Hit an open stretch of road and it doesn’t take long to realise that the main negatives of the Impreza are its engine and gearbox. In this class, modern turbocharged powerplants are impressing with zippy performance and palatable running costs, but, in contrast, these Subaru units feel laboured, and their claimed fuel economy and CO2 emissions are poor. All of that means that, despite being new, they feel rather dated.
The 2.0-litre is certainly the one to go for, because it only costs £1000 more than the 1.6-litre and offers a noticeable amount of extra oomph, but it still doesn’t feel quick. Any kind of eager acceleration sends the CVT screeching through the rev band as it tries to haul the Impreza’s considerable weight along with only meagre torque reserves. It’ll still manage overtakes and get you up to motorway speeds, but you’ll find yourself regularly using the manual paddle shifters to avoid the whining auto. It’s quieter when you’re cruising, and refinement is generally acceptable, although there is a fair bit of wind noise at higher speeds.
Engine and transmission disappointments aside, the chassis is a clear step forward from the previous model. There’s plenty of grip on offer from the standard all-wheel drive system, and the steering has been tightened up on the straight ahead, so there isn’t the wayward feel of the old Impreza, which had more play around the centre. The new car feels a bit sharper into corners but will still understeer. It handles stably and predictably, but not as sweetly as the Ford Focus, Skoda Octavia or Volkswagen Golf.
We have no complaints with the ride over the smooth Spanish Tarmac of our test route, but the few imperfections we encountered showed that it might be on the firm side when we get to drive it in the UK next year. Expect the Impreza to go further than anything else in the class off-road, though.
Despite having had a makeover, the new Impreza’s exterior styling remains familiar and bland. The inside, however, has had a bit more of a shake-up, with a typically robust feel throughout now matched with a bit more style and a better dashboard layout, making it a much more pleasant place to be.
Every model gets loads of kit in the one-and-only SE trim level, including an 8.0in infotainment touchscreen, a DAB radio, Bluetooth, a reversing camera and heated seats. There’s no sat-nav, not even as an option, but there is Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring, so you can run a navigation app via your smartphone. The Impreza also gets Subaru’s Eyesight safety system and is expected to score highly in its upcoming Euro NCAP test after achieving the highest score to date in the Japanese equivalent.
The space on offer inside is decent, with plenty of room to get comfortable up front and very reasonable space in the back for tall adults on long journeys. The boot is on a par with the Golf's, but far smaller than the Octavia's.