What's the used Subaru Impreza hatchback like?
Subaru owners often give a passing wave to one another on British roads – a fact that illustrates the left-field choice that the brand’s offerings are in this country.
In fact, the Impreza is the second-lowest-selling model globally in the Subaru line-up. Yet, despite meagre sales, the manufacturer says the Impreza is its best-known car, thanks to its illustrious World Rally Championship history.
This latest Impreza was on sale from 2016 to 2022. It's bigger inside than older Imprezas, while there's a simple choice of two four-cylinder petrol ‘boxer’ engines – 1.6-litre and 2.0-litre units – with a Lineartronic CVT gearbox and one trim level.
It’s not cheap, though, used, and there’s some stiff competition in the family car class. The Volkswagen Golf and Ford Focus are among the most recognisable and ubiquitous cars in the UK, along with the Skoda Octavia and Honda Civic.
There are two engines available: 1.6-litre and 2.0-litre petrol units. The 2.0 may be the more powerful, but it still doesn’t feel outright quick. It’s a naturally aspirated unit, rather than a turbocharged one like in most rivals, so acceleration is linear but has little meaningful zest. That said, it feels more than comfortable keeping up with traffic in and out of town. The 1.6 – which is also naturally aspirated – is noticeably slower and has less low-end pull, so the 2.0 is a better bet given the choice.
Subaru's CVT automatic gearbox doesn’t help things. While it feels natural enough when making modest progress at low speeds, any enthusiastic prod of the accelerator sends the revs soaring – but at least it settles down at a cruise. Indeed, engine noise at a cruise is only a background hum, while wind noise is well suppressed, although road noise does worsen on the motorway.
The Impreza's control weights are positive, though, and its brake pedal is especially well judged. Its steering is accurate and nicely weighted, too, making it possible to confidently place the Impreza through corners, while the high grip levels also inspire confidence. However, the car still isn’t as sweet to drive as the Volkswagen Golf and Ford Focus in this regard.
The same goes for ride quality. Over smaller, high-frequency bumps and large undulations, the Impreza manages to keep its body in check, but hit the odd recessed drain cover or large rut and its suspension struggles to contain the hit quite as well as a Golf or Focus.
And although standard four-wheel drive is a Subaru trademark, we can’t see the point of it in a family car. Yes, the Impreza will go further off road than anything else in this class, but the extra weight being hauled around only blunts the car's handling and has a negative effect on fuel economy and CO2 emissions.
Inside, the Impreza is robust and cleanly designed rather than exciting. It all feels decently put together, but the interior doesn’t have the polished feel you’d find in the Volskwagen Golf and Skoda Octavia. It’s simple to find a suitable driving position, though, with a six-way manually adjustable driver’s seat and a steering wheel that adjusts for reach as well as height.
The 8.0in touchscreen infotainment system is helpfully positioned close to the driver, making it easy to operate on the move. It’s just unfortunate that the laggy touchscreen remains one of the poorer examples on the market.
The Impreza is offered in one refreshingly simple take-it-or-leave-it trim. SE comes with lashings of kit, including an infotainment system, a DAB radio, heated seats, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring, as well as a reversing camera. The notable omission is sat-nav, which you can’t even spec as an option. Subaru’s justification is that most people prefer to use their phone for navigation and the inclusion of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto therefore negates the need for it
You won’t be disappointed with the space on offer inside the Impreza. There’s plenty of room for the driver and front passenger to stretch out and get comfortable, and the generous door pockets, decent glovebox, two cupholders and large cubbys beneath the front armrest and at the base of the dashboard are also welcome.
Adult rear occupants will find good head room on offer and only the particularly tall will want more leg room. Even so, while the Impreza is on a par with a Volkswagen Golf or Ford Focus in terms of rear space, a Skoda Octavia has far more leg room if you regularly carry tall adults in the back.
The Impreza’s boot, meanwhile, is average for the class; it’s bigger than the Focus's, similar to that in the Golf and Seat Leon, but dwarfed by the cavernous boot in both the Octavia and Honda Civic.
All Imprezas get 60/40 split-folding rear seats as standard that lie flat when down – something that can be achieved via levers located near the rear headrests – so opening up the space is easy.
Advice for buyers
What should I look for in a used Subaru Impreza hatchback?
Aside from the usual stuff such as making sure all the equipment inside works, you might want to check that the bumpers and body are in good order and aren’t showing signs of parking damage. While a reversing camera is standard with SE trim, the absence of standard parking sensors is a surprising omission.
Look under the car for any signs of off-road damage and that it isn’t caked in mud. This can trap moisture that will lead to rust. Also, make sure the service history is up to date and that all the relevant fluids, including for the four-wheel drive system and CVT gearbox, have been changed according to the manufacturer’s requirements.
What are the most common problems with a used Subaru Impreza hatchback?
Engine valve springs
The engine valve springs, which help open and close the valves to allow air and fuel into the engine and exhaust gases out, can fatigue over time. A Subaru dealer will be able to let you know if your car is affected and replace the springs if necessary.
The brake light switch can fail and prevent the brake lights from illuminating. Your local Subaru dealer will be able to let you know if your car is affected and be able to replace the switch if it is.
Is a used Subaru Impreza hatchback reliable?
The Impreza gets a better-than-average five-year, 100,000-mile warranty and, although the car itself did not feature in our latest What Car? Reliability Survey, Subaru as a brand finished a very respectable tenth out of 32 manufacturers.
What used Subaru Impreza hatchback will I get for my budget?
Despite being as rare as hen's teeth on the used car market, prices for an early Impreza start at around £13,000. Spend between £15,000 and £18,000 on a 2017 or 2018 car and between £18,000 and £20,000 on a 2020 or 2021 car, a little bit more for the last 2022 ones.
How much does it cost to run a Subaru Impreza hatchback?
As noted before, the Impreza’s standard all-wheel drive means claimed fuel economy is not anything special compared with rivals. The 1.6 model has an official WLTP figure of 35.9mpg.
Road tax for all cars registered after April 2017 will be charged at the flat rate currently £165 a year.
Servicing your Impreza is likely to cost more than it would be for other family car rivals, but because there are more mechanical items to inspect and look after, this is to be expected.For those interested most in safety, though, the Impreza scored a very impressive full five-star rating from Euro NCAP, with particularly high marks for adult occupant protection. All of its key rivals also scored five stars, but all Imprezas get Subaru’s EyeSight safety system as standard; this includes features such as adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking and lane-keep assist.
The Impreza gets a better-than-average five-year, 100,000-mile warranty.
Which used Subaru Impreza hatchback should I buy?
The 1.6 – which is also naturally aspirated – is noticeably slower and has less low-end pull, so the 2.0 is a better bet given the choice.
While there’s only one trim level with a hefty price tag, you do at least get a huge amount of standard equipment; 17in alloy wheels, climate control, cruise control with braking function, Subaru’s 8.0in infotainment touchscreen, a DAB radio, heated front seats, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring and a reversing camera are all thrown in.
Our favourite Subaru Impreza: Subaru Impreza 2.0 SE
What alternatives should I consider to a used Subaru Impreza hatchback?
In a hotly contested class, it’s the Volkswagen Golf that perhaps stands out as the Impreza’s biggest rival. It’s brilliant to drive, well equipped, refined and comparatively cheap to buy and run, even as a used car.
The Skoda Octavia is also a great family car. It features a spacious and classy interior and some punchy and economical engines. It’s great to drive and competitively priced new and used. If that weren’t enough, its boot is a class-leading 590 litres.
Or you could try some family SUVs. But if you only require a bit of extra practicality and don’t need four-wheel drive, the more road-biased Nissan Qashqai would suit your needs better. Refinement is also far superior in the Qashqai and its 1.5-litre diesel in particular is very efficient.
The Kia Sportage is also worth a look if you’re not bothered about going off road but would like something with generous equipment levels and decent reliability. Some versions might still have some manufacturer’s warranty left, too.
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