Johannesburg - Subaru's been laying low as far as all-new models are concerned, or at least in our market. We haven’t had a fresh release since the fifth-generation Outback early in 2015. But now, within the space of two months, the brand has dropped two new-from-the-ground-up cars on us with the latest Impreza sedan and the XV crossover which launched in June and July respectively.

On test here is the Impreza, the first new version of the car we’ve had in South Africa since the third-gen version landed in 2007. Yes, there was a fourth Impreza available overseas from 2011 but that car never made it to our shores. This fifth iteration also comes as a five-door hatch overseas, and it’s the most popular model globally, but here we’ll only get the sedan.

And it really is new from the ground up. This model rides on a completely redesigned platform, stretched and tweaked in strategic places to increase cabin and boot space, and comprising loads of high-tensile steel to make it more structurally rigid. The suspension’s also been revised for improved comfort and handling compared to the previous model, and it’s indeed a decent rider that coped with Joburg’s nasty road surfaces nicely.

I was also impressed with how silent the interior was over rough roads, and build quality shows a marked improvement over Subarus of old. Some of the extra effort put into this new chassis, as well as some better choices in cabin materials and the way they’re assembled, have certainly paid off.

The new Impreza’s strong on the standard fare front too. Leather seats, sunroof, cruise control, keyless ignition, rain-sensing wipers, navigation, seven airbags, blind spot monitors, parking sensors and much more is included in the deal. Also standard is a 20.3cm central touchscreen and a second colour display at the dashboard’s top for climate, trip data and multimedia readouts. It’s all Apple Carplay and Android Auto compatible, so messages, music and maps from your phone can be integrated into the car’s systems easily.

Styling is, well ... generic, to be kind. It’s also hard not to notice how the 17” wheel and tyre combo struggles to fill the huge arches. Funny that the Impreza actually rides quite low. Our test car dragged its belly on the ramps of our office parkade - a noteworthy mention because even some supercars manage to clear the same breakovers without scraping.

This won’t be a problem for buyers who park in normal lots, but it’s a peculiar issue considering the Impreza’s one big selling point, namely that all three derivatives (base and range-topping 2.0i-S ES versions land in October) come with all-wheel drive as standard.

So if you’re the type who makes regular trips down uneven gravel roads, you’ll need watch out for floor scrapage on particularly unkempt surfaces. The higher-riding XV, which shares its underpinnings with the Impreza, is a better proposition for weekend-warrior families.

That said, Subaru’s all-wheel drive system is a nice inclusion. The value of this extra traction in a passenger car is debatable in our market, where it doesn’t snow, but the extra grip in rainy conditions can be reassuring. At R399 000 this 2.0i-S model is in fact the most affordable AWD sedan on sale (there are cheaper SUVs and crossovers), and the upcoming base model will be even cheaper.

Despite the Impreza’s famed rally history, a high-performing rally car this is not. The 2-litre boxer-four under the hood makes only 115kW and 196Nm, and while these outputs are reasonably strong compared to smaller naturally-aspirated units in similar-sized Corollas, Jettas, Elantras and Civics, a bit more oomph would be welcome.

It’s also quite thirsty, and after a week-long test the trip computer showed a disappointing 10.8 litres per 100km. We did mostly drive in urban traffic so this figure could improve with some highway use.

Sadly Subaru’s still clutching to the CVT auto gearbox we’ve moaned about in past models, and the monotonous engine note it makes when pushed hard compounds the lack of firepower. Forget about the so-called seven “gears” accessed by the steering paddle shifters. They’re really just programmed steps, which do little more than break up the steady exhaust drone with segmented ratio presets. A manual isn’t available.

VERDICT

The new Impreza carves a nice little niche for itself as the only all-wheel drive sedan in the sub-400k Corolla-class. It’s extremely well equipped, well made and easy to drive. Just avoid any Petter Solberg impersonations because this wheezy engine and gearbox combination struggles with anything more than normal traffic pace.

The price includes a 5-year/150 000km warranty and 3-year/75 000km maintenance plan.

Engine: 2-litre, 4-cylinder petrol
Gearbox: CVT
Power: 115kW @ 6000rpm
Torque: 196Nm @ 4200rpm
0-100km/h (Claimed): 9.8 seconds
Top speed (Claimed): 208km/h
Price: R399 000
Warranty: 5-year/150 000km
Service/Maintenance plan: 3-year/75 000km



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FACTS

Subaru Impreza 2.0i-S

Engine:                                                               2-litre, 4-cyl, petrol
Gearbox:                                                             CVT
Power:                                                                 115kW @ 6000rpm                                    
Torque:                                                                196Nm @ 4200rpm
0-100km/h (claimed):                                         9.8 seconds
Top speed (claimed):208km/h
Price: R399 000
Warranty: 5-year/150 000km
Service plan: 3-year/75 000km