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Click for pictures“Enjoy the best
  of both worlds with
  one of Subaru’s
  facelifted ’06 2.0R
  5-door Impreza
  Sports Wagons”

THERE'S ABSOLUTELY NO doubt that Subaru's world rallying activities helped fuel the popularity of their desirable WRX and WRX STI high-performance road cars. Equally, Subaru is also well-known for using all-wheel drive for all of its model range.

So, on the one hand you have customers attracted by motorsport success and on the other hand you have customers who want Subaru cars because they offer full-time four-wheel drive — both, essentially, niche market sectors. This makes it difficult for Subaru to appeal to customers right across the buying scale and, as they do not have a diesel engine in their range, that excludes them from 37 per cent of
the new car market.

Even so, Subaru managed to out-perform the UK new car market in 2005. Overall, UK new car sales were down five per cent. But Subaru finished the year with a 1.2 per cent increase — small, but definitely going in the right direction.

With their 2006 model ranges, Subaru are committed to increasing public awareness of the brand in the UK. They openly admit they
have to increase UK sales and that means higher profile marketing
and advertising programmes supported by appointing more dealers.

Subaru is also aware that they need to sell more of their bread-and-butter models to a wider section of the public. High-performance, rally-styled road cars are fine but it is a rather limited market. Real growth will come from real customers wanting everyday cars, albeit they will be all-wheel drive.

To coincide with the launch of the 2006 UK sales campaign Subaru have, in addition to their normal national media and regional dealer advertising programmes, just launched a microsite web domain specif-ically to promote the new Impreza models.

The website not only gives all the information about the new models, it has handling and stability games, downloadable rally images and a screensaver. And there's also the opportunity to win exclusive Subaru driving days.

The UK motor industry estimates that around 80 per cent of all customers buying new cars use the web in one way or another to read road tests, check on the specification or price of their chosen car and even to source and fund the vehicle. It is clear that web sites are a very important medium for getting information out to potential cust-omers — just as important now as conventional printed magazines and newspapers.

It is not the latest 20,900+ 2.5-litre Impreza WRX Saloons or the five-door Sports Wagons, or even the WRX-STI Type UK or the new STI-Type D (D for discreet) saloons that will have the broadest appeal. It will be the more modest 2.0-litre Impreza R Sport Saloons and Sports Wagon models priced between 16,200 and 17,750 with the option of manual and automatic transmissions.

These are the everyday cars that dealers must sell in increasing numbers. More editorial and marketing exposure must get the message across that these competitively priced cars offer very good levels
of equipment and specification as standard — not forgetting that you get permanent four-wheel drive as well.

I live in the 'sticks' and I see lots of country dwellers driving Subarus. People are very fond of them. They drive well, they give good grip in mud, snow, ice or even on dry roads and they seem to last a lifetime. This is the message that Subaru needs to get across to a wider audience.

Like most 'country' people, I prefer the Subaru Impreza five-door Sports Wagon. It's not a full estate; more five-door hatchback but with more practical load space than Ford Focus or Vauxhall Astra hatchbacks. Although it's not the roomiest car in its sector for passengers.

I have just spent a week driving what I think is the most sensible car
in the Impreza range — the 2.0R Sports Wagon, priced at a very competitive 16,200. Mention Subaru and everybody thinks 'expensive'. That's definitely not the case. The price of this car is very competitive, and I bet it will hold its value better than some of its volume-selling mainstream competitors.

The five-door bodystyle is great, it looks sporty and it is a good car
for everyday use. Although not over generous with rear legroom, it makes ideal family transport. Standard equipment includes air-conditioning, front fog lights, high intensity headlights, power steering, four electrically-operated windows, electric door mirrors, ABS, high/low ratio All Wheel Drive transmission, airbags front and side, radio/CD player, split folding rear seats, keyless entry with alarm and alloy wheels. The quality of the interior is first rate, with no squeaks or rattles. The only downside was the awkward-to-use radio with its minute buttons.

The 2006 model year facelift includes a new 'spreadwings grille' and 'hawkeye' headlamps. Subaru's marketing speak — not mine. But they do give the car a fresh new look and the five-door body looks very sporty with good road presence.

The five-speed manual transmission is new and very slick to use but perhaps a sixth gear might improve touring fuel consumption — not any Subaru's strong point — and explains why a larger fuel tank has been used for the new model year cars. Subaru claims round 31mpg for this model but my test car didn't better 29mpg overall and that was not driving it too hard.

The all-wheel-drive system provides a 50:50 power split between the front and rear wheels but this varies automatically according to driving conditions. The wheels that have the most grip get the most power. The result is sharp handling with predictable grip in wet and dry conditions.

The 2.0R Sports Wagon has a high-revving 'flat-four' horizontally opposed 'boxer' engine. This unit is naturally aspirated, i.e. no turbo-harger. Power output has been increased by 35bhp to 158bhp and torque increased to 137lb ft. It is the increase in power and torque that is most impressive. It makes the car more responsive and flexible to drive whatever the prevailing road conditions. It is fast as well,
with an 11mph increase in top speed to 126mph and an impressive
8.5 second 0-62mph time.

Apart from the fuel economy and the radio, it's a great package offering engineering quality, a versatile all-wheel drive system, good performance and high equipment levels including automatic air conditioning and it will tow 1,600kg. All things considered, it's well worth taking a closer look if you're in the market for something just that little bit different. — David Miles

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Subaru Impreza 2.0 R 5-door Sports Wagon | 16,200
Maximum speed: 126mph | 0-62mph: 8.5 seconds
Test MPG: 29mpg | Power: 158bhp | Torque: 137lb ft

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--------------------------------------------- Subaru Impreza Sports Wagon