Cars can generally be categorised by price tag, body style and engine size, but we just came back from a test drive that throws a descent-sized curveball into that thought process. The Subaru Impreza 2,0 R – drive it, then judge it.
Many folk have had eye-rolling discussions about Subaru’s move to transform the Impreza from a preposterously-winged saloon to a more poised (and gradually endearing) hatch. But putting all that twaddle behind us, this new hatch has a couple of surprises up its sleeve. If we had to compare the Impreza 2,0 R with other models in its price and performance range, the Mazda3 2,3 Individual, Citroen C4 2,0 VTS, Volvo C30 2,0 and Alfa Romeo 147, to name a few, it is evident that the Subaru offers some serious competition to other products that also fall just short of hot hatch status.
Contrary to the slating the new Impreza received when it was released, the exterior styling of this hatch grows on you. Shoulder lines are very similar to that of the infamous BMW 1-Series, and provide a noticeable downward shadow, which compliments the pronounced wheel arches. It is impossible to ignore the somewhat aggressive stance, even in 2,0-litre form, which is a subtle nod to Subaru’s rallying heritage. The front- and rear-ends sport colour-coated bumpers that add just the right degree of machismo.
Subaru has upped the interior of their cars, steering away from the “Toyota Corolla with Scooby badge” look. The dash has been revised, sprouting from the centre console onto the facia in a combination of metallic-like plastics. All controls are easily accessible and visible, but the square ventilation ducts look a tad industrial, the oversized fuel gauge is clearly visible (from your neighbours lounge!), and the centre console feels a bit floppy.
A deep-set instrument binnacle with red backlighting sets a sporty atmosphere at night. The seats are generally comfortable, but the rear bench will only seat a pair of teenagers in comfort. The luggage space is severely limited by the Symmetrical All-Wheel-Drive system and the fact that there is a full-sized spare under the floor. If loading space is urgently needed, however, the rear seats fold forward to increase the capacity to a handy 944 dm3.
The Impreza’s real talent comes the fore on the open road! We’ve heard warnings about body roll, but found it far less intrusive than what it was made out to be. The main reason for the hint of roll comes from Subaru’s long-travel suspension. It offers a very smooth and comfortable drive around town, while keeping the 2,0 R on track at startlingly high cornering speeds. Steering falls into the “brilliant!” category, has inspiring feedback and instils confidence the harder you push the Scooby’s handling limits.
Even though the 2,0 R is no fireball (its claimed zero to 100km/h time is 9,6 seconds), its Symmetrical All-Wheel-Drive system proves a clear advantage over rivals. One can enter corners at speeds that prompt the tyres to yelp out for help, but still maintain perfect control.
The Subaru’s abilities are built an important rule – balance. The position of the boxer motor is as close as possible to the front axle and the gearbox is placed behind it, thus distributing mass and providing a lower centre of gravity. Due to the boxer motor’s position in the centre of the engine bay, drive shafts are equal in length, which helps to virtually eliminating torque steer.
When committing the Impreza to a corner, one can keep the throttle planted and power will be distributed to the right ends for a smooth, yet captivatingly fast, exit. One can actually feel how the wheels fight amongst themselves for the right to grip. This car is so adamant to stay on track, that we believe few, if any, average 2,0-litre hatches will match the 2,0 R’s tenacious grip and altogether positive responses to steering inputs.
The all-wheel drive system does impose a weight penalty, however… The claimed top speed is 208 km/h, but it will take a while to get there. If you have a bit of weight on board, even the slightest of inclines will see you dropping a cog to get over it or maintain speed. The 5-speed manual has lengthy gear ratios, 100km/h being reached in 2nd gear, which could be reason why the 110 kW motor heaves as it climbs to the 6 800 r/min red line.
This car is not for racing; if you are that way inclined, then buy the WRX for R309k or STI for an astounding R489k. That said, if you do feel the need to rush to an appointment in the suburbs, there shall be few naturally aspirated 2-litres that can keep up through the bends. Suffice to say you won’t be late.
The 2,0 R costs R225 000, which includes a 3-years/63 000km maintenance plan. It is a bold, unashamed and unapologetic product. It could do with more power, but unfortunately, for that privilege, there are sizeable price premiums for the WRX or STi models. Could the 2,0 R be the pick of the Impreza range?