CLUMPS of snow are scattered alongside the road, contrasting the yellow clay and grey dirt it is carved from. It’s a clear sign that we’re 1400m above sea level on the fringe of the Australian Alps; turn left, and we head up the short, steep and twisty climb to the Mt Baw Baw village, go straight ahead and we’re on the South Face Road.
The 30-kilometre-long South Face Road is the whole reason we’ve made the climb this high. The road is relatively new, only about a decade old. It skirts the southern edge of the Baw Baw National Park, running from the village turn-off to the thin ribbon of bitumen that links Moe with the Thomson Reservoir.
Wide and sweeping, its vista of rugged timber and fern forest is scarred only by the occasional logging coup it was put in to support. It’s also one of the best stretches of gravel you’ll find, and perfect for testing Subaru’s rally-bred heritage.
The road drops beyond the village turn-off. The loose gravel surface is in decent shape despite a solid week of rain that’s turned the ground beside it into a sponge. Pushing along, the Impreza feels nicely planted, soaking up the rough undulations and the corrugations formed in braking zones with surprising finesse.
There are some very wet patches, the road surface becoming soft and noticeably sapping forward momentum. The Subaru Impreza tries to yaw as one set of wheels tracks on relatively stable gravel while the other set drags through a patch of slippery mud. You can clearly feel the car’s electronic guardian step in to gently pull the Impreza back into line.
The road dips and weaves as it descends through dappled sunlight, startled currawongs dipping and wheeling from the trees above, while in front the occasional lyrebird bursts from the low vegetation on the roadside like the coyote’s roadrunner. Massive concrete viaducts cross the sharper, steeper gullies, rivulets of snowmelt cascading down them to the valley below. There is a surprising number of cars using the road, and equally surprising is that few of them are four-wheel drives.
The 30 kays pass very quickly when you’re fully engaged with the drive. Parked up on a clearing that marks the end of our journey, the Impreza now looks like a proper rally car, its sides smeared with remnants of the road surface it had just confidently clung to.
Colin McRae would be proud.
This month’s trip gave us the opportunity to hit the snow, taking the road up to the summit of Mount Erica car park a few kays north of where the South Face Road rejoins the bitumen. Here, the Impreza’s all-wheel-drive system shone; despite a 10cm cover, the Subaru ploughed up to the lower car park with ease (the closely related XV SUV with its more generous 220mm ground clearance probably would have made it to the top one), and even did a three-point turn without losing its grip.
Read part three of our 2017 Subaru Impreza 2.0I-S long-term review here!