Subaru Impreza 2.0R review
by David Finlay (11 December 2007)
The scuttlebut from within Subaru is that when the Forester SUV is fitted with a turbo diesel engine in 2008 it will become the most popular model the company sells in the UK. Until then, the Impreza leads the field, and it will still be very significant once the diesel Forester takes over, so it's kind of important that the recent and fundamental redesign has been a step in the right direction.
"Nice car," murmured a young lad as I parked the 2.0R test car next to him. Well, that was a good start. I wasn't fond of the new Impreza's shape the first time I saw it, but I do believe I may be getting used to it. Perhaps, though, that's because I've spent some time with a WRX, whose various exterior add-ons do it no visual good whatever.
Whatever your own views on the appearance may be, it's going to help UK sales that the Impreza is now available only as a hatchback, rather than a saloon/estate as before. Hatchbacks are not universally popular, but they're well-loved by British motorists.
Equally well-loved by manufacturers the world over nowadays are tiny rear side windows, and Subaru has fallen into the trap of providing these too, with predictably appalling results in terms of rear visibility.
Unlike the old Impreza saloon, this one gets a full-sized tailgate and provides 301 litres of luggage space with the split-folding rear seat up and 1216 litres with it down. The latter figure isn't bad at all for a C-segment car; the former is less impressive, but you won't be worrying about that too much if one of your reasons for buying an Impreza is the standard provision of four-wheel drive (the rear axle being what reduces load volume).
For drivers of such a straightforward car as the 2.0R, the main benefit of four-wheel drive is that you're unlikely to get into trouble no matter how much of the two-litre engine's 148bhp you attempt to feed to the road surface. Less important, perhaps, to buyers of this particular model is the fact that four-wheel drive is one of the major contributors to the Impreza's handling, which is far and away its best feature.
The transmission layout, the low centre of gravity (thanks to the flat-four engine layout which Subaru considers essential) and the soft but neatly controlled suspension turn what would otherwise be basically a fairly ordinary car into a driver's delight. Apart from a mild suggestion of understeer in damp conditions, its poise is quite extraordinary, though the people who are most likely to relish the fact are also more likely to be interested in a WRX, assuming the budget allows it.
And since we're on the subject of money, four-wheel drive also leads to the Impreza's most significant downside. The extra work the engine has to do turning all those extra shafts and differentials means that it isn't particularly economical. The official 33.6mpg combined economy figure is pretty close to what I achieved myself in a week's general motoring, but for a two-litre C-segment car it isn't particularly good.
It also equates to CO2 emissions of 199g/km, a statistic which puts the 2.0R firmly into the second highest VED bracket. The general expense involved (even allowing for the relatively low purchase price) is worth it only if you are truly enraptured by the Impreza's on-road handling, or need something with occasional off-road capability on muddy or snowy tracks.
As explained in our launch review of the Impreza range as a whole, Subaru claims a significant advance in terms of refinement over the old car. In all honesty, this would not have been very difficult, yet the new model is still faintly agricultural compared with most of the opposition.
Flat-four engines are always rumbly compared with more conventional in-line units, and the 2.0R's noise levels are higher than average once the car is up and running (though I must say it's impressively quiet at tickover). The gearchange - never an Impreza strong point - is better than it used to be, but there's still a hint of struggle as you change from one ratio to the next, as if the gearbox oil hasn't fully warmed up even though it undoubtedly has.
One big advance Subaru has made in the matter of refinement is to do away with those frameless side windows and fit proper doors. The difference between the awful clang that resulted from shutting those doors in the old car and the more satisfying thunk you get nowadays is one of the best features of the changeover.
Then there's the ride quality, which I reckon is the best Subaru has ever achieved with any Impreza - and that, my friends, is saying something. Sensible 205/55x16 tyres (which look OK because the standard wheels are smart, though the 2.0RX has 205/50x17s if you're interested) contribute to this, though since the suspension is so good it's the tyres which transfer most of any road imperfections into the cabin.
There I go again, though. I'm talking about how good the Impreza is to drive when that's possibly the last thing the majority of £15,000 C-segment cars want to know. For those people, the high running costs are the single most likely reason for them to type "avoid Subaru dealers" into their satnavs, which is why this car is unlikely to be a much more common sight on our roads than the one it replaces.
Still, for a car with hot-hatch handling, which could see off a great many more potent machines on a really serious driving road - more or less anything in the remoter parts of western Scotland, for example - it's a bargain.