After years of drought, Mother Nature chose the two days I’m here driving the new Subaru Impreza to pour rain across California.
No biggie, though, despite the chill wind and slippery roads. The $30,995 Sport Tech edition has a heated steering wheel and heated leather seats – as it should, because it’s a Canada-only trim level. It also has all-wheel drive, like every Subaru except the BR-Z sports coupe.
Most importantly, is that it’s underpinned by the Japanese maker’s new global platform. The Impreza is the first Subaru to use this, and it allows the car’s body to be 40 per cent stronger in a collision and to better divert any forward impact away from the passenger area. The 2016 Impreza had a four-star NCAP frontal-crash-protection rating; this 2017 expects a five-star rating across the board when it’s tested early in the new year.
“Safety and the dynamic quality of the drive” were the priorities for the development of the new platform, says Kazuhiro Abe, the Impreza’s project general manager, “but if I should choose one of them, it would be safety.”
I thought about this in a closed-off parking lot, where Subaru set up a slalom course with traffic cones to demonstrate the Impreza’s improved handling: 70 per cent more rigid, and 50 per cent less body roll, apparently, thanks to the rear stabilizers being mounted directly to the chassis. The car’s tires slid on the greasy, damp asphalt as though on ice, but it was always predictable. Nothing was unexpected.
I also thought about this through the intermittent rain on the bumpy, curving roads of the Carmel Valley and the long stretches of wet inland interstate. I always felt safe, despite the weather. I felt comfortable, too. The new Impreza is a little larger all around and has more space inside, and is loaded with high-tech driver’s assistance, if you want to pay for it.
The Sport Tech is the most costly of the Imprezas and is the only trim level to include active torque vectoring, in which power is cut to an inside wheel while cornering, and sent to the outside wheels. This keeps the vehicle more stable but ultimately makes it quicker around curves, and it’s unusual to find this technology in a $30,000 car.
Subaru says the 2017 Impreza is 95-per-cent new – pretty much every body part is redesigned, mostly to fit to the new chassis. The 2.0-litre Boxer-four engine is also 80-per-cent new, direct-injected now and hooked to either a five-speed manual or a continuously variable transmission.
The engine is tuned for both better response and fuel efficiency, but it’s not a powerful motor. It makes 152 horsepower, up four from before, and weighs 12 kilograms less, but overtaking is still a gradual manoeuvre. There was no manual transmission available on the testers here, but the paddle-shifted CVT (a $1,300 option) is stepped to mimic a seven-speed automatic. It’s pleasant enough unless you need to mash your foot to the floor, but you’ll be okay if you can plan ahead.
There is only the one engine available in North America and Abe says there was never consideration given to a more powerful engine as an option. Any driver looking for more wallop should think about the WRX or the Legacy instead, or perhaps the manual transmission might be more rewarding. In the meantime, the Impreza is smooth, quiet and frugal with fuel.
All trim levels are available as either four-door or five-door, with a $900 premium on the hatchback. The least expensive model is the manual, four-door Convenience, which lists at $19,995, and then jumps up through three more levels and an optional technology package on the more expensive editions. All models come with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
As the first Subaru equipped with the new global platform, the Impreza will be followed in successive years by the Crosstrek, then the Forester and, eventually, every AWD model – even the “multipassenger vehicle” in 2018 and the all-electric car in 2021. Judging by the confidence I felt in the Impreza, it’ll be a smart move for all of them.
Base price: $19,995; as tested: $30,995
Engine: 2.0-litre direct-injected boxer-four
Transmission/drive: Five-speed manual or simulated seven-speed CVT/all-wheel drive
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 8.3 city, 6.4 highway
Alternatives: Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Mazda3, VW Golf, Nissan Sentra, Hyundai Elantra
Looks: Every styling detail was designed in a wind tunnel, but that’s made for a few extra creases at the front and back.
Interior: Definitely an improvement here, although I only drove the two higher-end versions, which are nicely finished in both cloth and leather.
Performance: Maybe it’s snappier with the manual transmission, but the Impreza’s engine takes a while to get to speed. Once it’s there though, it’s great to drive on curving roads and regular highway.
Technology: You name it, it’s available, and not for too much of a premium.
Cargo: Lots of space for people and their stuff. The rear trunk and hatch openings are wider, too – room for three golf bags in the back of the five-door.
A solid improvement for both Impreza, and Subaru as a company.
The writer was a guest of the auto maker. Content was not subject to approval.