The 2017 Subaru Impreza and I made a little detour immediately upon our return to Sudbury, Ontario, one February evening. Ghost, my Golden Retriever, wasn’t in attendance – but I headed for his doggy day-care anyway.
Again, and as it has for years, the real-world ride quality of the latest Impreza quickly proves to be one of its most valuable assets.
Friends-Fur-Ever is a free-run dog kennel on the outskirts of Lively, Ontario, a short drive from Sudbury. It’s located a few clicks down a backroad largely held as the worst road in existence by anyone that’s ever driven it, your writer included.
Frost heaves. Blisters. Asphalt moguls. Chasms where chunks of the road are missing, filled with washboard gravel instead. You’d hardly walk down this road without breaking an ankle.
In past trips to drop Ghost off, I noticed something time and again: former iterations of the Subaru Impreza, and the sportier WRX variant thereof, handle this crumbling stretch of roadway beautifully. The dialling-in of the suspension on these machines turns in a ride that feels solid, durable, dense, heavy-duty, and free of questionable noises, like, say, popping and clanking of suspension bits, as they got absolutely pummelled.
And for the all-new Impreza, this ride quality is maintained, in full. Once again, even this worst-case-scenario road did little to coax any sense of flimsiness or unwanted noise from the machine’s underside. Again, and as it has for years, the real-world ride quality of the latest Impreza quickly proves to be one of its most valuable assets.
For the first time, another asset is the cabin. Light-years ahead of the last Impreza, things that used to feel cheap, hollow and flimsy – don’t. More premium materials and stitching are flaunted. The look is modern, youthful and cohesive. All display screen colours and fonts now match. There’s far less low-budget plastic too, and the cabin no longer feels like it’s constructed of melted-down Tupperware. Sure, it’s visually outgunned a measure by some competitors from Kia, Mazda and VW – but ultimately, and by a landslide, this is Impreza’s best-yet interior.
Owners of former Impreza models will appreciate the new stereo, which no longer sounds like it’s playing tunes from the bottom of a swamp. There’s a bright, vivid and responsive central command interface, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay to enhance connectivity, and proper, logical climate controls underneath all of that, using tactile knobs.
I noted no issue with space while entering or exiting the cabin, or while seated. Rear seat legroom is more generous than expected, though headroom disappears most quickly for passengers of above-average proportions. The rear cargo hold of this hatchback is wide and nearly square, just behind a set of rear seats which fold down for more room, and flip up for more passengers. The cargo load-floor height makes loading of gear and canines a cinch, too.
Adequate at-hand storage via deep door pockets, a deep centre console, a centre stack storage cubby, and proper cupholders, all within the driver’s reach, help round out the package.
The tester was a five-door, fitted with the Sport package – and if you’re a driving enthusiast, this is the unit to have. At $25,295, you get adaptive LED headlights that are bright and saturating, and aim into corners. Metal sports pedals, three in total, are on offer, and a five-speed manual shifter takes centre stage. You get steering-wheel-mounted controls. Blind-spot monitoring. A sunroof. It’s a slightly upscale, not-so-pricey package that activates the full charm of driving a manually shifted, thrifty, all-wheel-drive hatch.
Two standout attributes are notable.
First, the AWD system. Always on and active without driver input, it’s working constantly to help extract maximum traction from the surface beneath. All four wheels are powered from virtually the first inch of Impreza’s movement in deep snow – so there’s no wheelspin required to engage full traction, and no momentary sense of being stuck, struggling to accelerate, or waiting for all-wheel traction to arrive. Even in shin-deep powder, the Impreza just claws free, sans fuss.
The second attribute is what a riot this thing is to drive in the snow, the deeper the better. With 152 horsepower, the Impreza is far from a rocket, though the engine is refined, growls pleasingly, and reserves plenty of pull for higher revs, when you get it breathing.
A wise guy or gal once said that it’s more fun to drive a slow car fast than a fast car slow, and that’s what’s happening here.
Though the acceleration won’t peel your face off, it’s the handling and steering and responsiveness and overall feel that’ll plaster a grin on the kisser of the driving enthusiast. When presented with plenty of snow on a winding backroad, the Impreza can be eagerly and easily steered and slid around with its throttle, brakes, or even an appropriately timed flick of the steering. The reflexes feel sports-car-like – instant, entertaining, and confident. Squirms and slides and sensations commonly dialled out of comparable machines via suspension tuning are all here in force, and you grin, smugly, because you feel a taste of the brand’s rally pedigree in the way the Impreza responds and reacts.
This is some of the most fun I’ve ever had with 150 horsepower, and if you’ve ever owned a really good sports car, you’ll like the way it’s set up. With the boxer sound effects from the flat-four engine and the frisky chassis, you might forget you aren’t in a BR-Z.
So, the Impreza feels comfortable and durable during everyday use on virtually any sort of road you can imagine, and has a highly entertaining sporty side available, whenever you like. You’re not having anywhere near this much fun in a snowstorm with a Corolla or Focus, and leaving the two-wheel-drive guys in the dust, (er, snow), at a slippery intersection while they spin their tires like a peasant never gets old, either.
Should careful driving through a blizzard be in order, the Impreza’s heavy at-speed steering and planted, foolproof traction add big confidence to the mix. You’re well backed up for comfortable and confident motoring, big-time entertainment value, or anything in between.
Is 152 horsepower enough? Maybe so, maybe no. On one hand, the engine never sounds or feels strained, operates with a pleasing full-throttle purr-turned-growl as the revs rise, and often feels smooth as glass. Give it full throttle, and the acceleration is adequate, ramping up a measure as the revs approach redline. The engine works wonderfully at full throttle, but it’s the refinement, not the acceleration, that impress most strongly. If you need more sauce, the higher-performing WRX is en route.
Other notes? The headlights are fantastic. Light output, spread, colour and saturation call pricier BMW and Audi models to mind, though the lenses easily frost over with slush and ice if you’re following highway traffic in the snow, since the LED components inside don’t get hot enough to melt the lenses clear.
Further, here’s one of those cars that could really use a sixth gear, to help keep highway revs down. The engine stays relatively muted as it spins away around 2,600 revs at a good clip, and responsiveness is good here, too. Still, highway cruising revs come off as being a touch too high. A final gripe? The clutch often feels like it’s made of pancake batter – and many a driving enthusiast coming into this machine will wish for something with a bit more bite to it.
End of the day, shoppers after a flexible, fun to drive and thrifty little compact with a fantastic AWD system, will want to consider the new Impreza a priority test-drive: partly because it’s pretty much the only AWD option in a small car, and mainly, because it’s fantastic to drive on real-world roads, and in real-world winter conditions.
|Engine Displacement||2.0L||Model Tested||2017 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Sport 5-Door|
|Engine Cylinders||4||Base Price||$25,295|
|Peak Horsepower||152 hp @ 6,000 rpm||A/C Tax||$100|
|Peak Torque||145 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm||Destination Fee||$1,595|
|Fuel Economy||10.1/7.7/9.0||Price as Tested||$26,990|
|Cargo Space||348 L|