Subaru's latest Impreza has been to fuel school where it has jumped from the rear of the class to close to the front row. The new model drinks much less than its predecessors.
The sedan and hatch are the same price and available in three trim levels, all well equipped. They are the 2.0i at $23,990 (CVT 26,490), the 2.0i-L $26,990 (CVT $29,490) and the 2.0i-S CVT $31,490.
Standard fittings include seven airbags, stability control, all-wheel drive, five-star crash rating, automatic airconditioning, steering wheel audio and cruise controls, Bluetooth, iPod and USB connection and a multi-function display.
The 2.0i-L adds a reversing camera, dual-zone climate control, 16-inch alloy wheels, an upgraded display, fog lights, rear privacy glass, and a leather trimmed steering wheel and gear shift. The 2.0i-S adds 17-inch alloy wheels, alloy pedals, upgraded speedometer and trim, side skirts and indicators in the mirrors.
A $3000 option pack on the 2.0i-L adds satellite navigation and a sunroof and a $4000 option pack on the 2.0i-S adds satellite navigation, a sunroof, leather trim and a power driver's seat.
The six-speed manual version sips just 7.1l/100km, a 20 per cent improvement, and the new constantly variable transmission version, a first for the Impreza, does even better at 6.8l/100km or 22 per cent less.
These gains are even more impressive considering the Impreza is the only model in the small car class to come with the security of all-wheel drive. The savings come from a more efficient version of the 2.0-litre boxer engine, taller gearing, engine stop/start on idle and electric power steering.
Output from the new longer stroke engine is unchanged at 110kW and 196Nm with peak power coming in at 6200rpm (200rpm lower) and peak torque at 4200rpm (1000rpm higher).
Subaru says this gives the engine more pull in the low and middle speed ranges, but that's not how it feels in the manual version, which needs 2500-3000rpm in hand to respond mid-range despite having six speeds instead of five. Now in its fourth generation, the new model is all about refinement and adding new features with no change in prices.
Styling is bolder and more distinctive than its predecessor with sharper lines, more prominent grille and bulging wheel arches. The interior layout and trim is more upmarket with soft touch surfaces, classy and logical main instruments and centre stack and a host of storage bins and pockets.
Thinner inner door skins also improve elbow room and the larger door openings and lower sills improve access. With no change in length, width, weight or turning circle, the new model is a fraction lower than its predecessor and has a 25mm longer wheelbase which brings a welcome boost to rear seat hip, shoulder and leg room.
The engine sounds busy in the lower gears although it does settle down to cruise quietly on the open road. The gear shift remains ``notchy'' and there is minimal space between the clutch and left foot rest. The CVT is better and well worth the extra $2500.
It feels livelier, is more seamless in its mid-range response and is overall nicer to drive. Even the characteristic slurring inherent in a CVT is well disguised in normal use, flaring mostly under hard acceleration or in steep terrain. On the move, the Impreza feels solid and secure thanks to the stiffer and stronger yet lighter body.
Re-tuning the suspension has further elevated the handling and grip and refined the ride which is at the top of its class in compliance and quietness over a wide range of surfaces. Electric power steering is a little remote initially but sharpens up as steering lock is applied.
2012 SUBARU IMPREZA
Price: from $23,990
Warranty: 3 years/100,000km
Service Interval: 10,000km/6 months
Safety Equipment: seven airbags, ABS, EBD, EBA, TC.
Crash rating: 5 stars
Engine: 110kW/196Nm 2.0-litre 4-cyl petrol
Body: 4-door sedan, seats 5
Dimensions: 4580mm (L); 1740m (W); 1465mm (H); 2645mm (WB)
Transmission: CVT automatic; all-wheel drive
Economy: 6.8 l/100km; 91RON; 157g/km CO2