The UK entry level Impreza is the 5 door 1.6 litre normally aspirated (no turbos here) TS. My dealer Quenbys uses one for their courtesy car and I was able to borrow it whilst my own P1 was in for its 12 month service.
I suppose jumping straight into the TS after dropping my P1 off was never really going to be love at first sight. I am getting used to the New Age look of the MY01 and am coming round to the fact that in a few years time I might actually own one. The TS though is the plain Jane model, and lacks some of the WRX frills which help to distract you from the odd looking body....ok mainly those headlights. No foglights on the front bumper, no hood scoop of course and round the side we find 14 in steel rimmed wheels complete with plastic wheel trims.
Inside it does not look much different from the WRX I had tested a few months before. The dashboard layout is basically the same as the WRX with outside temperature gauge included in the instrument cluster. Not sure I like the very compact and cluttered mileometer though. The "bright" switch is there too located to the indicator switch. In car entertainment is care of a single CD/radio head unit in place of the double DIN CD/tape unit.
The seats are quite suppportive but are not in the bucket set league. Down beside the handbrake was something which puzzled me. A lever with an associated label saying AWD Hi Low. Aparently this allows the final drive ratio to be altered more of which later.
Turn the key and...yuck. It starts like a taxi! Luckily this lasts about 1 second and it becomes quite normal there after. Depress the clutch, blimey its light. Into gear, not a bad change, lift the clutch and away. The clutch being very light and biting in a different place to my P1 made it a bit interesting at first. The engine is extremely quiet and almost electric. Pulling away and at town speeds it is quite good. The steering is very light, too light for my liking. Apply the brakes....mmm very progressive...i.e. you press the peddle and you begin to stop, you press it more and you stop a bit faster (er we're getting a bit close Steve)...you press it harder and you are stopping a bit quicker...so...you hopefully get the picture. Actually once I got used to the way the peddle felt I was fine with them.
Apart from the controls, and the steering the first thing I really noticed was the ride. Those 14inch wheels with the economy 185/70 tires gave that riding on air feel. I wondered in fact if it was going to make me feel car sick! One thing for certain, I wasn't going to be throwing this around the country lanes. Once you got used to them though, again it was not too bad. The market for this car is not of course the WRX owner.
Performance wasn't going to be 0-60 in under 6 seconds with only 1.6 litres but was probably on pare for the engine size. There did not seem to be much point in revving it past 5000rpm and a much more sedate but fairly fast pace could be attained by changing around 4500. Fifth gear though was a bit too high to climb the hill on the A505 dual carriageway between Hitchen and Luton. We lost 15mph by the top. At least I didn't have to use the crawler lane ;-)
So how about that extra gear lever down by the handbrake (which I had nearly grabbed a couple of times when reaching for the brake)? I had been using the TS in Hi setting all of this time, so whilst at a standstill I selected Low (depressing the clutch as you would with the other gear lever). Into first and away we go. All of a sudden the TS was fitted with a close ratio box! The engine was revving 1000rpm higher roughly in third at 30mph. It certainly made the going a bit more interesting. Unfortunately the tires and handling didn't make it that enjoyable so after 10 or so minute of playing I reselected Hi and went for the more sedate relaxed driving experience. A throw back to Subarus past when most cars were bought by the farmer, the main aim of the lever is really to aid when towing or hauling loads and it is a good feature to have when living in more remote hilly parts of the country. It could be fun at the traffic light Grand Prix though ;-)
Finally those headlights. As I had the TS overnight I was able to see how the lights compared with those on my P1 (and previous Imprezas). They are a BIG improvement! You can actually see now in an Impreza at night without having to resort to driving lights etc.
For £13,950 this car is just too much money for too little. If it was say £3000 cheaper (some might say that is not enough) then it could be considered good value. The 5 speed x 2 gearbox is usefull for making up for the lack of power and along with 4 wheel drive probably defines the real market for this vehicle.
Onto the GX 5door test drive report.
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