Subaru Impreza: Subaru wields the ugly stick

7 May 2007

New Subaru Impreza tries to woo the mainstream, although clearly not on the strength of its looks

Out with the individualistic winged grille, and in with the common denominator front end. The all-new Impreza is here and its looks, as well as its new hatchback body style, are set to cause quite a stir. After the uproar over the 2000 model 'bug-eye' Impreza, and the subsequent rush job to redesign it, you might be forgiven for thinking that Subaru was about to repeat a past mistake. However, speak to its designers about this departure from accepted Subaru styling and brand image, and it becomes obvious that there is method in the apparent madness.

It turns out that the nondescript front end actually has a purpose, toning down the current car’s boy-racer image and aiming for a wider audience. As part of this policy, Subaru decided to change the Impreza's focus from raw performance rocket to courting more mainstream buyers with conservative looks, better interior quality and improved packaging. They feel the car already has the grunt and grip levels it needs and that’s why the new Impreza will use carryover engines and five- and six-speed transmissions.

The new model is 50mm shorter, 45mm wider, 10mm higher and sits on a wheelbase that’s 95mm longer while kerb weight remains roughly the same. The net result is a five-door hatch that has shorter front and rear overhangs and more interior space than the outgoing car, including a gain in headroom created by lowering the front seats. A redesigned double- wishbone rear suspension has maximised boot space too.

Higher-quality materials are used throughout and the overall dash design is similar to the layout in the Tribeca MPV, whilst maintaining the Impreza’s three-dial climate-control arrangement and simple analogue dials. Sat-nav finally makes it onto the options list, along with Subaru’s electronic stability control system.

The steering wheel now tilts and telescopes and, more promisingly, the wheel itself is smaller and connected to a quicker ratio rack.

At the Impreza's New York debut only the US-spec 224bhp 2.5-litre turbocharged WRX was revealed (as pictured here), though we won’t be getting this model in the UK. Instead, when the Impreza arrives here in the Autumn, British buyers will be offered only the humdrum, normally aspirated 104bhp 1.5-litre and 157bhp 2-litre models. This disappointing decision is the result of Subaru's desire to compete head-on with the Golf and Focus, something more niche-market performance models would fail to do.

Sources close to Subaru say that the 2.5 turbo WRX version is unlikely to come to the UK, even at a later date. More likely is a diesel-powered WRX but don’t hold your breath for that either, because it’s still at the planning stage and the Impreza will be the last model in the Subaru range to get the company's new 2-litre horizontally opposed oil burner. Even if the diesel WRX did get the green light, deliveries wouldn’t start until 2009 at the earliest.

The good news is that the UK will get a petrol-powered Impreza STI which Subaru plans to reveal at the Tokyo Motor Show in October (see right). This car will employ a tuned version of the current 2.5-litre turbo producing around 300bhp and 295lb ft, married to the current six-speed manual gearbox. Expect the STI to arrive in Britain in Spring 2008.

Extra Info

To our eyes this five-door hatch doesn’t have the visual pull of Europe’s best hot hatches and offering a diesel WRX version sometime in 2009 seems unlikely to help its showroom appeal. Subaru’s best hope is that when the WRC car makes its debut at next year's Monte Carlo Rally it brings enthusiasts flocking back to Subaru showrooms, demanding to buy the road-going STI version.

To differentiate the STI from lesser WRX Imprezas we can expect some radical changes over the standard five-door seen here, including blistered arches, dramatic side-skirts and a much more aggressive nose treatment. Behind the cosmetic tweaks, refinements to the four-wheel-drive system will enhance the car’s invariably massive cornering abilities.

Like the current model, the STI will wear 18-inch alloys shod with Bridgestone Potenza tyres and feature four-pot Brembo brakes.

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