SUBARU Impreza owners are a loyal lot, and the model's just-released fifth generation is giving them plenty of reasons to upgrade.
And many have already.
Subaru pre-sold 700 Imprezas ahead of its launch, the buyers enamoured by the same all-wheel-drive security, 2.0-litre boxer engine and reputation for reliability.
But the new model - available as a hatch or sedan - offers plenty more.
An all-new platform to increase driver reward, crash protection and efficiency, a leap ahead in cabin design and finish, plus the brand's comprehensive EyeSight active safety system, using a high-res camera to prevent accidents, are key upgrades.
Prices start at a sharp $22,400 and there are four grades to choose from.
I tested the top-spec 2.0i-S, and when eyeing the specification list, it offers comprehensive inclusions for around $30,000.
Subaru has really upped its game with the new Impreza's cabin.
Typically not renowned for much jazz or style inside, the new model embraces simplicity and elegance with solid feeling switchgear and a sea of soft touch plastics.
As this is the top grade you settle into leather heated power seats - they're firm but remained comfortable on our lengthy test drive - and sporty alloy pedals.
You score plenty of screens too.
An 8-inch touch-screeen controls your navigation and excellent Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone connectivity, while a high-mounted second screen clearly shows you the likes of climate settings. Then there's a third screen behind your steering wheel showing driver information.
It's all very cohesive and attractively designed, with a special mention for the angled and tall air vents in the centre of the dash. Stylish stuff.
On the road
If outright performance isn't vital to you, the Impreza's a pretty cracking drive.
Its 115kW/196Nm 2.0-litre four-cylinder still takes over ten seconds to hit 100kmh so it's by no means a quick thing, but sling it on a highway and it's a brilliant cruiser. Its chassis is also a bit of a revelation.
Stable and safe in feel, the car's body sits impressively flat in corners - even when pushed hard - giving the driver strong confidence.
With the all-wheel-drive system too, it would be an excellent choice for safe motoring for those who often use unsealed roads.
This range-topping version also scores active torque vectoring (there to improve handling and response), so if there's any complaint it's that this chassis could handle a bit more power easily. It's really that good.
Letting the side down a bit is the Subaru CVT auto gearbox - no conventional auto or manual is available here. This single-speed CVT auto has had steps added to make it feel like a more natural transmission, and if you're gentle on the throttle it's a pretty good thing.
It becomes whiny and slow to keep up if you get heavier on the throttle though, and I noticed it felt a big sluggish around town at times, as if it were stuck in wet mud.
On the whole though, it's a safe, comfortable and cosseting car to live with.
What do you get?
Goodies include an 8-inch touch-screen, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, driver info colour LCD, 18-inch alloys, side skirts, dual zone climate control, EyeSight driver assist systems, Vision Assist active safety (blind spot monitor, lane change assist, rear cross traffic alert), electric sunroof, sat nav, heated front seats, leather trim, power driver's seat and steering responsive LED headlights.
The hatchback rather than sedan Impreza gives a better opening for loading luggage, but a boot space of 345-litres is a bit small (VW's Golf has 380-litres).
As a six-footer I was well accommodated in the back seats for head and leg room, so a couple of adults across the back or three kids would be suitable.
This new generation Impreza has addressed a problem Subaru has had in the past: a short service schedule. The new car now only needs serviced every 12,500km or 12 months, and capped pricing means you know it'll cost you a total of $1298 over the first three years.
Our week long test returned 7.3-litres/100km.
The new Impreza design is best described as safe rather than ground-breaking, probably just how typical buyers like it.
In the metal it's a nice enough looking thing, and is at its best in this range-topping 2.0i-S guise with its larger 18-inch wheels and side skirts to boost the sportiness.
How important is all-wheel-drive to you? If it's integral then the Impreza is your only small car option at this price; you'd need to go small SUV shopping otherwise, and even then it's hard to find much below $30k.
Subaru's own XV small SUV (from $26,490) would be your best bet (but wait for the new one this year) if you want all-wheel-drive.
Front-wheel drive small car options include the VW Golf Comfortline ($28,340), Mazda3 SP25 GT ($29,990), Ford Focus Titanium ($32,690), Holden Astra 1.6 RS-V ($30,990) or Honda Civic RS ($31,790).
Having tested the full range of Imprezas, it's the 2.0i-L hatch variant ($24,690) that looks the best value versus specification in the line-up.
But this 2.0i-S is certainly the one to go for if you can afford the $30k, as the cabin leather, included toys and that desirable full suite of safety kit still makes it look good value.
The Impreza is a solid choice deserving of its all-wheel-drive-loving loyal customers, and this latest version can't help but look decent value against the competition.
What matters most
What we liked: Excellent chassis offering a smooth and assured ride with excellent all-wheel-drive cornering skills, desirable cabin design, EyeSight safety is extensive.
What we'd like to see: Chassis could handle more power, CVT auto is whiny and unrewarding when pushed, body design is safe rather than inspiring.
Warranty and Servicing: Three-year unlimited kilometre warranty with 12,500km/12-month capped price service program costing a total of $1298 over the first three years.
Driving experience 15/20
Features and equipment 17/20
Functionality and comfort 17/20
Value for money 17/20
Style and design 14/20
Model: Subaru Impreza 2.0i-S Hatch.
Details: All-wheel-drive five-door small hatchback.
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder boxer engine generating maximum power of 115kW @ 6000rpm and peak torque of 196Nm @ 4000rpm.
Transmission: CVT auto with seven-speed manual mode.
Consumption: 7.2-litres/100km (combined average).
Bottom line plus on roads: $29,190.
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