2020 Subaru Impreza 2.0i-S sedan review (video)

It is one of the fundamental contenders of the small car class in Australia but it rarely makes a big dent on the sales charts. Although Subaru launched the fifth-generation Impreza in 2016, it is now pitching a refresh for the model year 2020 in the hopes to draw in more buyers.

Yes, a decent chunk of the sales in the small car class are made up of fleet sales. However, fleet buyers screen products extensively and perhaps with even more scrutiny than private buyers. In other words, if a product can make it onto the shortlist for fleet it often means the product is quite sound. At least on paper.

For MY2020 Subaru has given the Impreza – still available in hatch and sedan form – a minor design facelift, added more tech inside and under the skin, while updating some of the ride and handling characteristics of the latest Subaru Global Architecture. The 2.0-litre naturally aspirated flat-four engine continues for all variants, developing 115kW and 196Nm.

Today we’re checking out the flagship variant, called the 2.0i-S, in sedan form. All models feature a CVT auto and come with Subaru’s iconic all-wheel drive system. AWD is, as before, a great point of difference against most rivals and it should be of particular interest for buyers living in common wet weather areas, or those regularly encountering snowy or dirt roads.

Prices for the 2.0i-S sedan start from $35,090, which is reasonable for a top variant in this segment (excluding on-road costs).

2020 Subaru Impreza 2.0i-S – THE SPECS

Engine: 2.0-litre flat four-cylinder
Output: 115kW@6000rpm / 196Nm@4000rpm
Transmission: CVT auto
Drive type: All-wheel drive
Wheels: F & R: 18×8.0, 225/40
ANCAP: Five stars
Tare weight: 1393kg
Power-to-weight: 12.11:1 (kg:kW)
Official fuel economy: 7.2L/100km
Economy during test: 8.1L/100km
Fuel capacity/Type: 50L/91 RON

Power efficiency: 15.97kW:L/100km
0-60km/h: 5.46 seconds*
0-100km/h: 11.06 seconds*
60-110km/h: 7.44 seconds*
1/4 mile: 17.99 seconds at 130.9km/h*
Max acceleration: 0.551g
100-0km/h braking: 2.81 seconds at 37.56 metres*
Max deceleration: -1.404g
Decibel at idle: 43*
Peak decibel at 60-100km/h: 84*
Priced from: $35,090

* Figures as tested by PerformanceDrive on the day. Factory claims may be different

2020 Subaru Impreza 2.0i-S – THE PACKAGE

Firstly, we want to make special mention of the overflowing amount of advanced safety tech fitted to the MY2020 Impreza, especially the 2.0i-S. You might notice the two forward-facing cameras mounted near the middle rear-view mirror. These, forming the basis of the EyeSight system, monitor the conditions ahead comprehensively and feed information to the car’s on-board computer. This can then manage the plethora of active safety systems.

The 2.0i-S comes with autonomous emergency braking for low and high speed and in reverse gear, as well as an innovative side-view monitor that shows a view pointing towards the front wheel, and a front-view monitor which comes in handy when parking or when navigating those tight drive-through restaurants. There’s also some really clever stuff like brake light recognition, lane-keep assist with active steering input, and lead vehicle alert to notify you when a vehicle in front departs.

There aren’t many contenders in this class that offer this much safety tech as standard, even for a flagship model. Needless to say ANCAP has awarded the Impreza range the full five-star safety rating. In the most recent crash tests it received an impressive overall score of 35.8 out of 37.

Being the flagship variant the 2.0i-S also comes with a range of creature comforts and luxuries. A leather-accented seat upholstery provides durability and a touch of class, with seat heating in the front for that pampering experience in cold weather. There’s also a colourful 8.0-inch touch-screen media interface on the dash incorporating Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, digital radio, and satellite navigation. It does the job just fine but doesn’t particularly lead the class in any specific area.

Passenger space is a real standout for this class. We think the general sense of airiness makes this a really relaxed and inviting environment. Think of it as like your living room; there aren’t too many frills or exotic yet fragile fixtures or furniture, but you’d happily spend all day in there relaxing and conversing with friends or family.

Rear seat space is also very impressive, with a wide door aperture making it easy to get in and out, and plenty of footroom and a decent-size middle seat (for this class). There is a flip-down arm rest with embedded cup holders and convenient bottle holders in the doors, but for some reason there are no climate vents on the back of the console. Charging ports are also nowhere to be seen for rear travellers.

Boot space is great for this segment, with the sedan presenting 460 litres. However, if you really want to get the most out of the Impreza in terms of its cargo-carrying ability we’d recommend the hatch variant. Despite offering 345L in the default setting you can fold down the rear seats to open up 795L if you need to. Versatility is also heightened thanks to the wide opening that the hatch lid provides.

2020 Subaru Impreza 2.0i-S – THE DRIVE

Tied in with the advanced forward-facing cameras is adaptive cruise control. It’s an excellent cruise control system, monitoring traffic much more broadly and making finer adjustments than many rival setups. For example, when engaged, the cruise system won’t suddenly apply the brakes if a car in front moves into your lane. Some systems will instantly slow your car, even though the car in front might be doing a higher speed than you.

It doesn’t seem like much of a big deal but when you use cruise control on a regular basis, particularly when commuting often and in busy and flowing traffic, basic systems can get very frustrating as you’re always pushed to the back of the pack. This system is able to keep up with traffic while safely regulating your set distance and speed.

To help with handling, the 2.0i-S specifically comes with active torque vectoring while all other trim levels miss out. We’re not sure why this is given the overall high concentration of safety gear for the Impreza in general. It works by automatically applying individual wheel braking to assist in pivoting the car around corners.

The Impreza continues as one of the front runners in the handling department in our opinion. It’s obviously not as exhilarating as some of the more serious flagship variants which seem to have spawned a new segment known as the ‘warm hatch’, however, with MacPherson struts at the front and a double wishbone setup at the rear with coilover dampers, it’s as serious as it gets. All-wheel drive also adds unyielding control and confidence.

We love the grippy and perfectly-sized sports steering wheel. It helps to get you excited as you wrestle with bends, and it’s connected to an electric-assisted rack and pinion setup that actually feels very mechanical. Turn-in is sharp and very precise, and there’s excellent road-holding for this class even if you tip it in suddenly and flippantly. The 225/40 Yokohama Advan Sport tyres hold on to every last speck of grip available, too.

Subaru says it has made some adjustments for MY2020 to help in this area, making changes to ensure “better ride comfort, steering response and handling agility.” We couldn’t find any more detail on the specific changes that were made but it does feel very responsive while maintaining a good level of comfort and bump absorption.

Jumping onto the brakes, the Impreza offers awesome stopping power. Our Vbox recorded up to 1.4g in deceleration during our 100-0km/h tests, with a shortest distance recorded in just over 37 metres. This is very reassuring and it should go down very well with buyers who are seeking a safe and secure small vehicle.

As for the acceleration performance, the Impreza unfortunately remains as one of the slowest vehicles in this class that we’ve tested. We clocked a best 0-100km/h in a lethargic 11.06 seconds. And it really does feel that; very lethargic. The engine and CVT auto combination doesn’t like to be rushed, even though the engine on its own, in neutral, seems quite peppy and responsive.

Vehicles in this class are obviously not designed for acceleration, but we think it is disappointing that Subaru hasn’t made any big revisions in this department. We’ve seen recent updates to the Forester return satisfying improvements in this area, but not here. Getting off the mark it is laggy and lazy, and overtaking performance is almost concerning.

What’s also below par is the fuel consumption. We could understand if a vehicle has been engineered to place economy way ahead of performance, however, the Impreza is below average for economy as well. According to the official ratings the combined figure is 7.2L/100km, while we experienced 8.1L/100km during our week of mixed conditions.

This combination of mediocre economy and weak performance does not help the Impreza’s case in trying to win more buyers in our opinion. Especially in the top-of-the-range portion of this market. The only compensation is that the Impreza is all-wheel drive which enhances safety but it also loads up the driveline, impacting economy and performance.

Let’s take a quick look at some of the key non-turbo rivals in terms of the official average fuel consumption and the 0-100km/h times we have achieved; Toyota Corolla 2.0L auto (6.0L/100km, 9.02 seconds), Mazda3 2.0L auto (6.1L/100km, 9.53 seconds), Kia Cerato 2.0L auto (7.6L/100km, 9.92 seconds), Honda Civic 1.8L auto (6.4L/100km, 10.33 seconds). And these aren’t even the flagship variants, like this Impreza 2.0i-S. If we compared the flagship models it would be deeply embarrassing for the Impreza.

Of course, if you really want some more oomph you can always step up to the WRX/STI or Levorg, although these are yet to jump onto the advanced Subaru Global Platform that now underpins every other model in the showroom, including the Impreza.

2020 Subaru Impreza 2.0i-S – THE VIDEO

2020 Subaru Impreza 2.0i-S – THE VERDICT

There are many options in the small car market at the moment, and some of them offer a point of difference and some stick to a common mould. If there’s a general theme that best characterises the latest Subaru Impreza, it’s safety and spaciousness. The level of safety technology that’s packed into the 2.0i-S in particular is very impressive for this class, while all-wheel drive continues to earn superiority over many rivals. And it doesn’t matter if you go for the hatch or sedan, both present excellent in-car space and practicality.

While the handling is quite good for the segment, the Impreza lacks in powertrain performance and efficiency and this does detract from its overall driving enjoyment potential. There are rival propositions in this segment that provide a more wholesome experience in this area. It obviously all hinges on whether this is a priority to you or not.

PROS:
– One of the only cars in the class with standard AWD grip
– Advanced and very thoughtful safety tech on flagship 2.0i-S
– Practical and spacious cabin
– Good handling, reasonably light weight even with AWD (1393kg)

CONS:
– Powertrain; noisy, slow, and not very fuel efficient for this class
– Road noise and hollow cabin acoustics
– CVT auto shunts and lags, especially after heavy braking

As always, if you’re thinking about buying a new car don’t forget to click here to speak with our car buying specialists.

Brett is the editor and founder of PerformanceDrive. He's obsessed with driving, having played with Matchbox cars until he was tall enough to drive a real one. After initially working as a mechanic, Brett earned a degree in journalism and entered media as an editorial assistant at Top Gear Australia magazine. He then worked at CarAdvice.com.au. His dream is to live next door to the Nurburgring in Germany.