Cards on table time – we’re big fans of Subaru, a hidden gem of a car brand if ever there was one.
A left-field choice perhaps, but Subaru has a loyal following – especially for its Outback, XV and Forester SUVs.
The problem for Subaru is that its 4x4s are so capable and durable that existing owners hang on to them for years, so they don’t have the turnover of some rivals.
The Impreza is no SUV, but it does boast the same Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive system and unusual ‘Boxer’ petrol engine as its siblings.
The latest Impreza is a bit different to the car of the same name that dominated rallying in the 1990s with the likes of Colin McRae behind the wheel.
It has evolved into a fairly conventional looking hatchback that’s safe, spacious, well equipped and (mostly) a joy to drive.
The range is refreshingly simple – there are just two trim levels (S and SE) available and a choice of two petrol engines – a 1.6 and 2.0-litre.
There’s no manual gearbox – the only option is a ‘Lineartronic’ automatic which is a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) – a system which does away with gear changes and is meant to be more efficient and economical.
We’ll come back to the gearbox and engine combo a little later. For now, let’s concentrate on Impreza first impressions.
Well, there’s no doubt that it doesn’t look unlike its SUV siblings from the front, which is no bad thing. In fact, it’s a dashing, dynamic, well-proportioned car all round – and about the same size as a Honda Civic.
Priced from £24,310 to £25,010, this fifth generation Impreza is up against everything from the Volkswagen Golf to Skoda Octavia in the highly competitive family hatchback sector. Its USP is that is comes standard with all-wheel drive, unlike its rivals.
It’s good news inside too where there’s ample space for adults front and rear, plus a 385-litre boot – 1,565 litres with the back seats folded.
Subaru interiors have come on leaps and bounds over the last couple of years. Yes, they err more on the side of durability rather than luxury, but the Impreza cabin is functional, perfectly comfortable, generously equipped and well put together.
As with other recent Subarus, it’s fitted with the company’s EyeSight Driver Assist technology system which including Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB), Rear Cross Traffic Alert and Adaptive Cruise Control, helping it score a maximum five stars in Euro NCAP safety tests.
The centre console is dominated by an 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen which is both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatible, but sadly does not include a built-in sat nav. The graphics and operating system are not up there with the best of the them, but it does the job.
We tested the 2.0-litre SE Lineatronic powered by a 154bhp naturally aspirated four-cylinder boxer petrol engine, which is flatter than a conventional unit, can sit lower in the engine bay and is claimed to be lighter, smoother and more powerful.
No complaints on that front. The problem comes when its matched up to a CVT gearbox, and then you put your foot down.
Like most of these transmissions, it’s at this point that the revs soar and there’s a harsh din until the otherwise slick engine gets up to speed. All this is a shame because it’s no slouch, reaching 60mph from standstill in 9.8 seconds.
On paper, it can return up to 42.8mpg, but we fell some way short of this during a week of mixed driving, so expect closer to 35mpg unless you are very well behaved.
The good news is that the Impreza is engaging to drive with superb 4×4 traction. It feels totally planted on the road, especially in wet conditions, while the steering is responsive and body roll is well contained.
As standard, the SE Lineatronic also comes with goodies including 17-inch alloy wheels, automatic LED headlamps and wipers, heated front seats, dual-zone climate control, roof spoiler and a reversing camera.
Verdict: The latest Subaru Impreza is a unique take on the family hatchback concept which almost comes off. Good looks, space, safety and great handling are marred by a gearbox which is an acquired taste. That said, unless you’re in a hurry, it may not bother you at all.
Oh, and not to forget Subaru’s reputation for dependability, plus the brand’s 4x4s come with a generous five-year warranty for that extra peace of mind.