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Subaru’s new Impreza majors on safety and solidity

Wednesday, 5th September, 2018 4:28pm

The thing is, you kind of have to be a fan. That’s always been the case with Subaru.

Even at the height of the company’s fame, in the mid-nineties when its bright-blue-and-gold rally cars, driven by the likes of McRae, Sainz, and Burns, were almost never off the telly, buying a Subaru took a certain level of commitment.

Not that they were bad cars then, nor are they now, it’s just that you have to buy-in to the brand and what it stands for in order to ‘get’ a Subaru.

It’s too easy, almost, for someone to just rock up at a Toyota, Nissan, or even Honda dealer and order their sensible Japanese hatchback. It’s painless — you know what you’re getting, you know someone else will want to buy it from you in three years’ time, and all things being equal you know it will work perfectly in that period.

For Subaru, it’s a little different. For a start, try stretching out that period of faultless operations. Subaru’s reliability is such that makers of Swiss watches hang their heads in shame when an Impreza or Forester drives past.

You could own and run a Subaru for a decade or more, and find that no major component ever fails. Generally, though, while the engineering beneath is peerless, Subaru has historically not made such a good fist of the body and interior.

That is changing, though, and nowhere is that more apparent than when you see the new Impreza. It’s a relatively-conventional looking five-door hatchback, and that in itself is an achievement — too many Impreza models in the past have been wilfully oddball in their looks, which puts ‘floating voter’ buyers off. Now, though, the Impreza is quietly handsome, rather than oddly goofy. It’s nice, actually.

Inside, though, is where the real revolution has taken place. Out goes the cheap, shiny, tinny, plastics of old Imprezas and in comes what is more or less the same dashboard that you’ll find in the new XV crossover.

This is a very good thing indeed, as it means that the Impreza now has an attractive cabin, filled with soft-touch surfaces, and nicely sculpted panels, that’s actually pleasing to both eyes and fingertips in a fashion that an owner of a 1990s Impreza would simply not recognise.

It’s comfy and roomy, too, with such high-tech additions as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto for the big, eight-inch, touchscreen which sits in the centre of the dash.

Above all, though, it’s safe. Normally when one thinks of in-car safety, one thinks automatically of Volvo, or Mercedes, or dear, departed, Saab. But actually it’s Subaru that has been garnering the plaudits of late, winning awards from the independent crash test experts at EuroNCAP for its EyeSight system.

Fitted as standard to all Imprezas, EyeSight uses a combination of front-facing radar, and two cameras mounted in the windscreen which give the car stereoscopic vision. Thus equipped, it has cruise control that can keep you a safe distance from the car in front; it can hold you neatly between the white lines when you’re cruising on the motorway, and if needed it can spot when you’re about to hit something (car, person, cyclist) and slam on the brakes to prevent a collision.

That’s on top of the Impreza’s inherent safety levels. It uses a new platform and structure, which is lighter than before, but much stronger, and more resistant to being twist and bent out of shape. It has, of course, standard-fit four-wheel drive, which whether you’re trying to off-road it or not, gives you tremendous reassurance when the weather turns wet and windy. It’s also delightful to drive.

The steering is light, but with good feedback, and excellent speed across its locks. That combines with a chassis that’s set up to be supple, and gentle in its ride quality, but which won’t let the Impreza flop around and roll onto its door handles in corners.

Subaru has long had an unusual knack of tuning its chassis settings to near-perfection when it comes to Irish roads, and the Impreza is no exception.

It’s just a shame that the Impreza’s engine doesn’t let you exploit that chassis. The only engine currently available in Ireland is the 1.6 litre flat-four, naturally aspirated unit, driving all of its wheels through a CVT automatic. It has just 114hp, which isn’t terrible, but that’s backed up by a mere 150Nm of torque, which means you have to rev it hard and long to make decent progress. The CVT shows its worst side by holding the engine at peak revs as you accelerate, causing it to drone and moan in an annoying manner.

A manual gearbox might help, but there is no manual option as yet. It’s a shame, as the engine is smooth and has the usual pleasing flat-four exhaust note, so really a better gearbox, and a little more torque, would work wonders.

Such might also cure the fuel consumption, which Subaru claims will average out at 44.1mpg, but which we struggled to get past the 35mpg mark overall. At least the CO2 emissions are reasonable, at 145g/km, but that still means an annual tax bill of €390.

It’s a shame that the engine isn’t up to the standards of the rest of the car. With its new found-styling and interior appointments, this generation of Impreza really could be a breakthrough car for Subaru, one that could bring its impressive safety credentials, and its delightful driving characteristics, to a much wider audience. As it is, you still kind of need to be a fan.

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