Tech Review: The 2017 Subaru Impreza’s tech options are more than just bells and whistles

There are two kinds of people I know — people who care about cars and people who do not. I fall into the latter category — I have owned three cars in my life, all second-hand and none of them particularly fancy. But when an automaker like Subaru emails you out of the blue one rainy morning in late February to see if you’d like to drive one of their teach-heavy new Imprezas around for a week, you say yes. Longtime readers will know we don’t cover cars very often here at The Iris, but the tech Subaru have implemented into their new vehicles is rather interesting and we felt it warranted a look.

Right off the top, I’d like to make something clear. This will not be a comprehensive review of the current model Subaru Impreza. I don’t possess the expertise to review a car in any capacity beyond what lives in the instrument cluster so if you’d like to know more about them then I recommend heading over to AxleGeeks and scrolling through the seemingly endless amount of gearhead specs they have on the vehicle.

What I will be talking about in this review is the tech, both in terms of vehicle safety and entertainment, its ease of use and its value for money (as much of what I’ve gotten to play with is added onto the vehicle for an extra cost when purchased at the dealer).

I went hunting for the safety tech the moment I got into the vehicle. I’m the sort of person that bemoans having to drive anywhere as it prevents me doing anything more productive until I reach my destination.  Short of a fully-autonomous vehicle, I’ll take any piece of tech that will allow me a little extra freedom behind the wheel. That’s where Subaru’s EyeSight tech comes in.

At the surface level, it seems like nothing more than a fancy name for adaptive cruise control, but it proves to be a very efficient at monitoring and reacting to traffic moving in and out of the lane in front of you. Using the information screen located above the instrument cluster and a pair of cameras mounted to either side of the overhead driver/passenger lamps, EyeSight looks for cars in your lane, gauges your distance to them and adjusts your vehicle’s cruising speed accordingly to maintain a safe distance in the event a sudden stop is required. As cars move in and out of your lane, EyeSight will update and adjust in real time, keeping pace with whatever car it can see in front of you. In addition, should EyeSight detect a possible collision it will cut power to the engine and apply the brakes as part of its Pre-Collision Braking system. Subaru stresses that this system should not be relied upon to get you out of trouble in every instance of a possible collision and that you should remain vigilant. Thankfully, the only times this feature came into play was when there was debris on the freeway and we were able to weave around it without hassle, but it was nice to know it was there. The maximum range I was able to get on EyeSight was around 150m on a mostly fine day driving up the M1 from the Gold Coast to Brisbane.

EyeSight then goes a step further, issuing a little warning whenever you drift too far outside of your lane. I thought I might find this annoying initially but actually found it rather helpful.

The model of Impreza I was driving came quipped with the higher tier 18″ touchscreen with navigation built into the instrument cluster. Coming from my 2007 Camry, into which I installed an aftermarket touch screen, this felt like I had been placed at the helm of the future. The touchscreen controls everything from the aforementioned nav to audio visual devices, predominantly your phone. Connectivity for Android and Apple devices alike is well represented through apps like Apple’s Car Play, and allows you to play around with your phone to a great degree without ever once having to pick up the handset.

I only have two gripes with the touchscreen: The first is that user interface felt like it still needed some work. I found myself scrolling backwards and forwards through different screens looking for particular settings in places I thought they would naturally be, only to find them later in entirely different menus. It feels a bit counter-intuitive at times, though once I did figure out its odd internal logic I did have a better time with it. The second is that, and perhaps this is a sign of my advancing age and failing brain, I thought the GPS voice extremely loud and, try as I might, I couldn’t find a way to turn her down a bit. It was either Screaming Directions In My Ear or Entirely Mute. It’s possible I simply missed these controls in amongst the maze of menus and sub-menus but I searched far and wide for them and came up empty.

The 18″ touch was not the only screen the vehicle possessed. Built into the upper portion of the dash, where one might traditionally find a little digital clock, is a second screen dedicated to up-to-the-minute vehicle data. I was able to monitor everything from current tyre pressure to fuel economy to the precise angle of the vehicle on any incline, no matter how steep. Setups like these are becoming more and more commonplace in modern vehicles, but it was certainly a novelty for me. The many displays and readouts will be of substantial benefit to the active, outdoorsy types that Subaru vehicles appeal to most.

This screen is paired with a smaller screen build right into the HUD behind the steering wheel which provides further slices of information that deserve to be front-and-center like lane divergence, speed limits in the area you’re in and speed camera alerts.

 

As a whole, playing with all these gadgets was an extremely novel experience for me. Subaru seem to have worked very hard to strike a balance between computer and human control. The new Impreza never wants you to think that you aren’t in control, and it saves those moments where it steps in to help for when action is truly required. It’s all very cleverly designed, smoothly integrated and, for the most part, quite easy to use.

Score: 8.0 out of 10
Highlights: EyeSight is a very clever system and it works a treat
Lowlights: Some confusing UI design
Manufacturer: Subaru
Available now.

Review conducted while driving a 2017 Subaru Impreza provided by Subaru.