Subaru Impreza

Debut: 2016
Maker: Subaru
Predecessor: Impreza Mk4

 Published on 16 Dec 2016 All rights reserved. 

The last Subaru Impreza was only 5 years old but it felt outdated nearly from day one. Mechanically it was not bad, but it cried for a modern packaging, up-to-date electronics and safety features. So Subaru has cut its lifespan short and replaced it with a new generation (note: the existing WRX and STi models will soldier on for a couple more years, but then, Subaru sells them as separate lines now). Mind you, the 5th generation Impreza has just won Japanese Car of the Year award, beating strong rivals like Toyota Prius Mk4. It is the first Impreza winning this title, and only the second Subaru doing so (the first time was Legacy some 12 years ago). Is it that good? We shall see…

At the first glance, the new Impreza has the old car’s odd styling improved rather than overhauled. The old car’s low bonnet and large windows remain, which is good, but the overall design is compromised by fussy crease lines, some edgy elements and a straight waistline such that it does not look as sleek as many new rivals. Neither is it as premium-looking as Volkswagen Golf or Renault Megane, nor it is as funky as Citroen C4 Cactus. In a market full of well-designed rivals, the Impreza looks rather unremarkable. Once again the car is available in both 4-door sedan and 5-door hatchback form. The former looks a bit conservative, while the latter looks too much like a station wagon. Subaru should invest more into design talents.

The new car sees the debut of “Subaru Global Platform”, which is to underpin all of the company’s new cars and SUVs with the exception of BRZ sports car. This doesn’t speak much though, as Subaru has always had one platform serving all its cars – it could not afford multiple platforms like giant manufacturers. However, it is still nice to hear the new platform has boosted chassis rigidity by 70 percent thanks to using stiffer steel at key locations, stronger welding and structural adhesives. This will improve handling and refinement undoubtedly. Moreover, the new platform is compatible with hybrid and plug-in hybrid powertrains for the first time (the relevant components will be supplied by Toyota, which owns 16.5 percent stake in Subaru now), although we don’t know whether the Impreza itself will get electrification. In terms of size, the new car has its wheelbase stretched by 25mm to 2670mm to benefit interior space. It is also slightly longer and wider, if no taller. Center of gravity has been lowered by 5mm. Meanwhile, kerb weight, according to our figures, gains between 40 and 50 kg depending on models, which is the only regret. Outside, thanks in part to active grille shutter, drag coefficient drops to 0.29, pretty good for the class.

While bones and skins are new, the legs and organs seem much the same as before. The MacPherson-strut front suspensions and multi-link rear suspensions are carried over from the old car, although predictably retuned to take advantage of the stiffer new chassis. In particular, the rear anti-roll bar is now mounted at the monocoque instead of rear subframe to reduce distortion thus improve precision. This results in less body roll, which is claimed to be reduced by 50 percent. To improve steering response, the rack’s gearing ratio has been tightened from 16:1 to 13:1, the same as BRZ. Its electric assistance is also retuned. Like last generation, lesser Imprezas are driven by front wheels, but most buyers are likely to choose the so-called "Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive" system, which is carried over from the old car. It has an electronic-controlled multiplate clutch incorporated at the rear of the CVT to engage the rear axle depending on traction demand. In case the car runs into under or oversteer (although the latter rarely happens), the new brake-actuated torque vectoring is going to sort things out.

Despite the familiar suspension and drive system, the new Impreza does drive better than the old car. The stiffer chassis results in a more composed ride and better noise absorption although the suspension setting is quite sporty (in case of Sport model with stiffer dampers and 225/40R18 tires). With AWD, there is abundance of traction and grip on offer. Body roll is much reduced and understeer occurs later. The quicker steering improves turn-in and is more enjoyable, although it is not the best electrical rack in terms of feedback. Ford Focus and Mazda 3 are still better driver’s cars, but the Subaru is not much behind.

Unfortunately, the powertrain is less remarkable. The 2-liter FB20 boxer engine is said to be 80 percent new as it gets direct injection (finally!), a stiffer and 12 kg lighter block, but the outcome is only 4 extra horsepower at 154 hp, while maximum torque is even unchanged at 145 lbft. In the fields of turbocharged rivals, its power delivery is weak and peaky. 0-60 mph should take nearly 9 seconds. Winding back 2 generations ago, the Impreza already did that in less than 8 seconds, albeit with a 2.5-liter engine. If that’s not bad enough, you can try the JDM car’s 1.6-liter base engine, whose 115 hp / 109 lbft output should challenge your patience in overtaking or hill climbing. Sadly, Subaru is not offering the 1.6-liter DI turbo engine in Levorg to the Impreza.

Part of the problem is attributed to the chain-driven Lineartronic CVT, which is mandatory in Japan and will probably take 90 percent sales in the US market (the remaining goes to an outdated 5-speed manual). To eliminate rubberband effect, it has a paddle-shift manual mode that provides 7 artificial ratios, and it will automatically hold the gear ratio under heavy throttle to simulate a 7-speed automatic. Nevertheless, the time lag between noise and acceleration is never fully rectified. For a car emphasizing driver appeal, the use of CVT is a wrong decision. It just robs driving fun. Besides, the CVT also generates some whine at higher revs to hurt the otherwise good refinement.

On the plus side, the cabin is a much more enjoyable place than the old car’s. The extra wheelbase and width give the interior more shoulder room and rear passenger legroom (29mm). The cabin design is more stylish, if still too conventional. Although it is not going to be renowned for build quality, the materials and trims look and feel more decent than the past, especially with the leather trims on top models. As always, the Subaru cabin is high on outward visibility – thanks to slim pillars, low waist line and large windows – and ergonomics. The instrument is simple and clear, the driving position is fundamentally good, switches and controls are logically placed. Unlike some rivals, it keeps the hardware switches for audio and air-con for easier access. There are 2 displays on the center console, the upper one is a driving information display, while at the center is the touchscreen of infotainment system, measuring 8-inch or 6.5-inch depending on models. While Subaru’s infotainment system is hardly class-leading, at least it is responsive and easy to use. Overall, this cabin offers competitive space, decent technology and build quality, so it is no longer a deal breaker.

In terms of safety features, the new EyeSight package includes adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, blindspot warning and automatic emergency braking. In other words, pretty competitive.

At the back, access to the boot is also improved by widening the boot lid aperture by 100mm, which necessitates the rearrangement of taillights. With rear seat folded, the hatchback offers more luggage space than most rivals. It should be, considering its station wagon look.

That said, the new Impreza is still hardly an obvious choice in the class. If you go for driver appeal, you might want a rival with more power and better gearbox. If you want comfort and refinement, there are many rivals that ride smoother and feel more expensive. In any cases, a more stylish look would be welcomed. Still, it could form a solid basis for the upcoming WRX and STi. As a family car, however, it is not quite up to the standards of class leaders.

Length / width / height

Valve gears
Other engine features
Max power
Max torque
Suspension layout

Suspension features
Kerb weight
Top speed
0-60 mph (sec)
0-100 mph (sec)
Impreza 1.6i
Front-engined, FWD
Steel monocoque
Mainly steel
4dr: 4625 / 1775 / 1455 mm
5dr: 4460 / 1775 / 1480 mm
2670 mm
1599 cc
DOHC 16 valves, DVVT
115 hp
109 lbft
F: strut
R: multi-link
1300 kg
112 mph (est)
11.0 (est)
Impreza 2.0iS
Front-engined, 4WD
Steel monocoque
Mainly steel
4dr: 4625 / 1775 / 1455 mm
5dr: 4460 / 1775 / 1480 mm
2670 mm
1995 cc
DOHC 16 valves, DVVT
154 hp (JIS) / 152 hp (SAE)
145 lbft
CVT (5-speed manaul)
F: strut
R: multi-link
1400 kg
124 mph (est)
8.8 (est) (8.4*)

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