From £25,010
Don't think of the 1.5R as a cut-price Impreza WRX - it's nothing of the sort. Instead, it is practical, well-equipped and unpretentious. And just a little bit slow.

What is it? A new entry-level Impreza, now fitted with a 1.5-litre engine. What's more, that engine, like those in all Subarus, is a boxer. It's only available as a five-door, and while the new Impreza 1.5R might look a lot like the rip-snorting WRX (minus the bonnet scoop), with just 103bhp and 105lb ft, it is a very different machine. What's it like? Cheap. At £12,495 on the road, the 1.5R matches the price of the entry-level 1.6-litre Fiat Sedici 4x4, but offers more kit. Before we even begin to wonder about the performance, look at what you get: four electric windows, electric mirrors, fully automatic climate control, a CD radio , front and side airbags, a three-year/60,000-mile warranty, four-wheel drive (all the same stuff you get in the £22,495 WRX), and 15-inch alloys. Oh yes, and a low-ratio transfer 'box, which means that (with the correct tyres), the junior Impreza should waltz across muddy fields. It doesn't look half bad, either – the only way you'll distinguish the 1.5R from the 2.0R is the former's tiny exhaust. And next to the sewer main that serves for an exhaust on our long-term WRX PPP, the 1.5R's pipette-like outlet looks comically miniature. Climb into the driver's seat (surprisingly scalloped, supportive and comfortable), and the first thing that strikes you is the plastic finish on the gearknob, steering wheel and handbrake. It's one of few visual or tactile clues to where the money has been saved. Start the engine and you are met with the distinctive thrum that can only be a flat four. It's not as loud as in a WRX, sure, but it's still there. Slot the gearlever into first, give it a bit of throttle and we're off. Eventually. Having jumped in pretty much straight from a Prodrive-tweaked WRX, the 1.5R feels very, very slow. A 0-60mph time of 13.5 seconds confirms this, but give the junior Impreza a chance and it's actually quite engaging. Despite peak power being generated at 6400rpm, there's not a great deal of pleasure or benefit in revving beyond 4000rpm. Peak torque comes in at 3200rpm, and this counts for more of the 1.5R's get-up-and-go. The trick, you soon realise, is to conserve momentum – don't accelerate or brake too sharply, but use the Impreza's great chassis to maintain speed through corners. Yes, it understeers, but there is a surprising amount of grip to be found, and the small wheels and soft suspension make for a supple ride. Should I buy one? This is a 4x4 for people who need four-wheel drive but don't want the dynamic shortcomings and image of an SUV. Subaru reckons it will appeal to people who might once have bought the now-defunct Justy, and we reckon they're right. If you live in the sort of place that gets cut off by snow, or have a long and muddy drive, this could be just the job. It is a bit underpowered, and 35.8mpg combined isn't outstanding, but the 1.5R is only £500 more than the cheapest (front-wheel-drive) Ford Focus, which has just 78bhp, no alloys, no air-con, no CD player and manual rear windows. Rory Lumsdon

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