What is the Subaru Impreza?
The Subaru Impreza hatch is the car that lost its identity. For years it was the iconic saloon — occasionally the estate — that could run rings around supercars that cost several times as much. With a turbocharged flat-four engine and four-wheel drive, the Impreza could defy the laws of physics. But with sales of compact saloons on the wane, Subaru went all conventional — to a point — and reintroduced the Impreza as a five-door hatch. There were still the supernatural abilities and eye-popping performance if you wanted them, but practicality was also now on the menu.
While it’s the WRX and STi editions that struck a chord with enthusiasts, Subaru offered a raft of lower-spec Imprezas to take on established family hatches like the Ford Focus, Peugeot 308, Vauxhall Astra and Renault Megane, as well as the Mazda 3. The Impreza’s trump card was standard four-wheel drive across the range, which nobody else could match; the only family hatch available with that was the far more costly Audi A3 quattro. And what the A3 didn’t offer — unlike the Impreza — was a low-ratio transfer box; so if you’re looking for a compact tow car, the Scooby could be just the job.
The Impreza is good to drive, too. All models can get the power down whatever the conditions, and there’s an engine for everyone. Those wanting a cheap runabout can opt for a normally aspirated 1.5 or 2-litre petrol engine, while a bigger budget will secure a 148bhp 2-litre diesel. Or if you want supercar performance, there’s a raft of options, including the 227bhp Impreza WRX and the 251bhp WRX S, as well as the 296bhp WRX STi and the 325bhp WRX STi 330S. Maddest of all is the 395bhp Cosworth-tuned CS400 of 2011 — priced at £50,000 new, it was made in tiny numbers, so you’ll be doing well to find one.
What holds the Impreza back is its low-rent interior full of cheap-looking materials. While all Imprezas are comfortable and well laid out, they don’t have the feelgood factor available elsewhere. You can’t argue with the kit list, though. Even the cheapest cars have alloy wheels, climate control, Bluetooth, electric windows all round and a CD/tuner.
If you want an auto, it’s no problem. Both petrol engines came in manual and slushbox forms, and for any combination of engine and transmission there were R and higher-spec RX trims. Confusingly, Subaru apportioned kit according to engine and trim level, so for the most kit you have to buy a 2.0 RX, which packs such goodies as xenon lights, sat nav, 17in alloys and sportier trim than lesser models.
With excellent reliability, five-door practicality, a spacious cabin and ample standard kit, the Impreza makes a huge amount of sense. Throw in four-wheel-drive security with low prices and it’s even more enticing. The interior should be more lavishly constructed, but if you can live with the cheap materials, we’d say there are few small family hatches that give as much as the Impreza, in return for so little cash.
What to look out for when buying a used Subaru Impreza
You’re unlikely to be left stranded by an Impreza, as reliability tends to be top notch. What lets the car down is the build quality; creaks and squeaks from the interior aren’t at all unusual, and paintwork defects are also common, especially stone chips across the nose. But electrical and mechanical defects are rare.
The one to buy
Subaru Impreza WRX STi
- 2457cc, 4 cylinders
- 296bhp @ 6000rpm
- 300 lb ft @ 4000rpm
- 6-speed manual
- 0-62mph in 5.2sec
- Top speed:
- 27.4mpg (combined)
- Road tax band:
- L 4415mm, W 1795mm, H 1470mm
Subaru Impreza rivals
Audi S3 Sportback (click here for used prices on driving.co.uk)
Volkswagen Golf (click here for used prices on driving.co.uk)