Road test: Subaru Impreza 1.5R
The old Impreza may have been vulgar - but it was an entertaining drive. With the new hatchback 1.5, blandness has triumphed, says Daniel Cobbs
Model: Subaru Impreza 1.5R manual
Engine: 1,498cc naturally aspirated, horizontally opposed four-cylinder, four valves per cylinder, dohc per bank, Active Valve Control System (AVCS)
Maximum power: 108 bhp @ 6,000 rpm
Maximum torque: 104 lbs ft @ 3,200 rpm
Performance: top speed, 109 mph; 0-60 mph in 13.7 seconds
Fuel consumption: 37.7 mpg (combined)
Price: on the road £12,495
If I had read the small print on the gilded-edge invite from Subaru, I would have noticed that they were asking me to drive the all new 1.5 and 2.0-litre powered Impreza, and not the 2.5-litre WRX STI, as I was expecting.
Although the WRX, in appearance, is as vulgar as a bogey-eating competition, it's the one model that most people associate Subaru with. It's the four-door saloon, adorned with an array of factory fitted body-plastics and a noisy exhaust, which goes on to show how a perfectly sane manufacturer can turn a standard production car into something that could have been spawned from the loins of Satan.
This car is bad taste personified. If the huge wing stuck on to the boot-lid doesn't make you start gagging then the gold alloys will. And I'm not sure why, but this particular Impreza seems to attract drivers with an unbelievable amount of tattoos (gender isn't a factor) and a penchant for wearing fake designer clothes.
They also seem oblivious to any network charges as they talk incessantly into their mobile phone to someone called China Chris (who's real name I'm sure is Trevor and isn't Chinese). They use words like "yo" and " bro", "chillin'" and "hangin'", and in hushed tones about "scorin' a G".
Despite the (wrongly) preconceived notion that only chavs and fledgling Tony Montanas drive Imprezas, the truth of the matter is that this road-going rally car is also one of the most entertaining drives you can buy for the money. So it was a tad difficult to hide my disappointment when I was given the keys to the rather innocuous looking hatchback, which is now the new shape for the Impreza.
Out goes the choice between the previous four-door saloon or sports wagon, in comes this offering, which could have been designed by someone called Dull who lives in Dullsville and lists train-spotting as a hobby. To make matters worse the new flagship, the turbo-charged WRX, the one which promises to give children nightmares or deal them a wrap of heroin, wasn't available to drive, and wouldn't be until nearer its November sale date (only limited numbers of the 230 PS WRX STI will be available, and they won't start being imported until spring next year)
This latest version is as inoffensive on the eye as the previous one was offensive. There's been a radical departure from the past, kitsch, retro, bug-eyed, bastard child of Beelzebub approach to a somewhat safer, just-the-same-as-umpteen-other-cars styling. All hasn't been lost amidst this ocean of blandness, the interior has been spruced-up with a swooping centre console and brushed aluminium accents. Nevertheless, there's no getting away from the fact that the overall design package is about as awe-inspiring as a Fair Isle cardigan knitted by your granny.
Now, normally, I would take great delight in wiping the floor with the newly developed 108 bhp, 1.5-litre engine. However, on this occasion I'm prepared to overlook the fact that it struggles at lower revs to produce anything which resembles a modicum of performance because this power source, mated to a five-speed manual transmission which is much slicker than the engine it's mounted to, is the entry model, and as such, costs just £12,495. I'm guessing here, but those who'll choose this 1.5R will be buying it on price rather than wanting to use it as a getaway vehicle.
They won't give a flying fig that it takes nearly a month of Sundays to reach 60mph. What will lure them is the list of standard goodies such as climate control, a full compliment of air bags and the additional wiring loom to power the gratis electric windows and fog lights. I'm surmising here again that the additional grip afforded by the standard, full-time, all-wheel drive system with dual-range low-ratio transfer box will go unnoticed as well.
And that's a shame, because the one thing that the Impreza has always offered above and beyond it's immediate rivals is the ability to take the tightest of corners without giving cause for its driver to go into a type of anaphylactic shock.
The new suspension set-up not only retains those same characteristics, but has built upon them. Unfortunately, the 1.5-litre doesn't have enough oomph to witness just how harmoniously the chassis interacts with the multi-link rear suspension, even the 2.0-litre barely challenges them. There is a four-speed automatic option available on both models; this does make the smaller engine more sedentary and whilst it's not that bad a union for the 2.0-litre, it does push the price up on this particular combination to £15,995.
This new Impreza feels at odds with itself. On the one hand it's trying to conform by offering a well built, medium size, five-door hatchback, yet on the other, the racing underpinnings and AWD makes the exorcism only partially complete.
Neither of the two available engines are blisteringly great, the 2.0-litre is merely good and seemingly better equipped to deal with driving all four wheels. Let's hope then, when the WRX and the promised satanic WRX STI does finally arrive here, three very large sixes will be branded across its rather staid backside and evil will triumph over good.
Hyundai i30 1.6-litre Comfort £12,295
The i30 has been designed for the European market, and it shows. A five-year warranty and residual values expected to retain high percentages, this is the first Korean salvo to make the Japanese sit up and take notice.
VW Golf 1.6 Match FSI £15,162
Only expect the most basic of refinements with this particular Golf and you won't be disappointed. That said, the FSI engine is a wonderful piece of engineering, enough to forgo a few creature comforts? Most definitely, yes.
Skoda Fabia 1.6 16v 3 £11,955
Built lovingly by the Czechs using mostly VW parts, the new-look Fabia makes perfect economical sense. This is one of highest spec models but ESP and electric rear windows are extras. You don't have to be ashamed to drive a Skoda any more.