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Subaru Impreza and XV 2011 Review

You can be forgiven for confusion about the Subaru Impreza XV.

The Impreza RX used to be a wagonesque variant of the Impreza that sold only about 100 a month until supply ran out in June because of production issues caused by the March 11 tsunami in Japan. But the new Subaru XV -- Subaru's seventh model -- has dropped the Impreza tag and has morphed into a small SUV. It is still based on the new-generation Impreza, but as Subaru Australia marketing boss Andrew Caie says, the two cars are "like chalk and cheese".

"They are two separate categories, two totally separate cars and separate customers," he says. While the Impreza RX was considered a small car, this new model is described as a sub-compact SUV, smaller than a Forester, but bigger than a small hatch. The RX will arrive in Australia in January and will be followed in late February by the new Impreza four-door sedan and five-door hatch.

"The timing is everything to do with the tsunami," Caie says. "Our timings have been moved around about four times." The Impreza and XV will be the first Subarus with stop-start technology that switches off the engine when the vehicle is stationary. They also feature new transmissions and a new engine.

VALUE

Caie isn't talking pricing at the moment, except to say that both the Impreza and XV will be competitive. "Prices will be as low as they possibly can be," he says. "We're trying to put as much value into them as possible. It's not about being the first one to the bottom in pricing."

The current Impreza range starts at $21,490 and goes to $28,490, excluding WRX and WRX STI which are now separate sportier models with their own build program. The previous Impreza RX sold for $25,990. The closest competitors for the XV are the Mitsubishi ASX (from $25,990) and Nissan Dualis (from $24,990). Both new Subaru models come in three models: 2.0i, L and S.

Even the base models come with Bluetooth while the L adds satnav and the S adds leather seats, heated in the front. Rear view camera, fog lights and a sunroof are optional on the L and S Impreza but are standard on all XVs.

SAFETY

Subaru Australia boss Nick Senior reminds us that they were the first company in Australia to have five-star safety across its range. "You can't be reactive in safety. You have to be proactive and we traditionally have been," he says. The new Impreza and XV come with seven airbags, including full-length curtain airbags and a knee bag for the driver.

Neither has been crash tested yet, but Subaru product GM Akihide Takeuchi expects that they will retain their five-star ratings. Other improvements in safety concentrate on improving visibility: The front seats have been raised, the A pillar has been narrowed and the door mirrors are 20 per cent larger. The body and chassis are 20kg lighter but are also 10 per cent stiffer and therefore safer, Takeuchi says.

TECHNOLOGY

The Impreza will be the first small car in Australia to have auto stop-start across the range (except for the two hybrid models) while the XV will be the first compact SUV with the fuel-saving technology. Subaru quotes fuel savings of 5 per cent from the technology, but those are in-house figures and not Australian standards. "It will debunk the theory that all-wheel-drive cars aren't fuel efficient," says Takeuchi.

Stop-start technology automatically switches off the engine in 0.5 seconds when the car is stopped and restarts in 0.35 seconds when the brake pedal is released. Together with the new two-litre boxer engine, new transmissions, improved aerodynamics and electric power steering, fuel economy has been increased 20 per cent to less than seven litres per 100km, Takeuchi says.

The engine has the same power and torque as before but now has longer pistons for more torque at lower revs which translates to increased acceleration. The five-speed manual has been upgraded to six speeds with a taller top gear that reduces engine revs from 3000rpm at 100km/h to less than 2500rpm, which is not only more economical, but also quieter. Subaru customers will be pleased to see the inadequate and outdated four-speed auto replaced by a continuously variable transmission with paddle shifters for six steps with wider ratios.

Inside, the Impreza and XV abound with screens: one 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 and fun information and can even send you a happy birthday message.

The upgraded audio also has USB, MP3 and iPhone connectivity and there is a new satnav system with 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. Like all Subarus, they both come with symmetrical all-wheel drive.

DESIGN

Takeuchi says the cars have been designed from customer feedback wanting a sleeker exterior and more luxurious interior with more soft-touch surfaces and quality controls. The windscreen is raked, the bodywork more sculptured and muscular, and the headlights are sharper and more defined. The XV has high ground clearance of 220mm (same as the Forester), but has a lower body height than most compact SUVs for a rakish, sporty crossover look.

Impreza is now 25mm longer in the wheelbase but the overall length remains the same which means interior legroom is improved. The higher front seats in the Impreza also allow rear passengers more legroom while both models have scalloped out the backs of the front seats for better knee room.

Subaru has lowered the roof of the Impreza by 10mm, but the door sills have been dropped 30mm to allow easier access. The front door hinges have been slanted three degrees forward so the top of the door is further away from the car which allows more room to get in and out in tight carpark situations. The rear doorway also has a deeper access area.

The interior feels more airy with the thinner A pillars and the horizontal lines across the dashboard. Door thickness has also been reduced for more shoulder and elbow room. Storage bins abound in both models with door pockets that fit a water bottle and an A4 folder or laptop.

The centre console has a clever clip holder for a notebook and a pen so they don't rattle around. The cargo area is flat with a low loading lip and flat-folding rear seats. Underneath is a space-saver tyre, wide enough in the XV to still permit towing for a short distance. There are 10 exterior colours for both models, but the XV gets the special Tangerine Orange Pearl. Subaru is one of the few companies that doesn't charge extra for metallic or pearlescent paint.

DRIVING

The new cars were launched last weekend at the Fuji Heavy Industries Subaru research and development centre and proving ground at Kuzu in central Japan. It's a hilly area surrounded by forests inhabited by black bears, so Subaru is not concerned about spies taking photos of their cars in testing.

We were only allowed two laps in each car on the high-speed bowl and three laps of a shorter twisty and bumpy circuit. About 12km in all. Not a thorough workout by any means, but enough to draw initial impressions.

The soft interior plastic surfaces and firmer controls, such as the new door handles, give the cars a feeling of quality. However, the thinner dors feel a little flimsy when closing. Cargo space in the XV is disappointing, but similar to its sub-compact SUV competitors.

On the road, they run quiet and smooth thanks to the new transmissions, but the wind noise from the larger door mirrors is increased. The frisky Impreza feels light and more flickable while the XV lumbers into corners, changes direction too slowly and over mid-corner bumps it hit the bumps stops several times and the tyre scrubbed the inside of the wheel arches.

Takeuchi says the secret to the Impreza's deft handling is its low centre of gravity which is 504mm from the ground, comparing favourably with the Porsche Cayman S at 485mm. The CVT is smooth, responsive and seamless, but works best when used in manual mode with the paddle shifters, while the six-speed manual is a little notchy and it can be difficult to quickly engage third or fifth gears.

VERDICT

Impreza is another small step forward in quality, economy and safety that will appeal to the Subaru loyalists. Price may determine whether it wins new fans. Meanwhile Subaru taps into one of the fastest-growing sectors of the showroom with the handsome new XV. It is a modern design with sound technologies. Takeuchi says it is an urban adventurer whose owners are "living in the suburbs and are looking for new adventures".

SUBARU IMPREZA and XV

On sale: January (RX), February (Impreza)
Prices: from about $22,000
Warranty: 3yrs/iunlimited km
Service: 12,500km, biannual
Engine: 2.0L, 4-cylinder boxer, 110kW/196Nm
Transmissions: 6-speed manual, CVT
Ecomomy: 6.9L/100km to 7.3L/100km
Safety: 7 airbags, stability control, ABS.

Pricing guides

$12,993
Based on 115 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$7,300
Highest Price
$45,990

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
R (awd) 2.0L, PULP, 4 SP AUTO $6,700 – 10,340 2011 Subaru Impreza 2011 R (awd) Pricing and Specs
R (awd) 2.0L, PULP, 4 SP AUTO $6,100 – 9,460 2011 Subaru Impreza 2011 R (awd) Pricing and Specs
R Special Edition (AWD) 2.0L, PULP, 4 SP AUTO $6,100 – 9,460 2011 Subaru Impreza 2011 R Special Edition (AWD) Pricing and Specs
R Special Edition (AWD) 2.0L, PULP, 4 SP AUTO $6,100 – 9,460 2011 Subaru Impreza 2011 R Special Edition (AWD) Pricing and Specs
Disclaimer: The pricing information shown in the editorial content (Review Prices) is to be used as a guide only and is based on information provided to Carsguide Autotrader Media Solutions Pty Ltd (Carsguide) both by third party sources and the car manufacturer at the time of publication. The Review Prices were correct at the time of publication.  Carsguide does not warrant or represent that the information is accurate, reliable, complete, current or suitable for any particular purpose. You should not use or rely upon this information without conducting an independent assessment and valuation of the vehicle.