Separating the Impreza from the WRX might turn out to be the smartest move yet by Subaru. Rather than being a stripper version of the high-performance WRX, the Impreza deserves to stand on its own merits.

In its fourth incarnation, the Impreza finally has the style, refinement and value to attract the middle ground away from the Mazda3 and Toyota Corolla.

VALUE

We tested the new Impreza 2.0iL hatch with CVT ($29,490) which sits toward the upper end of the Impreza model range. The outgoing Impreza range was priced from $21,490 to $28,490, while the new range goes from $23,990 to $31,490 with a new drivetrain, improved features and better fuel economy to justify the price rise.

Standard features in this model include 16-inch steel wheels, dual-zone climate control aircon, Bluetooth phone and audio link to the USB-compatible six-speaker sound system, trip computer, front fog lights, leather trim steering wheel and gear knob, and rearview camera. 

You can add a satnav and sunroof in a pack for $3000, which seems a bit excessive. But Subaru gets ticks for value by not charging for pearl or metallic paint and for its good resale.

TECHNOLOGY

A new 2.0-litre version of Subaru's trademark boxer engine, new transmissions, improved aerodynamics and electric power steering drop fuel economy to below 7.0L/100km, a claimed 20 per cent improvement. The engine has the same power and torque as before but now has a longer stroke for more torque at lower revs, which translates to better acceleration.

All Imprezas now get stop-start fuel-saving system, which the company claims will reduce fuel consumption by up to 5 per cent. Most of the savings are in stop-start city traffic where this car can expect to do most of its driving, anyway.

The improved CVT also increases economy by 22 per cent over the outdated four-speed auto. The cabin seems to exude technology with a screen in the centre of the instruments, one in the centre stack and a third on the dashboard. The larger multi-function display has up to eight displays, which can be personalised to show a range of useful information and even send you a happy birthday message.

The upgraded audio also has USB, MP3 and iPhone connectivity while the optional satnav system has voice control and predictive text when entering an address. It will even offer you a more economical route to save on fuel and CO2 emissions. All-wheel-drive is, of course, standard.

DESIGN

The designers have listened to the critics and smartened up the styling both inside and out and used better quality plastics in the cabin for an overall smarter look. Outside, the windscreen is steeper, the bodywork more sculpted, the headlights sharper and more defined and the hatch just looks spunkier than before.

Inside, legroom has increased with higher front seats that have scalloped-out seat backs. Access to the rear is also improved by wider-opening doors with more foot room. Storage bins abound with door pockets that fit a water bottle and an A4 folder or laptop.

The centre console has a handy clip-holder for a notebook and a pen.The cargo areas is flat with a low-loading lip and flat-folding rear seats.

SAFETY

All Subarus get five stars for safety with seven airbags, stability control and ABS and this model adds a rearview camera which overcomes the compromising rear hatch visibility problem. Visibility up front is good with thinner front pillars, higher front seats and door mirrors that are 20 per cent bigger.

DRIVING

It looks solid and feels solid when you open and shut the doors, but it drives like a much lighter car. That's probably because the body and chassis are 20kg lighter. It also has to do with the typically light steering feel, snappy throttle response, a 10 per cent stiffer chassis and its low centre of gravity, which is 504mm from the ground, comparing favourably with the Porsche Cayman S at 485mm. 

Around town it flicks neatly through corners, parks without fuss and sprints smartly off the line in the traffic light derby. Out on the open road, we appreciate its stability and its quiet cabin which is approaching Camry levels of hush, although those bigger door mirrors do add some wind noise. 

The soft interior plastic surfaces and firmer controls, such as the new door handles, give the hatch a feeling of quality. This is one of the best CVTs around, being smooth, responsive and seamless.

VERDICT

The Impreza is a step forward in quality, economy and safety that will appeal to a wider market than just Subaru loyalists.