Whether as a result of market demands, buyer feedback or a manufacturer’s desire to turn a clean slate, it stands to reason that the introduction of a new version of an existing nameplate not always rates as a winner from the onset.
A difficult past
A key case in point was when Subaru’s parent company, Fuji Heavy Industries, opted to supplement the Impreza sedan with a hatchback in 2007, drawing the ire from fans by using the latter as a basis for the WRX and WRX STI. It was a move later corrected with the unveiling of a sedan, yet critics continued to have a field day with the standard Impreza, as its performance siblings managed to regain some of the WRC-derived mystic lost.
With the fourth generation Impreza having remained forbidden fruit to South Africans and with the WRX / STI now being classified as self-standing models, Subaru South Africa announced the return of the Impreza name in February this year, claiming it has made more than just a few changes from the maligned third generation.
A return to form?
The recipient of the 2016/2017 Japanese Car of the Year award, the fifth generation Impreza, which in sedan guise carries the promising internal designation GT, is definatley a far cry from the last model, and certainty not something you will not easily miss.
It has the looks
One of the first models styled under Subaru’s Dynamic x Solid design language, the Impreza, even in our tester’s slightly mundane Ice Silver Metallic hue, comes across as a handsome entrant into an otherwise conservatively styled segment, with the Legacy-like LED headlights, honeycomb grille, tapering bonnet line, bulging bumper, subtle bodykit and 17-inch alloy wheels providing a sporty touch.
Along with a distinct line running from the taillights and doors before cresting up underneath the mirror and then down the wheel arches, the Impreza, on looks at least, has managed to get it right.
Where previous Subarus have been extensively panned for cheap looking and indeed cheap feeling cabin materials, the latest Impreza is about as far removed as ever with a classy, elegant and modern interior highlighted by quality plastics, piano key black inserts and aluminium-look finishes.
Aside from the faux carbon fibre finishes around the door handles, the overall look and feel is a giant step-up, with the second leap being in the number of creature comforts and safety tech on offer.
Loaded with tech
Featuring Subaru’s intuitive and easy to use eight-inch StarLink infotainment system with satellite navigation, Android Auto, Apple CarPlay and Bluetooth, the mid-spec S-Premium, for now the only model available, gets dual-zone climate control, cruise control, push button start, keyless entry, auto on/off lights and wipers, reverse camera, tilt-sliding sunroof, dual USB ports and folding electric mirrors.
Unfortunately, the S-Premium does without the brand’s much vaunted EyeSight range of driver assistance systems, this being reserved from the top spec S-ES due later, but still boasts Active Torque Vectoring, Hill Start Assist, High Beam Assist, Blind Spot Monitoring, Lane Change Assist, Steering Responsive Headlights, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, seven airbags, four wheel ABS and EBD, BAS and traction control.
Build on Subaru’s new Global Platform architecture, the Impreza also shines in interior accommodation with impressive levels of head and leg room, front and rear, and a rather capacious boot.
Disappointingly, the Impreza’s biggest flaw continues to be its choice of powertrain despite the hardware being mostly new. Tipping the scales at 12 kg less than before, the naturally aspirated 2.0-litre fl at-four petrol engine punches out 115 kW and 196 Nm of torque, yet remains linked to a CVT with paddle shifters.
Although eager off the mark thanks in part to its trademark Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive system, the go factor is all but diluted by an engine that runs out of puff quickly, and a gearbox which in typical CVT fashion, is smooth and seamless in everyday use, but becomes noisy and holds on to the selected gear for far too long when you want to get moving.
In fact, taking over manual control of the gearbox was even worse with a noticeable jerk each time you touched the paddle. As a result, fuel consumption over the Impreza’s weeklong stay in mixed conditions came to 9.7 litres/100 km, well off the claimed 7.5-litres/100 km.
It might look good, feature a vast range of equipment and have the benefit of all-wheel drive and a rather comfortable ride, yet the fitment of a torquier engine linked to either a manual or torque-converter automatic gearbox could have been the cherry on-top for the new Subaru Impreza.
As a comfortable cruiser that will get you there and as something different, it makes for an enticing buy, but unlike the first two generations, it remains devoid of the heart-stopping thrill and trademark flat-four sound that will ignite your inner Colin McRae.
Article written by Charl Bosch