Subaru Impreza 1.6i RC review

Subaru has belatedly realised that burying its legends wasn't the wisest business policy. With that in mind, the Impreza badge has returned. Does it still cut it? Jonathan Crouch weighs up its chances.

Ten Second Review

Subaru's most iconic badge is back, but don't get too excited. In this case, it's attached to the rounded rump of the decidedly modest Impreza 1.6i RC, a car that delivers the trademark all-wheel drive and flat-four engine. It also delivers 147g/km and a mere 114PS, which doesn't sound quite so impressive - until you consider that this is that rarest of things, a 4WD family hatchback. And one priced at less than you'd have to find for an equivalently powered and specified Focus or Astra - you'll pay from around £17,500 and get plenty of kit too. Can this modern Impreza cut it?

Background

If we were to play a vehicular word association game, I might say Mini and you would probably say Cooper. Porsche? 911. Morgan? Plus Eight. MGF? Head gasket failure. Subaru? I'd be willing to bet good money that the word that comes screeching to a halt in your head with wastegates aflutter and flat-four engine woofling away would be Impreza. It's Subaru's iconic badge. Yes, the company has made a few bob selling Foresters, Legacies and Outbacks but those are cars. The Impreza is a legend, built off the back of special stage heroics from the likes of Colin McRae and Richard Burns. You can't buy that sort of badge equity. You can, however, bury it, which was what Subaru seemed intent on doing when, a couple of years ago, it decided that it was a manufacturer of SUVs. Admitting you're wrong is laudable and the company has gone back to what it does best. We've been thrilled to see the return of the fire-breathing WRX STI sports model but that beastie no longer carries the Impreza badge. With a minimum of fanfare, Subaru has quietly re-inserted the Impreza into the sensible section of its range. Is that low-key entry disguising something?

Driving Experience

Forget about all the Sonic Blue paint, gold wheels and big spoilers. This iteration of the Impreza is an altogether more modest thing. What does remain are two genuine Impreza reliables, namely all-wheel drive and a flat-four engine. The engine in question is of 1.6-litres in capacity and does without a turbocharger, so power is rated at an unexciting 114PS which brings into question whether you actually need all-wheel drive given that many GTI hatchbacks will quite happily punt over 250PS through their front wheels these days. Choose the manual Impreza and 62mph arrives in 12.3 seconds on the way to 114mph, while the Lineartronic CVT dispatches the sprint in 12.6 seconds en route to 111mph. In both cases, torque is 150Nm at 4,000rpm. The front suspension is a fairly standard strut setup, while double wishbone rear suspension offers more tuneability than the usual cheap torsion beam rear ends that many cars in this class opt for. The symmetrical all-wheel drive system does offer improved traction, especially on low grip surfaces such as wet tarmac or snow. To get the most out of the all-wheel drive system, you ought to invest in a set of winter tyres and get used to performing spring and autumn swaps for summer rubber.

Design and Build

There's nothing particularly exciting about the Impreza's silhouette, as this car has been on sale in Japan and the US for a good couple of years already. Exchange rates have prevented it going on sale in Europe, as the strength of the Yen would have pushed prices prohibitively high. It's here now, thanks to a softening of the Japanese currency but I doubt this Impreza is going to draw too much attention to itself. The shape is a development of the rather dumpy Impreza hatch and while it is undoubtedly sleeker than before, it's still no head turner. In fact, it looks much like an XV that's been treated to a set of lowering springs. That's no surprise, as the XV was marketed in Japan as the Impreza XV, so if you've driven an XV, the interior isn't going to come as a great surprise. You get the same 380-litre boot, which isn't quite on a par with the likes of a Golf but is better than a Focus. Fold the rear seats down though and things improve dramatically, with an excellent 1,270-litres on offer. Rear legroom is good and there's plenty of adjustability in the driving position but the seats could use a little more support. The dashboard is tidy and while there are some soft-touch materials on the dash roll top, look further down the fascia and the plastic reverts to Subaru traditional hard grey plastics.

Market and Model

The strength of the Yen did for Daihatsu in this country and almost sent Suzuki scurrying off with its tail between its legs. Subaru was hamstrung by the fact that it had no European Union factories and had to import all its stock for the UK. That's why you don't see many XVs for sale, a very good crossover model that was unfortunately priced against premium cars like the BMW X3 and Audi Q5 and subsequently struggled before it had a chance to establish itself. This latest Impreza 1.6 RC is priced at around £17,500 for a manual car or around £19,000 if you want the Lineartronic model. How does that stack up against key rivals? Not badly at all, as it happens. Ridiculously priced hot hatch models aside, this is the only sensible four wheel drive family hatchback you can buy, so if you don't want a much pricier 4WD Crossover or compact SUV and you need something larger than a 4WD supermini, this Subaru will be a go-to choice if you live out in the sticks and want to keep going in Winter months when your fellow motorists are slithering into ditches. Even if you ignore the 4WD aspect, rivals are still pricier. A Ford Focus 1.0-litre EcoBoost is £600 pricier and less well equipped. True, if all you want is an affordable 4x4 with modest power output, there is another option: a Dacia Duster costs around £11,500, but it lacks the equipment you'd get with the Impreza. To whit, that includes a reversing camera, 16-inch alloy wheels, dual zone climate control, heated front seats, auto headlights and wipers, cruise control, stop/start, Hill Start Assist, stability control, Bluetooth, iPod and USB connectivity and a 4.3-inch LCD display. In other words, it's completely stacked for the amount of money you're paying.

Cost of Ownership

While we can't get away from the historic exchange rate issue for the old Impreza's demise, there is another reason why this car would have find it tough in the modern marketplace and it's one that's not completely addressed here; emissions. The manual car emits 147g/km which will instantly see it scotched from any company car lists. To put that figure in perspective, a 218PS BMW 125i Sport Auto emits 1g/km more. A more direct rival, like the Ford Focus 1.0T EcoBoost is down at 114g/km. The Lineartronic transmission trims that figure to 140g/km, but that's not going to make any difference to your tax bill. Fuel economy is rated at 44.1mpg on the combined cycle, 53.3mpg on the extra urban test and 34.4mpg around town. That's not catastrophic but again, if you're interested in driving your fuel bills down, there are plenty of better options and it's these day to day running costs that are going to make the Impreza a tough sale for Subaru dealers. But again, you have to take this car's standard 4WD system into account when making comparisons. If that's an important factor for you, then you'll put up with the running cost restrictions.

Summary

This car's buying proposition will depend on your perspective. Before this Impreza arrived, those wanting or needing all-wheel drive in a family-sized car and not able to spend well over £20,000 on the cheapest 4WD Crossovers or compact SUVs were limited to the crudity of SsangYong Korandos and Dacia Dusters. This Subaru is a much more palatable option, priced at less than you'd pay for a much less well specified Astra or Focus. Look at it that way and there's not much not to like. The issue will come if Subaru dealers try to pitch this car to customers who simply don't care about 4WD. These people will perhaps question this Impreza's higher running costs and less cutting edge driving dynamics - though they'll certainly like the amount of equipment that comes as standard. In other words, it'll be horses for courses. Which, in all likelihood, will make this model a rare sight on our roads. But for its target clientele, a welcome one.