It’s not every day you have a committed man thinking of having an illicit affair, but that’s exactly what happened when I got introduced to the shapely new 2017 Subaru Impreza. As a proud owner of an immaculate 2008 model (the rare hatchback no less), I’ve always found it difficult to find a suitable replacement to her charms. After every test drive, I always come back to my beloved Empress’s sweet embrace and I think to myself: ‘till death do us part. That is until I met Empress’s sultry younger sister.
For decades, the Subaru family has always been wayward with their design with vehicles being called everything from ugly to odd; my Empress included. Her younger sister doesn’t fit any of those descriptions. There’s just enough going on around her body to attract the eye while the shapely fenders tell you she loves a good workout. Dead-on, her face is still pretty much nondescript, but at least she’s pretty enough to pass as anyone’s schoolmate crush.
And things get more interesting after that. After chatting with her, I got to know her more realizing she shares almost nothing in common with her siblings. She’s “all-new” in the truest sense of the word with everything from the wheels to the windows new and specific to her.
Getting in, I immediately realize how she’s much easier to see out of compared to my Empress (and even the Impreza model after that). Despite a misnomer that crossovers provide better visibility compared to a sedan, this 2017 Impreza corrects that thinking. She’s easy to see out of in every direction while also giving the entire interior a light and airy feel. Surrounding the great view is easy-to-understand instrumentation scattered across three different zones. Front and center to me is the large round speedometer and tachometer with a multi-function LCD screen sandwiched in the middle. There are two other LCD screens: one set atop the center stack, displaying a multitude of driving info and one directly below it serving as the command center for the infotainment system.
And speaking of her infotainment, it’s a clear step up from previous Subaru efforts with large, clear screen icons and a snappy and responsive interface. More than that, she’s also at the top of the infotainment system game, finally getting both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto to work with her. The inclusion of Near Field Communications or NFC also allows the wireless connection of smartphones to the infotainment system. And she gets plus points for including physical buttons and dials for both the audio and climate controls.
The 2017 Impreza has also gotten a lot more sophisticated. I close the door and it shuts with an unmistakable feel of solidity. And then, as I work my way feeling and poking through the dashboard, buttons, stalks, and switches, it has a more cohesive feel to them with the materials a major leap forward in quality. Plus, she’s learned to be more practical with 29 millimeters more shoulder room upfront and 26 millimeters more legroom at the back. Even the luggage area has been slightly enlarged too.
Her subtly shapely body marks the debut of a new set of bones that will underpin everything that’ll come out of the Subaru family for the foreseeable future. Called the Subaru Global Platform, it increases her body’s rigidity by 70 percent and her chassis by 100 percent while also lowering the center of gravity by 5 millimeters. What’s more, despite all that working out, her curb weight remains in line with the outgoing model.
A special handling track designed for the First Drive pitted the 2017 Impreza against two of its benchmarks who also happen to be the best that Japan and Europe has the offer at the moment: the Mazda3 and the Volkswagen Golf. Surprisingly, the twice-the-price Audi A3 was also thrown in for good measure.
Imprezas have always ranked among the best-riding compact cars and the 2017 doesn’t break that streak as she can effortlessly glide through the “comfort course” where undulating steel bars represented road ruts. Set to upset the chassis both in a left-right-left and front-back manner, she went through at twice the speed of her competitors while still exhibiting much better riding comfort. The stiffer chassis means there’s not one interior rattle that could be heard. Moving then to the “handling course”, she showed off her newfound agility. With the front struts and rear multi-links mounted to a stiffer sub-frame, she keeps the rolling and pitching to a minimum. Nicking the BRZ’s 13:1 steering ratio too, her initial turn-in is quick followed by a surprising absence of drama as her rear-end clears the cones. Compared to Imprezas of old, she needs les sawing of the wheel to get her to obey and there’s no hint of understeer too. Finally, in the “confidence course”, the Impreza is the only one that managed to do an emergency lane change maneuver on a low-grip steel sheet surface in the wet without any problem. In the Mazda3 and Golf? I hit a cardboard cutout of a granny crossing the “street.”
For all that fun about tossing and turning the Impreza through corners and curves, her solid platform could definitely use more power. Though a hotted-up WRX will eventually solve that problem for sure, for now, the 2.0-liter engine is merely adequate. She easily scoots along with the CVT changing gear ratios unobtrusively. However, stepping deeper into the accelerator and the transmission does require a moment to adjust. She does try to simulate a traditional automatic, “shifting” with discrete steps, but the engine’s peaky character makes me wonder if she’s doing that on purpose to reduce the transmission’s high rpm whirring sound.
All told, the 2017 Impreza represents a substantial leap for Subaru. Though I’ve always found it hard to find a car that can hold a candle against my first love, my Empress now has a competitor for my affection and it just so happens to be in the form of her younger sister. As a Subaru Impreza owner, I find the 2017 model much more desirable and appealing than ever before without losing any of the virtues that made it a success in the first place.