Just a few weeks ago on this page I rashly suggested that the day of the hatchback might nearly be over and that there were signs of a move away from hatchbacks toward, on the one hand, conventional 3 box saloons and, on the other, more practical, family sized, estate cars. As if to prove me wrong Subaru have just launched into the middle of their range the impressive Impreza which is offered either in a 4 door saloon form or in a new hybrid variant, an example of which I drove.

This is a 5 door that combines the best of both the estate and hatchback worlds with better than usual stowage space without being too large for anyone to drive in comfort and adds the safety and road holding benefits of 4 wheel drive but, for the first time for Subaru, is also available in a conventional front wheel drive form for those who prefer it.

The Impreza range slots neatly in between the superb Legacy saloons and estates and the rather smaller Justy and the number of possible permutations of 4 or 2 wheel drive, 4 or 5 door body style, 2 trim levels, 16 valve 1.6 or 1.8 litre engines and a real fire cracker 4x4 2 litre turbo all make for a huge range of choice from £9999 for the base LX to the Turbo at £17999.

However, the 5 door may not find favour with all for while the saloon is fairly conventional in it's looks the rather futuristic 5 door is anything but conventional being tall - to the benefit of interior space - with lozenge shaped rear side windows which endow it with a very distinctive appearance. It's a look you either like immediately or not at all but it does provide a lot of interior room and most importantly a much larger and more useful cargo area than most hatches could dream of with split rear seats to maximise it's use.

Both the engine and transmission of this Impreza are rally bred winners derived from the Legacy which has been so impressive in the World Rally Championships of the last few seasons and has now been replaced in that arena by the Impreza turbo. The barking rasp of the flat 4 boxer engine is a notable feature of the current rally scene yet, in this car, it is smooth and quiet, tamed but not toothless, quite lively when pushed yet able to cruise happily and quietly at motorway speeds helped by the good aerodynamics.

Fitted in the test car with a 5 speed manual gearbox, automatics are also available and work well with the 4WD system. I found the test car's manual gearbox rather vague and difficult but the car had only covered 80 or so miles when I collected it and no doubt needed time to settle in.

The 4 wheel drive system is permanently engaged with torque split between front and rear wheels relative to the amount of grip available and is switchable between high and low range by a lever alongside the handbrake on the transmission tunnel.

Inside, the Impreza certainly impresses with its space, from a big load area with a tonneau cover to outwit prying eyes, ample amounts of leg and head room and generally very comfortable seating with a wide range of adjustment, although lower back support could be a bit better.

A fashionably rounded dash holds clear, white on black instruments and chunky switch gear which I like the more I drive Subarus.

At this price the equipment fitted is very good with speed sensitive power steering, central locking, electric mirrors and windows, a good 4 speaker stereo and headlamp washers.

The Impreza feels like a very solidly and well built car, it's offered with excellent warranties, has a good specification, a lively engine and very sure footed handling, a lot of car for the money. A bigger than usual family hatch with 4x4 ability for a tad under 13 grand has to be a bargain.


  • PRICE AS TESTED £12999
  • TOP SPEED 108 M.P.H.
  • 0-60 MPH 12 SECONDS



  • For - Good value, 4x4 safety, Big load area
  • Against - Distinctive looks, Cranky gearbox, Lack of lumbar support


First Published 1994 - Article © Graham Benge 2007

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