Don't be put off by the way it looks. The Impreza's bland styling conceals some technical delights, says David Wilkins

Model: Subaru Impreza 1.5R
Price: £12,495
Engine: 1.5-litre petrol, four-cylinder boxer
Performance: 109mph, 0-60mph in 13.7 seconds, 106 bhp, 37.7mpg
CO2: 176 g/km
Worth considering: Kia cee'd, Vauxhall Astra, Volkswagen Golf

The Golf class is vital to the motor industry – and I'm not talking about those lessons on the links taken by ambitious car company executives hoping to improve their putting and their networking skills. What I'm referring to is the market for medium-sized hatchbacks that takes its name from Volkswagen's successful entry in this competitive field.

The Golf class is important because it's where the sales are, and now Subaru has joined the fray by turning the latest generation of its Impreza model – tested here in its cheapest 1.5R form – into a hatchback.

How does Subaru's new offering stack up against the established competitors? If you were to subject the 1.5R to one of those pseudo-objective comparison tests run by the more simple-minded motoring mags – the sort that award blobs out of five for every conceivable criterion, from the size of the ash trays to the number of cup-holders – I suspect it might struggle a little. It's slightly slower, heavier and thirstier than some rivals, and its luggage space is on the shallow side.

But there's another way of looking at this car. Because it's not just a plausible Golf competitor but a proper Subaru too, which means that its rather bland styling conceals some real technical delights; a boxer engine that provides a low centre of gravity for example, and the uncompromising purity of Subaru's distinctive "symmetrical" four-wheel drive system, in which the main components are aligned in a single plane. You don't get that in a Focus or an Astra.

On the road, this pedigree shines through – ride, handling, steering and grip are all of the highest order, providing huge margins of safety and capability when set against the limited amount of power on offer. It's worth remembering that the same basic set-up has to handle the 300 horsepower of the nutty rally-inspired STI version of the Impreza, a car which, incidentally, costs twice as much.

Golf class also-ran or bargain slow-motion supercar? I think the Impreza 1.5R is the latter.

If you would like to take part in The Verdict, email or write to The Verdict, Save & Spend, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS, giving your address, phone number and details of the car, if any, you drive. For most cars, participants must be over 26 and have a clean licence.


Tracy Kerr, 47
Veterinary receptionist, Leeds
Usual car: Mazda MX5 1.8

The Subaru Impreza 1.5, looks a little different from many other family saloons, and this, plus the engine whine as opposed to the growl I was expecting, would certainly disappoint die-hard Impreza fans. However, this is a car aimed at the family market, and it is extremely spacious. The ride is smooth, both on motorways and B-roads. Inside, the silver plastic door trim looked cheap, but overall the interior was serviceable and comfortable. Visibility was excellent and the vehicle was fitted with alloys, air conditioning, radio computer and split ratio gearbox. As a family car it represents good value for money, but I'm going to wait for the turbo version.

Ron Hill, 53
Alex Hill, 17
College adviser; Student/musician, Halifax
Usual cars (Ron) Land Rover Discovery 3, Volkswagen Polo; (Alex) Polo, BMW Mini

The overall drive experience of the Impreza included excellent handling and a comfortable ride whatever the speed. Twisting along Calderdale's moorland roads and up some steep gradients (including a 1:3 ascent) the Subaru performed well. The continuous four-wheel drive facility wasn't specifically tested but the car hugged all the road surfaces confidently. The 1.5-litre engine was unexciting and we needed to rely on the gears. As a load carrier the Impreza would cope with a set of drums (assessed by Alex), but a heavier load could be asking a lot of the 1.5 litre engine.

Richard Hartley, 38, Dentist, Wakefield
Usual cars: BMW X3, Porsche Boxster

I'm not really sure where Subaru is going with its styling. The Impreza, with its rear lights, looks like a throwback to Japanese cars of the Seventies and Eighties. The theme is continued inside with cheap plastics on the dashboard and a stereo borrowed from an Eighties music system. But things improve on the move – the engine is smooth, has a characterful note, and the ride is supple. The handling feels assured but there isn't really much power to upset things. It is well equipped and appears to be good value, but I can't help feeling that unless you really need a four-wheel drive you would be better off with a nearly new Golf or Focus. A good choice for someone who wants a car that's more individual.

Search for used cars