Road Tests

Triple Test: Subaru Impreza & Verdict

Time 12 years ago

subaruNOT since Gary Glitter has something fallen from the dizzy heights of super-stardom quite so ungracefully.

Think back to the days of Colin McRae’s era and the amazing Impreza models we all enjoyed. The incredible P1, the Richard Burn’s inspired R22B – both stunning machines with looks that matched their performance.

But then something went wrong over in Japan. Subaru still managed to produce impressive driving machines, but somehow forgot how to style them.

Remember the now-infamous bug-eyed Impreza? It was about as welcome as rain at Lord’s and even die-hard fans shunned the motoring equivalent of the Elephant Man.

Things slowly improved every year after that, until this, the latest attempt by Subaru. In a move that was supposed to capture a more mainstream market the maker restyled its icon into a hatchback and, in doing so, again alienated its die-hard fans. The reception has been mooted, and with sales for the marque down 50 per cent year-on-year, the figures say a lot.

Dunc, summed up the Impreza’s looks perfectly: ‘It’s like a woman that thinks she’s going to look better with a bit of plastic surgery, but then can’t stop having things done. Sort of like Jackie Stallone. There was nothing wrong with it to start with – so why did they mess with it?’

I couldn’t agree more – there’s no doubt the latest Impreza takes some getting used to. But forget the styling for a moment, and concentrate on what this machine was designed to do – go fast. Utterly lunatic, insanely fast. And boy is it good at that.


This is largely thanks to NASA-like levels of electronic trickery that might be harder to understand than algebra, but work brilliantly. Buttons let you modify the amount of torque delivered to different axles and even fettle the throttle mapping. But, to be brutally honest, I’m no Ross Brawn.

Call me a luddite but I’d rather the car went faster when I pressed the throttle pedal, not a button on a dash. There’s no doubt the Impreza is quick. The 2.5-litre flat four, turbocharged unit produces 296bhp and 406Nm of torque. That’s enough to punt it to 60mph quicker than its rivals here in 4.8s and on to a top speed of 155mph.

sti-badgeOn paper at least, the Impreza looks good, but compared to these two it lacks involvement. Handling from the four-wheel-drive chassis is superb, but you don’t feel connected like you do in the Focus or Megane. There’s a detachment that’s hard to place, but everyone who drove it felt the same. The engine has little soul, it’s muted too and leaves you somewhat deflated.

And that’s not all – the gearchange was also met with mixed reviews. Some of us loved it, others hated it. It’s a bit switch-like for my liking and not as direct as rivals.

What the Subaru really has got going for it though is it’s a potent weapon in pretty much any driver’s hands. It’s in no way intimidating and never feels unsettled.

However, in some respects that’s what lets it down. In this company it’s outshone by its rivals in so many ways, and for a car that has heritage to match that mighty RS badge, that’s a real shame.


SUBARU Imprezas have always been seen as the unconventional choice with in-your-face looks. During the past few years we have seen the disappointment on willing purchasers faces as their wives say ‘no way’ to big spoilers and shiny alloys.

But the new Impreza now offers conventional euro styling with meaty looks that has a more acceptable style and helps convert those resisting wives. It has better fuel economy and interior comforts plus is still the best handling AWD car on the market. We have secured orders in a much broader age range.

Jon Mathers, managing director, Cross Roads Subaru


THERE’S no doubt that all these cars score highly in the fun department – but each do it in different ways.

The Subaru is an accomplished machine that’ll fire you across country in super quick time, whatever your ability. It’s quick and super sticky, and in that respect will raise a smile. But it’s love it or loathe it looks and lacking character see it pushed into third place here.

The Megane R26.R is a perfect example of what weight reduction can do. It makes me want to buy an old hot hatch, strip out the interior, add near-racing slicks and head for a trackday. It is a delight to drive; a modern day great as legendary as a Clio Williams.

I love it, but it’s just a little to impractical; I want a little more than a trackday-biased car for this sort of money and I’m willing to bet most buyers would too.

Which is why the Focus tops the pile. It’s got motorsport pedigree, stunning looks and a cult following. It’s intoxicating to drive, beautiful to look at and still has room for the family and a massive boot.

I like to ask myself which car I’d prefer to be selling – and with a sensible price tag and plentiful supply, again it’d have to be the Focus. It’s the car I’d buy out of the three and if I can still get a new one when my PCP is up, I’ll be putting my money where my mouth is. 

by James Baggott

Missed the rest? Read it here:

Triple Test: Introduction

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James Baggott's avatar

James is the founder and editor-in-chief of Car Dealer Magazine, and CEO of parent company Baize Group. James has been a motoring journalist for more than 20 years writing about cars and the car industry.

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