Bil­lion heir

Subaru has spared no ex­pense on its next-gen­er­a­tion Im­preza

The Courier-Mail - Motoring - - Front Page - paul.gover@cars­guide.com.au PAUL GOVER CHIEF RE­PORTER

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.

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