08/11/2007 00:00 | By By Peter Burgess, contributor

On test: Subaru Impreza 1.5R review (2007 onwards model)

Subaru Impreza 1.5R (© image © Subaru)

  • Model: Subaru Impreza 1.5R
  • Bodystyle: five-door hatchback
  • Engine: 1498cc 4 cylinder, petrol
  • Transmission: 5–speed manualDate of Test: November 2007

What is it?

Subaru Impreza 1.5R (© image © Subaru)

If you think you know the Subaru Impreza, think again. The Japanese manufacturer has put down a marker to show its intent: to break into the volume family hatchback market rather than being merely a niche specialist that builds some admittedly astounding high performance saloons. So the first Imprezas launched are the 1.5 and 2.0-litre models, cars where excitement is replaced by practicality. Yet the Impreza keeps one very significant USP. It still has four-wheel-drive across the range, unheard of in a family car that costs from just £12,495. And that makes this 1.5R very interesting indeed, for anyone who needs all-weather mud and snow capability now has a budget option; there's even a low ratio option to the gearbox for serious conditions.

GALLERY: Subaru Impreza

Where does it fit?

Subaru Impreza 1.5R (© image © Subaru)

Actually, the Impreza 1.5R isn't quite unique at this price point, it's just that it's the only regular family car with 4x4. There are a few budget SUVs that offer more promise at a similar price: Daihatsu Terios, Fiat Sedici or Suzuki SX4, for example, and these have a tougher, more rugged appeal. Still if its real-car comfort you want then the Impreza must be the one. Mustn't it? This is the entry point into the Subaru range but there are plenty of front-wheel-drive rivals around as competition. But what quickly becomes apparent is that with a £13k price limit you are limited to little more than the cheapest Focus, Astra, Peugeot 308 or Golf. Until you look in the ads in your local paper of course, where you'll find a good choice of discounted new cars of this size for £10k upwards.

Is it for you?

Subaru Impreza 1.5R interior (© image © Subaru)

Subaru has a good name. Owners like them, the dealers look after them well and they are well built. There's also the hard-to-ignore rally car attitude that goes with the territory, but that's blown out of the water with the new Impreza. Not only does it look like any other family hatchback, the design falls to the dull end of the spectrum, more Proton than Peugeot. Of course it has those four-wheel-drive bragging rights and later there will be WRX and STI versions for the halo effect, but there's not much else. Of course, you can always boast about the great value of the 1.5R.

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What does it do well?

Subaru Impreza 1.5R (© image © Subaru)

It's not easy to pick out any particularly strong points of this Impreza. There is, it is claimed, more room for rear passengers thanks to new, space-saving multi-link rear suspension. The suspension is also said to help give "outstanding ride comfort" but maybe that was compared with the old turbo-charged WRX; it seems merely average. No, the real and arguably only trump card that this Impreza offers is its four-wheel-drive. With a 50:50 torque split between front and rear wheels, the Subaru always feels very secure on the roads and though front-wheel-drive rivals are very good these days, you won't be able to top the Impreza on wet, icy or snow-covered surfaces.

What doesn’t it do well?

Subaru Impreza 1.5R (© image © Subaru)

Subaru's other USP is its range of "boxer" engines, like those in the original VW Beetle, or, as Subaru would probably prefer, like the flat-six engines in Porsches. It keeps the centre of gravity low and so helps handling. But in a family car it's a compromise. The economy is never the best and this 1.5 is deadly slow. It may have 106bhp, but even the modest 0-60mph time of 13.7 seconds disguises the fact that you have to drop back to first gear on some low-speed hills. You might get some perverse satisfaction in wringing the neck of the Impreza to maximise what thrust there is, but using the higher end of the rev range merely makes it noisier, not faster.

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What’s it like to live with?

Subaru Impreza 1.5R dials (© image © Subaru)

It's easy enough, especially with the decent equipment levels you get even on this cheapest Impreza. Alloy wheels, climate-control air-conditioning, fog lamps, front and rear electric windows, driver, passenger, side and curtain airbags are all standard. The interior is simple and unexciting; the seats comfortable enough, the noise levels generally moderate. The instruments are hard to see in their deep cowling and you really need to turn the side lights on - many cars have automatic instrument illumination and the Subaru desperate needs this. And, despite the claims, the boot space is well below par, the four-wheel-drive transmission forcing the boot floor higher than in rivals.

How green is it?

Subaru Impreza 1.5R (© image © Subaru)

The official figures quote an average of 38mpg, well below the class norm. Bear in mind too that unless you are doing a lot of constant speed cruising, that figure will drop to nearer 30mpg. The C02 figure is good for a Subaru, 176g/km, but again worse than average. Take the 100bhp Ford Focus 1.6 for example: 42mpg, 161g/km and 0-60 nearly two seconds faster. Inevitably with four-wheel-drive, the weight plays against the Impreza; it's a good 100kg heavier than many rivals.

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Would we buy it?

Subaru Impreza 1.5R rear lights (© image © Subaru)

Let's get one thing clear; if it wasn't for the four-wheel-drive the Subaru Impreza 1.5R would be a non-starter. Sure, there are strong equipment levels for the price, customers seem to like the franchise and it's pretty cheap. But the miserable performance coupled to mediocre economy count heavily against it. Perhaps if the whole car was more endearing it might win over a few more buyers but it is far from that.

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