First-drive review: 2017 Subaru Impreza 2.0i-S CVT

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Highlights

  • Dimensions (Length x Width x Height x Wheelbase): 4,625 mm x 1,775 mm x 1,455 mm x 2,670 mm
  • Engine: 1995 cc flat-4 petrol, double overhead cam, 4 valves per cylinder, direct fuel injection
  • Output: 154 horsepower and 196 Nm of torque
  • Transmission: Continuously variable transmission
  • Price: ₱1,388,000

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 15) — Let's say you're moving up from a supermini hatchback or a subcompact sedan into something with more room and more poke, but you don't really need a sport-utility vehicle.

In other words, you're shopping for a C-segment or compact car.

The C-segment hasn't been the hottest car type in the Philippines for a long while, but there have surprisingly been a lot of hot offerings over the past few years.

The Mazda3 and the Ford Focus are both marvelous driver's cars. And then there's the all-new Honda Civic.

My distinguished colleagues from the Car Awards Group Inc. named the Civic as their 2016 Car of the Year and I can certainly understand why.

When Honda Cars Philippines Inc. flew me and my motoring colleagues to Bohol last year to try it out (this was during my pre-CNN days), I appreciated the Civic's sleek, old-school styling, sumptuous interior and impressive infotainment system (although I found that the ride and handling weren't really segment-leading, even for the punchy RS Turbo).

The Subaru Impreza has always been more of a left-field choice in the compact car stakes. But the new one, launched at the 2017 Manila International Auto Show, aims to be in your shortlist.

Read: Highlights: 13th Manila International Auto Show

Smart styling

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Externally, it seems that little has changed with this all-new model.

At the front, the headlights retain the same shape, although are swept back a bit more. These, along with the slimmer grill, accentuate the Impreza's width, which is 15 millimeters more than the old model.

Down the side, it's easy to see that the new model is a bit longer than the old one (45 millimeters more, to be exact). The defined beltline and the upward kink along the rear window line keep the Impreza from looking slab-sided.

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But the most dramatic change is out back. Wider taillights and a taller trunkline work well with the pert, sculpted lower bumper to emphasize the car's size.

On the whole, I think the new Impreza looks nice, but I wish Subaru could have restyled it more radically to distinguish it not only from its rivals, but also from its predecessor.

Vastly improved interior

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But what little was changed outside for the all-new Impreza, the converse is happily true inside.

Interior design has always been serious weakpoint for Subarus, with old models having cabins full of hard, nasty plastics and almost no style.

But the all-new Impreza's cabin, lined in black leather in this 2.0i-S model, finally has some pizzazz. The 6.3-inch LCD touchscreen infotainment system is an attractive centerpiece to the dashboard, with the controls beautifully integrated underneath it and the large air-con vents flanking it.

Other neat design features are the use of more soft-touch materials (although not quite as good as the stuff in the Honda Civic or the Mazda3), the contrast stitching along the seats and the dashboard and the drilled aluminum pedals that give the car a sporty feel.

Another notable thing about the Impreza's interior is how many toys there are. There's an electric moonroof, a blind-spot monitoring system, a reverse parking camera and even Android Auto and Apple CarPlay capability for smartphone users, all as standard.

These are things I would really like to tinker with once I take the Impreza on a long-term test.

Smooth engine, but lacks punch

So far, so good, then. It's time to tell you how the all-new Impreza drives.

First off, it's easy to get a good driving positon with the electrically adjustable driver's seat, which is very comfortable and supportive. In addition, all-around visibility is quite good.

Push the starter button and the Impreza's 2.0-liter, twin-cam, 16-valve, direct-injection flat-4 comes to life with almost no vibration, on account of the cylinders pushing against each other. This smoothness is almost eery (but nevertheless impressive) as you take it to the redline.

And redline the Impreza you must if you really want to get the most out of the Impreza's 154 horsepower and 196 Nm of torque. Mated to a continuously variable transmission and the company's trademark Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive system, the engine really lacks power for a car of this size.

In fact, the Ford Focus and the Honda Civic RS Turbo will easily trounce the Impreza, as both are powered by turbocharged 1.5-liter inline-4 powerplants with at least 20 horsepower more and far more torque. The two also have better steering feel than the Subaru.

The Impreza's ride, though, is more composed than the Civic's. Also, the strong brakes are controlled by a nice and firm pedal.

Viable alternative?

Overall, the all-new Impreza looks nice, feels much, much nicer to sit in and drives smoothly and comfortably.

At ₱1.388 million for this 2.0i-S model, the only model available so far, it is well-priced to take on the ₱1.248 million Mazda3 2.0 R, the ₱1.278 million Ford Focus Titanium+ and the ₱1.403 million Honda Civic RS Turbo.

If Subaru gives it a stouter powerplant, such as the 168-horsepower turbocharged flat-4 from the Levorg wagon, it could become a more serious contender in the C-segment.