regard, and the suspension – comprised of MacPherson struts up front and double wishbones in the back with coil springs all around – is tuned beautifully, with it soft enough to soak up bumps with ease but firm enough to keep the body roll mostly in check through the corners, with what little roll there is acting as a forgiving buffer.
However, it’s that engine and transmission combination that really lets the Impreza down. While I feel as though this engine would feel a bit peppier with a manual gearbox or an automatic with shorter gearing, this CVT really labours it due to its economy-minded gearing and despite reducing parasitic losses simply makes it harder to extract what power it has to give as when using its seven-speed simulated manual mode the gearing is simply far too tall.
Granted, it’s not too bad as far as fuel economy is concerned, returning 7.8L/100km over the course of 420km of mixed driving against an official combined cycle claim of 7.2L/100km which is impressive for a car that powers all four wheels all of the time so in that regard it checks out as a cheap-to-run commuter car.
However, it’s just a shame that it doesn’t have enough power to not only feel as though it has evolved over the last two decades but to give it the true feeling of fun that it could well have with a bit more pep to it.
Don’t get it twisted, the Impreza is a great car and I’d honestly have a difficult time choosing any other small sedan I’d rather have right this moment knowing just how good a chassis it’s packing, but a bit more power – be it through a turned-up petrol engine or particularly through some measure of electrification which this would certainly be a good fit for – would really give it a leg-up over the competition as in most other regards, it ticks a lot of the right boxes.
This article originally appeared on drivesection.com on October 20, 2020. The vehicle tested here was provided by Subaru Australia. All noted prices are in Australian dollars (AUD).