What words come to mind when I say Subaru Impreza? WRX? STI? Boxer? Definitely. But Hybrid? Not a chance.
Yet, here we have in the flesh, a Subaru Impreza TS Hybrid. And yes, the engine is a 4-cylinder 2.0 liter boxer. Owned by Shyamal W, he is a guy who has had many cars in his life, both in Australia and Sri Lanka. He likes a bit of the unconventional, which led him to buy this Impreza from the first owner who imported it brand new from Japan. It’s a JDM (Japanese Domestic Model) not meant for export markets. Shyamal took it over at 2,400kms and proceeded to add another 5,000kms on the clock within two months!
Seeing it drive up, it immediately caught my eye with its tastefully done black stripes (by the first owner), and its factory blacked out alloys on the pearl white body. Shyamal tells me that this example is fitted with the Sport suspension from the factory, and lowered by ½ an inch as well. He has also added 3M film all round to combat the searing heat of the tropical sun. Opening the bonnet reveals the typical Subaru boxer engine bay – there is no immediately recognizable high-voltage cable or any other hybrid paraphernalia apart from the letters “Boxer Hybrid” on the engine cover. However, I find it interesting to see not one, but two regular batteries in the engine bay. The hybrid battery is at the rear as in most other hybrids. As one battery carries a warning about disconnecting it, we speculate it may be for the ECU. All in all, this car looks potent. Not pumped or aggressive, but it carries a hint of “don’t mess with me”, especially from the front three quarter view.
“It’s an amazing pleasure to drive!” he enthusiastically gushes as I ask him about his pride and joy. “I came to this from a Honda Fit, and this has more space and stability from the all-wheel-drive”. “The first time I took it to the agent, they were surprised also as they had not seen this in Sri Lanka before. But, they were very helpful and even did some magic to convert the multifunction display to English, from Japanese” he adds. “It’s a good car on long distances. In Colombo, I get around 8 km per litre, but it easily will touch 16km per litre outstation”.
This Impreza is loaded, with dual-zone climate control, front electric seats, radar-guided cruise control (more on that later), automatic headlamps (with washers), automatic wipers, steering mounted paddle shifters and factory-fit 6-speaker audio. The stereo is not the OEM one but a generic brand one fitted locally. This car even has rear seatbelt indicators for all three rear seating positions. The multifunction display shows a myriad of information, including climate control settings, fuel economy, distance to empty, and information from the radar-guided cruise control. Clearly Subaru have thrown the kitchen sink, countertop and even the kitchen floor at the Impreza Hybrid.
Moving to the exterior, Subaru has gone in the opposite direction from other hybrid manufacturers, making their hybrid look more aggressive. The hatch shape further accentuates this menacing stance and from the front, the blacked out grille and lower bumper area add to the effect. At the rear, the tail lamps are clear-lensed which is probably the only thing that Subaru has in common with other hybrids of this size on the market.
Shyamal urges me to take the wheel from the start, and it is soon easy to find my comfortable driving position and get going. First impressions are that it is very easy to drive; steering and pedal weights are ideal. From the inside, you can hear the Boxer distantly rumbling away as the revs rise but the exhaust is extremely quiet. The gearbox is a CVT, but select Manual mode and six ratios are at your fingertips. When in manual, the engine will automatically upshift at the redline only, which is preferred to those pseudo-manual modes on some cars that don’t let you get near the redline. Like most hybrids, the engine will switch off and depending on throttle position, battery charge and road speed. Shyamal tells me he has noticed the car will drive purely on the motor only up to around 40 km/h, and for maybe half a kilometre at most. “The hybrid system assists the performance during acceleration and helps fill the torque dips on gearchanges” he suspects, rather than putting economy as the primary objective. Looking at literature for the car, it does indeed state “all-electric driving for short distances at up to 25mph (40kmh)”
Cornering at speeds, the car feels very well planted and body control feels tight, and Shyamal encourages me to not give in to my natural instinct and brake for humps and crests on the road we are taking this car on, but merely lift off the gas and let the car ride them. I do just that, and to my surprise the Subaru settles in well; there is no excessive rocking or untoward movements. Subaru’s suspension boffins have done a good job here. The brakes are powerful too, and I particularly liked the fact that engine braking was enabled in Manual mode as well; pull the left paddle to go down from 3rd to 2nd for example while braking, and you feel the extra engine braking immediately.
So, what about this radar-guided cruise control thing (called Subaru EyeSight)? Well, we set a speed of 70 km/h on the cruise control and watched (whilst steering, of course). The car slowed down on its own as it neared the car in front, and accelerated back to our set speed once the road was clear. Also, the car did use a fair bit of its performance reserves (acceleration and braking) to do this. You can set the safe distance to be maintained between yourself and the car in front manually, and the EyeSight also has Lane Departure Warning, and Radar Braking as well. Shyamal tells us “this is both a blessing and a pain on the expressway”. In Colombo, he switches the Radar Braking off, as it will easily get confounded by our chaotic traffic and bring the car to a screeching stop!
In case you are wondering about the stickers on the front and rear windscreens of the Subaru saying “Happy to share the road with cyclists”, Shyamal is an avid cyclist who regularly mounts his bike rack to this car and uses for the purpose. We would like to thank Shyamal for reaching out to us and showing off this car which is probably the only one of its kind in Sri Lanka.
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