The like-it-or-loathe-it styling, the decision to drop the sedan body shape and accusations of a model “gone soft”…the Impreza has scarcely graced our shores for more than a couple of days and it has already had to endure more criticism than a Springbok selector. I’ve been wracking my brains as to how to approach this write up on the Impreza models I recently sampled and, to be honest, I’ve had my fill of the ‘rock gracing hornet’s nest’ effect that the new car has had on people.
The styling is something of an acquired taste – the WRX still sports a bonnet scoop, sports grille and a hint of body kit, but dispenses with the unreformed borstal boy air of its predecessors in favour of a more rounded profile with flanks that have a distinctly Mazda3 flavour. Purists will wail in despair, but this new shape is likely to be more universally accepted by those who considered the previous car an eyesore.
The cabin is more typical Impreza fare, however. The overall design of the facia takes in an unusual combination of sweeping bits of brushed metal-effect trim on the passenger side, a squared-off central section and clear dials set in a neat cowl. The driving position is spot-on and there is plenty of room fore and aft, it’s just a shame that the boot is so small. Some of the plastics are fail the tap with a fingernail test, but the fit and finish is excellent. The most noticeable aspect of the cabin, however, is the much improved refinement.
From the 1,5-litre to the 2,5-litre WRX, all of the Imprezas offer a supple ride and remarkably smooth power delivery from their flat-four boxer units. The 1,5-litre develops 79 kW and is not exactly a ball of fire, but as an everyday runabout it is perfectly acceptable – it even does its own version of the larger engine’s offbeat flat-four thrum under hard acceleration. The 2,0-litre is torquey and swift off the mark, but it does hit a bit of a flat spot in fourth gear when an incline beckons. Fortunately, the five-speed gearbox is a pleasure to stir and the engine note that accompanies the cog-drop never fails to warrant a smile. This gearbox also makes its way across to the suitably rapid WRX and the car does not feel any worse for it. You can still dial in a healthy dose of revs before dumping the clutch and feel yourself being catapulted forth Having driven a number of cars with steering feel that can only be described as numb, it was great to experience a bit of weight and feedback from the Impreza’s helm. The brakes bite well and the pedal has a positive and progressive feel.
When the pace picks up, it becomes apparent that the new car has sacrificed some of the previous generation’s outright agility in favour of a more balanced ride. Pitching the car into a corner initially presents more body roll than you’d expect. It’s a little disconcerting at first, but is quirk of this car’s handling that you gradually adjust to. Although the WRX is not the most powerful car in its segment, the manner in which it translates that 169 kW to the road is something else – the grip is tenacious and the steering is reassuringly direct at speed. The WRX spears through tight corners and slaloms with the sort of consummate ease that has you emerging on the other side thinking “I could have taken that a little quicker.”
People will immediately ask whether I would take the Impreza over the Lancer, and although I like the Lancer’s styling, I’d have to go with the Scooby. The Lancer is simply too wallowy and noisy in comparison and there’s just 4 kW separating the 2,0-litre versions.
In essence, there is little to dislike about the new Impreza. Yes, some will bemoan the departure of the previous car’s hard-edged nature, but many will now find the Impreza to be less of a lout and more of a practical ownership proposition than before.