Subaru has spared no expense on its next-generation Impreza
ONE billion dollars buys you a mightily impressive new Subaru Impreza.
It takes less than 50 kilometres at the wheel, even around the highly artificial layout at Japan’s Olympic bicycle training centre, to discover that the Japanese brand has totally re-imagined its starter car into something more like a junior European luxury model.
The fifth-generation Impreza is quiet and isolated from its surroundings, plush in the ride and luxurious in the cabin. I’m still not a fan of the CVT transmission, and it needs air vents for the back seats, but the car is one of the most impressive Japanese newcomers I’ve seen.
So, why all the fuss — and finance — just for the Impreza?
Because the billion-dollar blitz was used to create a Subaru Global Platform (SGP) that sits beneath the skin of the new Impreza.
That platform will underpin every one of the brand’s new models for the next decade. That means XV, WRX, Forester, Liberty, Outback, hybrid models and even fully-electric cars.
Only the BRZ sports car is likely to stay away from the program, because it’s rearwheel drive and a joint venture with Toyota.
The man in charge of the program, project senior manager at Subaru, Masahiko Inoue confirmed the big spend on Impreza.
“This is double the normal budget, and a little bit more. The project has been almost four years,” he says.
“We are saying it is Impreza, but the content is completely new. It is a new vehicle.
“It’s time. It is the touchstone of the new-generation Subaru.”
The Impreza is 95 per cent new, from its 2.0-litre directinjection boxer engine and CVT transmission down to the instruments.
The first cars will land in Australia in December and it’s the new-look hatchback — which is closer in style to the Levorg wagon — which is the hero car. There is a sedan but the proportions don’t work as well with the crisp lines and speedy shape of the new Impreza.
Subaru Australia wants to keep some of the final details secret until it has cars for showrooms, but confirms the new car is 10mm lower, 35mm longer and has a 25mm longer wheelbase that provides an extra 26mm of rear legroom. The boot is also bigger by five litres.
The engine is nothing special on the power front, with only 115 kW and 196Nm, but the real work has gone into making it smoother, quieter and kinder on fuel. The same is true of the CVT, which has seven artificial “gears” shifted by paddles.
It’s the same with the chassis, which is far more rigid and has even been engineered to survive the world’s toughest new crash test — an American invention that slams a 2.5tonne SUV into the nose of the Impreza at 90km/h.
Safety has been a priority throughout development and Subaru’s Eyesight system — with auto emergency braking, radar cruise control and the rest — will be standard on everything above the basic model in Australia.
The Impreza — or SGP — is reminiscent of Volkswagen’s work on the MQB platform that was focused on the Golf but now provides the toolbox of parts and pieces for more than 20 individual models.
Inoue admits the similarity and says the idea was to provide everything necessary for the next generation of Subaru models.
“We wanted to design quality beyond the class. It’s passive safety for 10 years ahead,” he says.
It looks like a giant gamble, but the man who heads Subaru Australia says no.
“We do things differently. I don’t think it’s a gamble. It’s about developing a platform that will underwrite the future,” Nick Senior, managing director of Subaru Australia, tells Carsguide.
But there are some significant challenges.
There is no manual gearbox in the new Impreza, sedan or hatch, which means Subaru will struggle to get the starting price under $25,000 in Australia. Supply will be limited, too.
“It is our number one entree to the Subaru brand. We don’t have $13,990 driveaways. It is our first chance to attract people to the Subaru brand,” Senior says.
“We are currently averaging
about 400 Imprezas a month. We need to do a much better job to build on that moving forward”.
Senior is confident the new model will attract more sales.
“This is the most excited I’ve ever been for a launch. Four times previously we have made the Impreza recipe, and on those occasions we have missed on one or two ingredients. With this one we have now got the recipe right.”
ON THE TRACK
The preview drive of the Impreza is just that. Only a preview.
There is no real-world driving, no bumps or lumps or humps, few chances to get to 100km/h — although there is one downhill sets of swooping curves where the car will touch 160km/h in the security of a totally closed road — no traffic and no night driving.
But there are a dozen new hatchbacks lined up at the Olympic cycle centre.
They are divided into cars with 17-inch and 18-inch alloys, which Senior says match the specifications of the mid-level and flagship cars for Australia.
So, how is it? The best thing to say about the new Impreza is that it does not remotely feel like a Subaru.
It’s quiet, calm and plush, more like something upscaleish — call it an Audi A4.
It’s completely lost the feel of a tin can on wheels, and the chassis is so good that the basic Impreza feels significantly underpowered. That means the next WRX should really be a stonker.
I’m still not a fan of the CVT transmission, although it is much quieter in all conditions and is almost free of flaring at full throttle. It needs air vents for the back seats and there is no space in the tail for a fullsized spare.
The seats are well shaped and supportive, the dash looks good and displays all the information without being confusing, and even the visibility in all directions is good. Inoue says that his development team focused on the Mazda3 as the Impreza’s rival, but thatis only part of the story. They also benchmarked some luxury European cars.
What they have achieved is impressive but final judgement will have to wait until the car gets to Australia and is forced onto some rough-and-ready roads and proper real-world comparison.
Right now, though, it looks like a winner.