The Subaru Impreza 1.6i RC is an impossible car to love. In fact, I don’t even think Subaru UK is too fond of the WRX STI’s frumpy and rather dowdy sibling. Its return to the UK was announced with little fanfare back in March, it went on sale in May and yet very few people know of its existence.
It’s understandable really. To Subaru UK, the Impreza WRX STI must be like an excitable puppy – a high profile icon with an ability to sprinkle magic across the entire Subaru range. It would probably lick your face, if you asked it nicely.
The Subaru Impreza 1.6i RC, on the other hand, feels like a tired old dog, its best years behind it. Barely enough stamina to chase after a stick and swamped in an overwhelming sense of lethargy.
Mind you, having spent a lifetime languishing in the shadows of an automotive icon for its entire life, you can almost forgive the Impreza 1.6i RC for feeling a little lacklustre. So why on earth has Subaru UK decided to bring it back?
Well, if nothing else, it offers something different. How many all-wheel drive five-door hatchbacks can you name? Precisely. Sure, you could buy a BMW 1 Series xDrive or Audi A3 quattro, but you’ll need to part with at least £25,000. And the Impreza 1.6i RC costs considerably less than that.
But is that enough to see it perform well on the patented PetrolBlog Score? It’s time to find out.
You might expect an all-wheel drive family hatchback to be quite entertaining, but sadly the Subaru Impreza 1.6i RC isn’t blessed with the most eager of engines. With 112bhp and 150Nm of torque, the 1.6-litre flat four engine struggles to get going and needs plenty of encouragement to go any faster than the equivalent of light jog.
The problem is compounded by the Lineartronic CVT transmission of my test car. OK, so I’m not the world’s biggest CVT fan, but I was pleasantly surprised when I drove the Outback last year.
No such luck in the Impreza 1.6i RC. The Lineartronic transmission simply blunts what little performance was already there, making progress painful and tiresome. Even the slightest of motorway climbs result in plenty of whining and moaning. And I’m not just talking about the driver.
In fairness, I’d like to think the standard-fit five-speed manual gearbox would improve matters, so if anyone has driven the Impreza with this ‘box, please let me know. Though without a sixth gear, it’s questionable whether or not the Impreza would be all that suited to long distance, motorway driving.
Further complaints include an incredible amount of wind and road noise, along with steering that’s inconsistent in feel and poorly weighted.
But this is where the Impreza’s main problems end, because the all-wheel drive system does inspire confidence, especially when driving enthusiastically along wet roads and farm tracks. And the double wishbone rear suspension does help to ensure the Impreza is well poised when cornering.
OK, so it’s never going to tempt you out of bed to go for a dawn raid, but the all-wheel drive system does at least mean you’ll get safely back from the shops, armed with your pint of milk.
And there’s a lot to be said for common sense, too. Avoiding the lure of oversized alloy wheels and low-profile tyres, Subaru has instead stuck with standard-fit 16-inch alloy wheels. So the Impreza driver could have the last laugh should things turn cold this winter.
It’s hard to believe the Impreza 1.6i RC is even related to the WRX STI. At best, it looks like a lower, shrunken version of the Subaru XV SUV. At worst, it looks like something that may have come out of Korean in the late 1990s.
Harsh, perhaps. And I’m all for the understated, Q-car look. But the Impreza 1.6i RC is visually anonymous and instantly forgettable.
Face it, the Impreza 1.6i RC is not going to be a big seller in the UK. The market for a petrol-engined, all-wheel drive, five-door hatchback is small, with buyers preferring the raised ride height and practicality of an SUV or crossover.
So don’t expect to see many Impreza 1.6i RCs on the roads of Britain.
The Subaru Impreza 1.6i RC costs £17,495, with the Lineartronic CVT adding a further £1,500. The option list is small – largely thanks to a generous level of standard kit – with only metallic paint (£500), leather seats and sat nav listed as extras.
Which makes the Impreza 1.6i RC surprisingly good value for money. Assume the symmetrical all-wheel drive system is worth £1,500, that brings the price – theoretically at least – down to £16,000. And given the standard specification, which includes auto lights, auto wipers, dual-zone climate control, reversing camera, daytime running lights, heated front seats, and 60/40 split-fold rear seats, the price seems reasonable.
The pay off is a typically-Subaru interior, featuring a sea of scratchy grey plastics and questionable overall quality. But on the plus side, the level of interior space is good, both in the front and back, although knee room in the rear is restricted. Visibility out the back is also poor, which is probably why Subaru chose to fit a reversing camera as standard.
Is it worth it? In isolation, probably not. It’s not good to drive, the aesthetics are woeful and it’s not particularly economical (I saw an average of 37.2mpg) across a week of mixed driving.
But the Impreza 1.6i RC does leave you with a sense that it would make for a very good winter companion. With the manual gearbox and a set of winter tyres, the Impreza could prove its worth and – dare I say it – maybe even become quite fun.
PetrolBlog is always keen to champion the underdog, the unfashionable and the cars that offer something a bit different. So the Impreza 1.6i RC should score quite highly.
Only it doesn’t, because aside from the all-wheel drive system and good level of kit, it just feels terribly dated and out of touch with the sector. I’m longing to give the manual gearbox version a try, in the hope that it could live up to my expectations, but the CVT transmission was too much of an obstacle for me to get over.
I will always try to find the positives in a car, but in the case of the Subaru Impreza 1.6i, I’m struggling. The all-wheel drive system gives it a USP within the sector and it is reasonably priced, but dare I say a crossover or compact SUV would make more sense?
I’m waiting for someone to write in and tell me they’ve driven the Impreza 1.6i RC with the manual ‘box and it’s every bit the PetrolBlog hero I hoped it would be. I fear I could be in for a long wait.