The new global platform has increased comfort and connection for the driver significantly.
There are certain things you don’t mess with. If you want good pasta, go to Italy. If you want good skiing, go to the Rockies. If you want a good laugh, watch any single White House press briefing led by Sean Spicer. Likewise in the car world certain models reign supreme for different situations. When the white stuff starts falling, and you want a rugged, small, all-wheel-drive hatchback for a good price, buy a Subaru. End of story. In Canada, the Subaru Impreza is the quintessential small AWD hatch; they are as well matched to our winters as macaroni is to cheese.
Over the past several decades of snowy seasons, Subaru’s all-wheel-drive has allowed everyone from the discerning family person to the flat-brimmed hat-wearing vape enthusiast, to simply tractor past stuck front-wheel-drive rivals. Subaru owners of the past have always been happy to trade often mediocre, noisy interiors, and less than stellar fuel economy, for a car that has a plucky go-anywhere attitude, off-road confidence, rally heritage, and often wildly powerful engines.
Even the base Impreza of ten years ago with its 2.5L flat four was torquey, responsive, and engaging. With the release of the new platform, which our 2017 Subaru Impreza Sport-Tech tester is built on, Subaru has made a stiffer, more responsive, better looking favourite. They clearly are aiming to fill in the few gaps in quality that Imprezas of the past have possessed. So, has Subaru finally made a practical Impreza, with a nice interior, and a responsive driving experience that will satisfy both adventure seekers and commuters alike? Well, almost.
We will start with the new chassis, which is, without a doubt, wonderful. It’s stiffer than the outgoing generation, the center of gravity is lower, and the suspension mounting points are reinforced. All this is very noticeable even when driving around casually. The suspension is well tuned, making for a comfortable ride, but since the chassis is quite stiff, there is very little feeling of roll in corners. The car turns in quickly and with confidence. Mid-corner, the car feels stable, and flat.
Since Subaru has borrowed the steering from the BRZ (reviewed here), the car has a quick steering ratio, and turns in with minimal input. The steering is electrically assisted, yet still retains some feel. It is better than other cars in this segment, though not as connected as older generation Subarus. The sacrifice for the fast and sharp steering is that it sometimes feels a little twitchy at highway speeds. We surmised that this might be improved with a slightly different alignment setup.
The new global platform has also increased comfort and connection for the driver. The driving position is good, allowing those with sporting pretensions to get nice and low; it’s possible feel connected to the vehicle. The floor feels low as well, and there is an increase in space in the back seat. Fewer vibrations make it through into the cabin and the noise levels have been decreased from older Subies. On-road confidence is also improved by powerful braking performance and a linear brake pedal feel.
The new 2017 Impreza also has a completely redesigned interior. Our tester which was in Sport-Tech trim with the optional technology package came in at $30,995, and compared to some older Subarus, which had exactly three buttons to choose from on the dashboard, the new model is a veritable tech-fest. The eight-inch STARLINK infotainment screen is clear, intuitive, and includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. It works in conjunction with a secondary screen up on the dashboard,that reads out information such as AWD activity, weather, EyeSight status, radio stations, and fuel economy monitor.
There is also screen in the instrument gauge cluster that provides more information. The steering wheel buttons control many of these screens and the driver has quite a large number of buttons to choose from. There is indeed such as a thing as too many buttons on a steering wheel, and the Impreza is in danger of being accused of this. Continuing Subaru’s trend to keep the driver comfortable, our tester had leather seats, which were well made and supportive even though they didn’t include adjustable lumbar support.
In the cabin, there is sporadic leather stitching, and the materials are nice. Subaru’s EyeSight system (reviewed here) integrated seamlessly with the driver information readout, and as usual, worked very well, keeping the driver notified of impending hazards. Long story short, the new interior is a very large step up from previous generations, and is a highlight of the car.
We have already tested the manual transmission version of the 2017 Impreza (reviewed here), and we found that the shifting experience left some to be desired. Not all of the DoubleClutch.ca writers feel the same way about the CVT transmission, but your writer in this case found it to be a bit sluggish at times. It seemed that if you so much as think about lifting off the throttle mid-corner, it will adjust the ratio so that the revs fall to nothing. Then, when you apply throttle exiting a corner, there is a very long pause where the transmission seems to have a momentary existential crisis before relenting and bumping the revs back up to a range where the engine has some torque.
There is a manual mode to the Lineartronic system, but it lacks consistency in how it simulates “gears” (there are no real gears in a CVT, so the computer simulates them by adjusting ratios). The result is often frustrating, and we found that first “gear” was so tall that if you wanted any real torque, you must “downshift” into first often, which was a bit jerky. In a straight line, the computer does a good job of simulating gear ratios, and it is honestly difficult to tell that the car has a CVT. If you are just putting around, the transmission will not be a bother at all.
The 2.0 flat four makes 152 horsepower and 145 lb-ft. of torque at 4000RPM. These numbers are also known as “not quite enough”. For the average commuter, it won’t be a deal breaker, but many of us would certainly have liked some extra kick the WRX’s turbo-four offers, especially at highway speeds. We know that in Subaru world, it has always been done a certain way: the standard Impreza gets a naturally aspirated unit, and the WRX and STI (reviewed here) get the turbo versions. But perhaps it’s time that Subaru turbocharge their “normal” cars?
Given that spring is finally upon us, we didn’t have a chance to test the AWD in the snow, but even though the Symmetrical AWD in the CVT model has a Electronically Controlled Multi-plate Transfer clutch instead of a Viscous Coupling center differential as can be found on the manual version, we trust that Subaru AWD will always deliver the power to the ground.
As has always been the case, you sacrifice fuel economy for that all-wheel-drive, and even though this tester is slated to produce 7.6L/100km combined fuel economy, the best we did was 9.1L/100km- and after spending some time getting frustrated with engine and gear response we only did 9.8L/100km. Take that with a grain of salt though, as we are certain better numbers are possible.
The 2017 Subaru Impreza Sport-Tech is a step in the right direction. The chassis is excellent, and the interior and exterior design are both great to look at, and a pleasure to live with. The lack of power is hopefully a hiccup, and we are optimistic that Subaru will consider adding a bit of a larger engine, or a turbo to the Impreza in the future. This new platform has a lot of potential, and we are certainly excited to see where Subaru takes it in the next few years.