Pedro Arrais review: Impreza a player for all seasons

Car manufacturers technically don’t build station wagons anymore, so the folks at Subaru call their 2017 Subaru Impreza a five-door (a term the auto industry uses for vehicles with a rear hatch). Call it what you may, it is the perfect alternative for the legions of SUVs hogging the roads these days.

This is the fifth generation of the compact-sized Impreza, which is also available as a four-door sedan.

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While the sedan body is more popular in the segment as a whole — its nearest competitors are the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla — the Impreza five-door version is the one that flies out of showrooms in Canada. The sedans are less expensive, with the extra door and improved cargo capacity costing you $900 more.

The Impreza comes in four trim levels: Convenience, Touring, Sport and Sport-tech. They range from $19,995 for the base model to $29,495 for the five-door Sport-tech I drove to write this review.

The 2017 Impreza boasts significant changes over last year’s car. This is the first vehicle in the Subaru line to be underpinned by the new Subaru Global Platform, which will be used as the basis for all Subaru models in the near future.

The platform has been designed with electric and gasoline-electric powerplants in mind.

Subaru has also inadvertently curried favour with the new U.S. president, as the vehicle is now manufactured in Lafayette, Indiana (about 170 kilometres southeast of Chicago). The plant also produces the Subaru Legacy and Outback.

Previous Imprezas were imported from Ota, Japan.

Not surprisingly, the new Impreza is longer and wider than the car it replaces, but it hides it well. The 25 extra millimetres in the wheelbase is a boon for rear passengers.

The 2017 is 35 mm wider in the body, but Subaru engineers also set the rear shock towers further apart, as well. The net result is a cargo cabin that can accommodate wider items, and more of them. Cargo capacity with the 60/40-split back seats down is 1,566 litres, just over five per cent better than last year.

The cargo floor is essentially flat with the seats down, just in case you might want to camp in it — it is a Subaru, after all.

The engine, a direct-injection 2.0-litre flat four-cylinder, is essentially a carryover that has been massaged to produce 152 horsepower, four more than before.

While the little engine isn’t going to set any enthusiast’s heart a-flutter, power delivery is smooth.

But the ace up the Impreza’s sleeve is its permanent all-wheel drive. Although Honda, Toyota Chevrolet and others build perfectly good five-door hatchbacks, the only real competitor is the recently introduced Volkswagen Golf SportWagen Alltrack.

Having championed the format for decades, it comes as no surprise that the system is transparent to the driver, but oh, so practical in a country such as Canada. After this year’s winter weather in Victoria (with snow on the ground), the desirability of an all-wheel-drive vehicle just went up a notch.

Subaru boasts their system is superior — their AWD is on continuously. Most AWD systems found in the competition operate on an as-needed role. The vehicles operate in front-wheel drive all the time. The rear wheels only come into play when the sensors detect slippage from the front wheels.

The downside to having the AWD on continuously is in increased fuel consumption overall (although it is better than last year’s model).

To soften the blow, Subaru now includes active grille shutters in all but the most basic model.

A five-speed manual transmission can still be ordered with all but the Sport-tech model. A continuously variable transmission is standard on the Sport-tech and optional on the other models. There is no Sport button, but there is a manual mode, with steering-wheel paddle shifters, in case you want to hear the engine revs.

Wheels range from 16-inch steel wheels on the base to 18-inch alloys, which fill out the wheel arches nicely.

In the past, Subaru had been criticized for a lackadaisical attitude to their interiors, with hard surfaces and scant attention to detail compared with the best of the competition. The criticism must have struck a chord, as the interior of the 2017 Impreza has vastly improved.

The 8-inch infotainment system now can run the latest apps and features through Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. I turned on the stereo and was pleasantly surprised by the impressive Harman/Kardon audio system. The detailing for the seating has climbed up a notch or two as well. It is still not at the same level as an Audi, but it is close — very close, considering the difference in cost between the two.

Attention to detail is evident in the ride. My tester had liquid-filled engine mounts, better sound insulation and thicker side glass for a quieter cabin.

Due to demand, I didn’t have the opportunity to drive the Impreza with the popular Technology package that includes their Eyesight safety suite. The package includes an adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist and pre-collision braking. What’s new is Reverse Automatic Braking, a system that detects objects behind the vehicle and applies the brakes to prevent a collision. An audio alarm gives different tones depending on the distance from the object.

Despite moving upmarket, the 2017 Impreza still retains the counter-culture street cred Subaru is known for. With the attractive changes to the whole car, perhaps it might once again be fashionable to once again tell your friends you own a station wagon.

The Impreza may not be what died-in-the-wool enthusiasts would embrace, but if the demand is great enough, perhaps Subaru may reconsider offering a five-door WRX (a high-performance version of the Impreza) once again.

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