Subaru Impreza VS Abarth 595
- Sturdy road feel
- Comfortable, chunky interior
- Full safety package
- Could do with more power
- A bit thirsty
- Needlessly complicated interior
- Good engine/chassis combo
- Surprising grip levels
- Terrible driving position
- Ride not great around town
- No reversing camera
There’s a lot to admire about Subaru.
For one, the brand is hell-bent on committing to all-wheel drive across its range where its major competitors benefit from selling (often cheaper to manufacture) front-drive cars, plus its current safety push is admirably reminiscent of Volvo’s efforts in the field.
Subaru’s stalwart hatch and sedan, the Impreza, can’t afford to let up, though. In a world where some of Japan’s most beloved nameplates are losing ground to SUVs in a big way, can the fifth-generation Impreza still hold its own in 2019?
We’ve spent a week in the top-spec 2.0i-S hatch to find out.
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
Since 1949, Abarth has been giving the venerable Italian brand, Fiat, a patina of performance, based largely on giant-killing feats in small modified cars like the Fiat 600 of the 1960s.
More recently, the brand has been revived to boost the fortunes of the smallest Fiat on sale in Australia. Known formally as the Abarth 595, the tiny hatch packs a bit of a surprise under its distinctive snout.
|Engine Type||1.4L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
The Impreza 2.0i-S is packed with safety and luxury features and offers fantastic value by flying under the asking price for most equivalent high-spec competitors.
Because it has been built for a world where SUVs dominate, it’s a better commuter car than ever before, just don’t expect it to have that wild rally spark from days past…
Is there a place for the humble hatch in a world of small SUVs? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
It’s tough to be kind to the Abarth 595. Based on a platform that’s more than a decade old, the car has been left behind by its rivals in many ways, including basic ergonomics and its value equation.
The larger engine does work well in this smaller package, and its road-holding ability belies its size. However, only die-hard fans of the Abarth brand will be able to cope with the uncomfortable seating position and a complete lack of even the most perfunctory features that cars costing $10,000 less are able to offer.
Could you look past the Abarth 595's foibles? Let us know in the comments below.
When the fifth-generation Impreza launched three years ago, it was the first car in Subaru’s range to debut a styling language which it calls ‘Dynamic x Solid’ and, well, there isn’t much arguing with that description (depending on how you define “dynamic”...)
The Impreza owns Subaru’s signature chunky styling with plenty of hard lines and angles, and squared-off light fittings with bumpers which give it a wide stance.
On the ‘dynamic’ side of things, there are delicate light fittings, a gently executed grille and swoopy sculpting down the sides which help to class the usually tough hatch up a little. Apart from the giant alloys, the only thing setting the 2.0i-S apart from the rest of the range are the LED light fittings and chrome garnish bits strewn about.
The look isn’t as controversial as the Civic’s angular assault, nor perhaps as forward-thinking as the swoopy curves of the incoming Mazda3. To many, the more conservative style of the Impreza will be exactly what they’re looking for.
Inside is plush, if a little SUV-like. If you’ve driven any of Subaru’s recent range you’ll know how familiar all the interior fittings are, for better or worse. Everything is nicely finished, with high-quality soft-touch plastics and tasteful matte or chrome highlights. It’s all very chunky and on-brand.
I’m a particular fan of the super-satisfying bumper-car steering wheel. It’s cladded in nice leather, although I’d argue there are a few too many buttons on it (15 plus two toggles…).
The media screen is a fantastic bit of hardware. It’s fast, has a fantastic resolution and syncs with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto fairly easily. The way it protrudes from the dash also makes it easy to use for the driver and front passenger. While the gloss finish is a posh look, it’s a nightmare to keep clean.
Also, there’s a second screen embedded atop the dash. Why? It needlessly overcomplicates an otherwise slick interior. Yes, it cycles through status readouts for the car, but that could easily have been integrated into either the dashboard’s multifunction display or the big media screen.
The Impreza’s seats are best here in the 2.0i-S, as the leather has a decent thickness and the seats offer a bit more support than cloth-clad versions in lesser models. Subaru has come a long way in that department compared to earlier-generation cars.
Despite being based on a design that’s a decade old, the Abarths still stand out. Based on the classic Fiat 500 shape of the 1950 and '60s, it’s more cute than cut-throat, with a narrow track and tall roof giving it a toy-like presence.
The Abarth attempts to beef things up with deep front and rear bumper splitters, go-fast stripes, new headlights and alternate-colour wing mirrors.
The 595 rides on 16-inch rims, while the Competizione runs 17s.
Inside, it’s definitely different to most mainstream cars, with colour-coded plastic panels on the dash and a very upright seating position, along with a dual-tone steering wheel.
It’s a love-it-or-hate-it proposition. There’s no middle ground here.
The Impreza’s interior offers up plenty of space courtesy of its wide dimensions. You’ll never be lacking for room in the front seats, with ample leg and headroom despite the sunroof. There’s also plenty of space between you and your passenger and plush leather surfaces for your elbows on both doorcards and the wide centre console box.
Deep bottle holders also feature in the doors, and there’s a decently-sized trench in front of the gearknob which hosts two USB ports. The cabin features two more USB ports in the console box and two 12-volt outputs, so there’s no shortage of power outlets for you and your passengers.
The rear seat offers excellent amounts of room. Behind my own driving position (I’m 182cm tall), there’s plenty of airspace for my knees, plus the seats and doors are finished in plush matching leather trim, and there’s a drop-down armrest. On the downside, the back seat lacks amenities of any kind. There are no adjustable vents or power outlets in the back of the centre console box, and the centre seat has limited legroom thanks to the presence of a tall transmission tunnel – a necessary downside of all-wheel drive.
Headroom is also brought down by the presence of a sunroof in the back seat.
Boot space comes in at 345-litres for the hatch, spanning to 795L with the rear seats down. This just pips the Honda Civic RS hatch (330L), Corolla ZR (333L) but is easily bested by the Hyundai i30 (395L) and massive Kia Cerato (428L).
There is a space-saver spare underneath the boot floor.
This is another area where the Abarth falls down. First and foremost, the seating position for the driver in both cars is utterly compromised.
The seat itself is mounted far, far, too high, and has little adjustment in any direction, and there is no reach adjustment in the steering wheel column to allow a taller (or even an average height) driver to get comfortable.
The more expensive Competizione we tested was fitted with a set of optional sports bucket seats from racing company Sabelt, but even they are mounted literally 10cm too high. They are also ultra firm, and even though they look supportive, lack decent side bolster support.
The tiny multimedia screen is okay to use, but the buttons are miniscule, while there’s a complete lack of storage places in the front.
There are two cupholders under the centre console, with two more in between the front seats for rear seat passengers. There are no bottle holders in the doors and no storage for rear seaters.
Speaking of the rear seats, they are the very definition of cramped, with little headroom for moderately sized adults and precious little knee or toe room. There are two sets of ISOFIX baby seat mounting points, though, should you fancy wrestling your wriggling toddlers through the narrow aperture.
The seats flip forward to reveal more cargo space (185 litres with the seats up, and 550 litres when the seats are down), but the seat backs don’t fold flat into the floor. Under the boot floor is a can of sealant and a pump, but no space saver spare.
In truth, it was a long day testing this car… at 187cm, I simply could not get comfortable in it at all.
Price and features
I miss the days when Subaru’s variant names made more sense as you worked your way from GX up to WRX in a sensible order.
We’re in a different time now, though, and just like most other Japanese brands, the Impreza has a focus on luxury and spec items over sportiness. So much so that the WRX isn’t even an Impreza any more... But I digress. What’s actually important is the 2.0i-S hatch is the most expensive Impreza you can buy at $29,740 before on-roads.
This bodes well for Subaru, because it’s relatively well equipped and cheaper than the top-spec cars from its traditional Japanese opponents.
Suddenly the Subaru’s $29,740 starts to look pretty good. Especially since it’s the only car on the list with all-wheel drive.
What else is in the box? The 2.0i-S comes standard with 18-inch alloy wheels, heated and power-folding wing-mirrors, a sunroof, full LED (and steering-responsive) front lighting, dual-zone climate control, rain-sensing wipers, leather upholstery, and heated front seats with eight-way power adjust on the driver’s side.
Still with me? Okay, on the muiltimedia front there’s a massive, bright 8.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay & Android auto, DAB+ digital radio, Bluetooth connectivity and built-in nav, which is mated to a six-speaker audio system.
Missing is a branded premium audio system and a digital dash, which are available in some competitors. A power-adjustable passenger seat would be nice, but other than that there’s not much missing from the 2.0i-S’ arsenal.
To boot, it gets Subaru’s impressive full safety suite, but more on that in the safety section later in this review.
The range has been stripped back to just two cars, and costs has come down slightly, with the 595 now starting at $26,990, plus on-road costs.
A new 5.0-inch touchscreen multimedia system (with digital radio), a leather wrapped steering wheel, TFT dash display, rear parking sensors, alloy pedals, 16-inch alloy rims, and (front-only) adaptive dampers are standard on the base 595.
A convertible, or more accurately, a rag-top (cabriolet) version of the 595 is also available for $29,990.
The 595 Competizione is now a whopping $8010 cheaper at $31,990 with a manual gearbox, leather seats (Sabelt-branded sports buckets are optional), 17-inch alloys, a louder Monza exhaust, as well as front and rear adaptive Koni shocks, and Eibach springs.
Unfortunately, what stands out more on the Abarths is what they don’t come with. Auto lights and wipers, cruise control of any sort, driver aids including AEB and adaptive cruise… even a rear view camera is missing.
What’s more puzzling is that the Abarth’s architecture, though a decade old, has provision to accept at least a rear view camera.
Abarth’s explanation that the car’s home market doesn’t see these inclusions as important doesn’t really hold water, either.
Engine & trans
Here’s one of the main downsides for the Subaru. Competitors are now mostly running improved low-capacity turbocharged engines, but Subaru has overhauled – and so doubled-down on – its non-turbo 2.0-litre four cylinder ‘boxer’ engine.
This engine produces an average-looking 115kW/196Nm. Sure enough, under heavier acceleration, it feels lacking, especially considering this Impreza’s almost 1400kg kerb weight.
Peak torque doesn’t arrive till 4000rpm, so you’re left waiting a little while for it to get there for overtaking. A turbocharger could easily rectify the situation.
On the upside, the changes to this engine mean the annoying six-month service intervals have been pushed out to a year and it happily drinks 91RON unleaded.
The Impreza is available with just one transmission – a continuously variable automatic. There’s no manual.
The Abarth 595 pair use the same 1.4-litre 'MultiJet' four-cylinder turbo engine in differing states of tune. The base car makes 107kW/206Nm, while the Competizione makes 132kW/250Nm, thanks to a freer-flowing exhaust, a larger Garrett-branded turbocharger and an ECU re-tune.
The base car can do 0-100km/h in 7.8 seconds, while the Competizione is 1.2 seconds quicker; the optional 'Dualogic' automatic is 0.2sec slower to the mark in both cars.
A five-speed manual gearbox is standard, and neither car is fitted with a limited slip diff.
The 2.0i-S has a claimed/combined fuel usage number of 7.2L/100km. Over my week of testing in mainly urban scenarios, I landed on 9.1L/100km which is bang on Subaru’s ‘urban’ estimate.
It’s at least a litre more than I usually expect out of lower-capacity turbo engines in the competition.
If you really want to save on petrol, the Prius-derived tech in the Corolla ZR is has a claimed usage number of 4.2L/100km.
Subaru’s raft of improvements to this engine allow you to fill its 50L tank with base-grade 91RON unleaded.
Over 150km of testing, the Competizione consumed a dash-indicated 8.7 litres per 100km, against a claimed combined fuel economy figure of 6.0L/100km. Our brief test of the 595 revealed a similar number, against the same claimed figure.
The Abarth will only accept 95 octane fuel or better, and its small 35-litre tank is good for a theoretical 583km between fills.
The Impreza feels solid on the road. Part of this is down to the hefty kerb weight, and a great deal of it is down to the all-wheel drive system.
You have a sense of security behind the wheel that’s not quite there in many competitors. The flipside to this is the Impreza seems to have lost a lot of its, well, character.
I’ll explain. Older versions of this car were not as well built or as slick to drive, but they had a bit of a wild streak for those who wanted to push them, with just a little bit of the WRX’s character found in every variant. Now, though, this Impreza seems a bit sanitized.
If you’ve driven any of the rest of Subaru’s range, its easy to see how the Impreza has arrived at this point. Remember how I mentioned that it shares much of the switchgear of the SUV range? Well, it feels like an SUV to drive, too. It’s got that kind of weight to it, and the engine and transmission combination hardly lends it extra agility.
That might seem like harsh criticism, but I should be clear. For many people, the extra heft and SUV-like security which this Impreza brings will feel great, especially in a plush top-spec hatch like this.
It brings other benefits, too. The 2.0i-S is quiet. Despite the huge wheels, road noise (previously a sore spot for the brand) is surprisingly low and not much can be heard out of the engine and transmission below 4000rpm.
The Impreza might have lost its rally derived sporty soul, but for most buyers, it’s a far better commuter car than ever before.
Ergonomics aside, the combination of torquey engine and lightweight car is always a good one, and the 1.4-litre turbocharged four is a good match with the front-drive Abarth.
There’s always enough mid-range urge to give the Abarth the hurry-up, and the longer-legged five-speed gearbox is a good match for the engine.
It also grips and turns surprisingly well, despite the Sport button adding too much artificial weight to the Abarth’s steering feel.
That same button also firms up the front dampers on the 595 and all four on the Competizione, which works well on smoother terrain, but stiffens it too much over more undulating surfaces.
Around town it can be hard to strike a good balance between ride and comfort. The difference between soft and firm is much more pronounced in the Competizione, but it will still get tiring if your commute is a bumpy one.
The turning circle, by the by, is ridiculously large for such a small car, making u-turns - already compromised by the lower front bumper - unnecessarily fraught.
The Monza exhaust on the Competizione gives it a bit more presence, but it could easily be louder (or at least more crackly) again; you’re not buying this car to be a wallflower, after all.
Apart from the base-model Impreza, which misses out on the ‘EyeSight’ dual-camera suite, the rest of the range is well equipped.
Included from 2.0i-L up is auto emergency braking (AEB) with brake light recognition, lane keep assist (LKAS) with lane departure warning (LDW), lead vehicle start alert (lets you know when the vehicle in front has moved off), and adaptive cruise control.
But wait. The 2.0i-S adds even more to the active suite, with blind spot monitoring (BSM), lane change assist, rear cross-traffic alert (RCTA) and AEB which works in reverse to stop you from having an embarrassing parking accident.
The 2.0i-S is also the only Impreza with active torque vectoring which monitors and controls the amount of power going to any given wheel to maximise traction.
This is one of the most comprehensive safety offerings in the segment at a price that's less than most of its top-spec competitors.
Despite a lack of electronic safety aids – and, somewhat amazingly in the current age, a rear-view camera – the Fiat 500 that forms the Abarth's basis still carries the maximum five-star rating from ANCAP it was awarded in 2008, by dint of its seven airbags and bodyshell strength.
It wouldn’t have the same luck if it were judged under new ANCAP regs coming into force in 2018, though.
Subaru has recently brought its warranty offering up to the competitive standard of five years/unlimited kilometres. Much better than the previous lackluster three-year offering.
The brand’s capped-price-servicing program has also been updated to match the length of the warranty, with the Impreza costing a not-particularly-cheap average of $481.53 per year for five years.
The Impreza requires servicing once a year or every 12,500kms.
A three-year/150,000km warranty is offered as standard on the Abarth 595 range, with a suggested service interval of 12 months or 15,000km.
Abarth importer Fiat Chrysler Automobiles Australia offers three fixed-priced services for the 595 range at 15,000, 30,000 and 45,000km, with the first costing $275.06, the second $721.03 and the third $275.06.