Sure to surprise and delight many customers, Subaru is introducing an entry-level version of its iconic Impreza, majoring on outstanding value, high equipment, flexible performance with good fuel economy plus all-wheel drive security.

Called the 1.5R Sports Wagon, and available from 1 October, this five-door-only model is a permanent member of the Impreza range and costs an incredible £12,495 on-the-road.

This is despite standard equipment which includes symmetrical all-wheel drive with a dual-range, low-ratio transfer ‘box, alloy wheels, climate-control air-conditioning, radio/cassette/CD player, front and rear electric windows plus driver, passenger and side airbags.

In fact, the new Impreza 1.5R – which has a totally new 105 PS ‘boxer’ engine – is only £500 more than the most basic Ford Focus – the five-door 1.4 Studio which has a 79 PS engine.

And apart from lacking AWD, the Ford also omits alloy wheels, air-conditioning, rear electric windows and a CD player.

Subaru (UK) Limited Managing Director, Peter Kinnaird, said: “This new model opens up a whole new market for us appealing to two kinds of customer.

“For example, there will be those who need the reassurance that only all-wheel drive traction can give. Others may have always wanted to enjoy the outstanding roadholding and quality engineering provided by the Impreza but do not need the performance of the 2.0R and turbo models.”

Subaru also hopes to appeal to former owners of its smaller Justy model which ceased production in the late ’90s.

The last smaller-engined Impreza was the 1.6 TS Sports Wagon, introduced as part of the 2001 model year ‘bug-eye’ range.

At its introduction in November 2000, the 1.6 TS cost £13,950, £1,455 more than the new 1.5R. This is despite lacking the new car’s higher equipment such as air-conditioning and side airbags.

The latest Impreza received a comprehensive facelift for the ’06 model year which included a ‘spread-wings’ grille with ‘hawk-eye’ headlamps and three-dimensional rear lamps.

The front wings, bonnet and front and rear bumpers were also redesigned, while the interior trim also received a plusher-feeling makeover.

Subaru has built an enviable reputation for reliability, long engine life and accessible performance through the design of its horizontally-opposed, all aluminium ‘boxer’ engines. This ‘flat-four’ layout gives a lower centre-of-gravity for enhanced cornering grip.

It is also ideal when mated to Subaru’s standard symmetrical all-wheel drive system because of the engine’s compactness, light weight and ability to connect with the AWD transmission in a straight line.

Now, the new 1.5 litre ‘boxer’ engine has been designed to offer strong low to mid-range pulling power, known as torque, while also having the ability to rev to high speeds for brisk overtaking.

So despite being the least powerful Subaru, the new Impreza 1.5R Sports Wagon makes the most of its power and torque, providing comparable performance to most front-wheel drive 1.4 litre lower-medium hatchbacks.

For example, top speed is 109 mph, with a 0-60 mph time of 13.5 seconds. Fuel economy is also respectable with 27.2 mpg on the Urban Cycle, 44.1 mpg on the Extra Urban Cycle and 35.8 mpg Combined. Exhaust emissions are also competitive at 184 g/km.

Power is 105 PS at 6,400 rpm and torque is 104.7 lb.ft at a low 3,200 rpm while the compression ratio is 10.1:1.

As with all Impreza engines, the new 1.5 litre features twin overhead camshafts per cylinder bank (DOHC) plus an Active Valve Control System (AVCS) which is a form of variable valve timing. This enhances both low-speed pulling power and high-rev response.

Also shared is an electronic throttle for more responsive acceleration plus centrally-located spark plugs, pent-roof combustion chambers and multi-point fuel-injection with an ignition coil for each cylinder.

Of special interest is the 1.5 litre’s bore and stroke dimensions, selected to optimise combustion efficiency for low emissions and fuel consumption while providing strong power and torque.

In fact, the new 1.5 litre shares its 79 mm stroke with the four-cylinder 2.5 litre turbo engine. Naturally, its bore dimension is a much narrower 77.7 mm.

Other efficiency measures include low-friction, lighter valve springs and a 4-2-1 equal length, ‘constant-pulsation’ exhaust system which avoids gas flow interference and speeds up the warm-up of the catalytic converter.

As with the 2.0R Sports Wagon, the new 1.5R has a five-speed manual gearbox with a low-ratio, dual-range transfer ‘box, effectively providing 10 speeds. Owners find this particularly useful when towing or covering difficult road surfaces as it provides extra engine-braking for greater control.

The symmetrical all-wheel drive system features a nominal 50/50 front to rear torque split. However, a centre viscous-coupling senses which axle has the best grip and varies this ratio in milliseconds according to the road surface.

This maximises tyre grip and handling accuracy, instilling confidence in the driver – especially on rain-soaked motorways or snowy country lanes.

Despite being the entry-level model, the new Impreza 1.5R shares all the outstanding handling qualities of the rest of the range.

Key to the Impreza’s forgiving yet fun chassis is the sophisticated all-wheel drive system, low centre-of-gravity ‘boxer’ engine and low-friction, long-travel four-wheel independent suspension.

Perfectly matched spring and damper rates provide an absorbent ride yet without any unwanted bounce or general sloppiness. The conventional hydraulically-assisted power steering is both direct and accurate, responding smoothly to the driver’s wishes.

The Impreza features front MacPherson struts with coil springs and L-shaped transverse links and anti-roll bar. Rear suspension is also via MacPherson struts with trailing arms and dual transverse links, coil springs and an anti-roll bar. The new Impreza 1.5R Sports Wagon runs on 15 x 6 ins alloy wheels carrying 195/60 tyres.

Its braking system is via ventilated front and conventional rear discs with four-channel anti-lock (ABS) with electronic brakeforce distribution (EBD).

Other safety features include dual-stage driver and passenger airbags plus side airbags and an energy-absorbing brake pedal which snaps away under impact, protecting the driver’s lower limbs. There are also two ISOFIX-compatible child seat mountings in the rear seat.