Funny how an image can sway people so much.
I've had numerous arguments with colleagues over the last few months about the Subaru Impreza versus the XV. Some love the XV but can take or leave the standard Impreza. I'm kind of the opposite; the XV induces cringe but I'm a fan of the Impreza.
It's all nonsense of course, because whatever Subaru New Zealand's marketing department might tell you, the XV (which was launched first, in late-2011) and Impreza are one and the same vehicle. The former might be marketed as a crossover, but it's no more than an Impreza with extra ride height and a few plastic bits stuck on the outside.
But that's image for you. The XV says one thing about its driver, the Impreza another. Even if they both do basically the same thing.
To some the Impreza seems a bit dull. But I rather like the understated style and the way it confounds expectations. You'd expect such a conservative-looking machine to be ordinary to drive, but the Impreza is exceptionally well-sorted: good steering, excellent chassis balance and of course the advantage of all-wheel drive.
You might also think a Subaru Impreza would be rorty and thirsty. Well, the boxer engine remains but it's quite refined at low speed. And as sign of how times have changed, the Impreza is now one of the most thrifty cars in its segment: Combined economy is 6.8 litres per100km and I achieved exactly that on an 800km trip recently.
At $46,990 in flagship 2.0i SL-sedan form as tested, the Impreza is not a cheap vehicle. But I'd argue that you get such a mature dynamic package and so much equipment for the money, it's a good option for those large-sedan buyers looking to downsize. Which is very 2012, I know.
The SL comes with full leather upholstery, body kit, power seats/sunroof, cellphone/iPod integration and a colour multi-function display (which is a bit on small side, admittedly) that includes satellite navigation and a reversing camera.
The 2.0-litre boxer engine makes 110kW/196Nm. It's a new engine for this generation of Impreza. Something else that's new for this generation of Impreza is a continuously variable transmission (CVT), although Subaru calls its particular system Subaru Lineartronic Transmission (SLT). The engine, SLT and technology addenda such as stop-start all make big contributions to the Impreza's excellent fuel economy.
For me, SLT is the only bum note. It's one of the better CVTs around, for sure. It avoids the over-revving inherent in other similar gearboxes by ‘stepping down' in revs very quickly if you race away from a standstill – almost as if it had conventional ratios – and it's very effective and efficient in regular road driving.
But the beauty of the Impreza is that it has the dynamic ability to be driven hard and enjoyed. It's not a lowest-common-denominator car, but the SLT (or any CVT) is not conducive to press-on driving. Throttle response is slow and there's a sense of disconnection between driver and powertrain, although the steering column-mounted gearchange (sic) paddles do help.
Strangely, that's not a deal-breaker. The fact that 90 percent of Impreza buyers choose SLT over the $2000-cheaper six-speed manual suggests it may even seal the deal for most.