Proof that there’s more to the Impreza than WR Blue paint and big spoilers – meet the humble 1.6i RC Lineartronic
Gavin Braithwaite-Smith | September 2014
Believe it or not, it is possible to order a Subaru Impreza without a huge rear spoiler, a gazillion horsepower and a reputation for being a bit of a hooligan. It’s called the Impreza 1.6i RC and, thanks to a more favourable exchange rate between the yen and the pound, it’s back on sale in the UK. But before you get all excited in the hope that the RC might stand for Rally Car, let us put you out of your misery now by saying this Impreza is the total of opposite of exhilarating.
The clue’s in the name – this Impreza is powered by a 1.6-litre naturally aspirated petrol engine, which is every bit as sporty as it sounds. To compound matters, in our test car it was mated to Subaru’s Lineartronic CVT transmission. But hey, we’re prepared to judge each car on its merits and a recent experience in the Outback suggests the Lineartronic can be quite good.
The Subaru Impreza has its work cut out in the UK. Whilst the WRX STI is able to survive on niche appeal and an ability to offer cross country pace to keep a supercar honest, the 1.6i RC has to do battle in a fiercely competitive segment. The common or garden Impreza is going to need something rather special in its armoury to tempt people out of the Volkswagen Golf, Ford Focus, Vauxhall Astra or the countless other rivals jockeying for position. Fortunately it does have one USP – Subaru’s acclaimed ‘symmetrical’ four-wheel drive system.
How many other four-wheel drive family hatchbacks can you name? The Audi A3 or BMW 1 Series offer all-wheel drive, but they’ll set you back at least £25,000. At £17,495 for the 1.6i RC with the manual gearbox, the Impreza suddenly looks like good value for money. You could of course buy a small four-wheel drive SUV like the Skoda Yeti or Dacia Duster, but not everyone wants to take that route.
So with a generous level of standard specification, Subaru’s five-year/100,000-mile warranty and four-wheel drive, the Impreza 1.6i RC warrants further investigation. We spent an unseasonably warm week with the newcomer to discover what it can offer UK buyers.
What is the Subaru Impreza 1.6 RC like to drive?
If you enjoy driving, you’re not going to find much to love about the Subaru Impreza 1.6i RC Lineartronic. The CVT transmission does its best to blunt what little power was available in the first place, with any degree of urgent throttle action resulting in a great deal of noise and not a huge amount of action. In fairness, the key to extracting the best from a CVT is to drive with the transmission, with a smooth approach yielding the best results.
But when the engine revs to 5k revs just to climb a slight hill on the M25, it can become a tiresome experience. Overtaking can be an issue, too, as you’re never entirely sure how much power you have at your disposal. Once you get over your initial disappoint with the engine and transmission combo and adapt your driving style accordingly, it becomes passable. But we can’t help thinking the five-speed manual gearbox would be the better option.
If nothing else, the manual gearbox sees the 0-62mph time drop from 12.6 seconds to a racing snake-rivalling 12.3 seconds, but this is no performance car. It will be best served on local trips to the market town and up and down farm tracks. The double wishbone rear suspension provides an impressive amount of cornering poise, but the over-assisted steering puts paid to any thoughts of having fun through the bends.
That said, we think the Impreza 1.6i RC could come into its own during the winter. Point the Subaru in the direction of a snowy road or a wet country lane and it will carry on driving where rival hatchbacks will be left floundering on their low profile tyres and expensive 18-inch alloy wheels. The Subaru is a decidedly sensible choice, right down to its standard fit 16-inch alloy wheels. Just imagine one of these with a set of winter tyres…
Should you buy the Subaru Impreza 1.6i RC instead of an SUV?
It’s hard to make a case for the Impreza over a crossover or indeed a regular five-door hatchback. Even Subaru’s claimed 46.3mpg is disappointing, yet we only saw an average of 37.2mpg over 600 miles and seven days. Subaru claims otherwise, but we suspect the flexibility of the five-speed manual gearbox could yield better fuel efficiency. But bear in mind the lack of a sixth gear could become an issue on motorway drives.
Many UK buyers also like the practicality and increased ride height offered by a crossover or SUV, happy to forgo the option of four-wheel drive in favour of economy and simplicity. In truth, even taking into account Subaru’s four-wheel drive heritage, buyers are unlikely to climb down from their crossovers to jump in an Impreza.
It’s hard to make a case against a regular hatchback, too. Whilst the 380 litres of boot space is the same amount you’d find in the Volkswagen Golf, the fit and finish of the interior lags behind its European rivals. Even the new Nissan Pulsar feels classier than the Impreza, even if there’s little doubt the Subaru will be able to withstand years of rural abuse.
MR VERDICT: Subaru Impreza 1.6i RC
The Impreza 1.6i RC has three things on its side. Firstly, within this sector and at this price point, it has no direct four-wheel drive rivals. Secondly, the level of kit is impressive, with dual-zone climate control, auto lights and wipers, cruise control, heated front seats, a 4.5-inch display, Bluetooth, steering wheel controls and hill start assist offered as standard. There’s nothing revolutionary about the in-car tech, but taking into account the cost of a four-wheel drive system, the Impreza remains good value for money.
And thirdly, the aforementioned five-year warranty provides long term peace of mind. There’s an overriding sense that the Impreza will provide years and years of unflinching good service, no matter what the weather and regardless of what you throw at it. It won’t be a huge seller in the UK, but at £17,495 for the manual version, it’s sure to win a few fans in the countryside.
Specifications: 2014 Subaru Impreza 1.6i RC Lineartronic
Engine 1.6-litre 4-cylinder
Power 114hp @ 5,600rpm
Torque 11lb ft @ 4,000rpm
0-62mph 12.6 seconds
Top speed 111mph