Thumbs Up: AWD, leather and nav, all for less than $25k
Thumbs Down: Acceleration isn’t a selling point
Buy This Car If: You need economical but comfortable all-weather transportation
If you live in states where winter means shoveling snow from your driveway on a regular basis, chances are good you’ve owned a Subaru. If you haven’t, we’ll bet that someone in your family or immediate circle of friends has, which probably means you have experience with the brand. Long known for its all-weather capability and reasonable price point, Subaru has launched an all-new lineup of Impreza models (excepting the WRX and WRX STI, which are now stand-alone models) for the 2012 model year.
If you remember the last Impreza as cheap and cramped, prepare to be surprised. Inside, the new Impreza feels like it offers up room comparable to the last generation Legacy series, and the quality of materials used inside seems to have gone up a notch or two as well. What hasn’t escalated dramatically is the price: the Impreza sedan starts at just over $18,000 and tops out at a little over $26,000 for a well-equipped Impreza Limited. For an all-wheel drive sedan with room for four, that’s not a bad deal.
Outside, the Impreza’s new styling ties in well with the rest of the Subaru family lineup, almost resembling a Legacy sedan in 3/4 scale. If you’re looking for flash, you won’t find it here. In fact, “understated” is probably the best way to describe the Impreza’s lines, which may have some wishing for a bit more design flair.
2012 Subaru Impreza Limited
Up front, a large grille is offset by flowing headlights, and the boldest design feature is likely the prominent air dam. The windshield is large, offset by narrow A-pillars that deliver outstanding frontal visibility.
To the side, a large daylight opening gives passengers a great view of the world around them, while the roof tapers back into a deceptively short deck lid. I say deceptively short because the Impreza’s trunk is cavernous, as if Subaru magically found a way to increase interior room without affecting exterior dimensions.
From a design perspective, the rear is perhaps the most disappointing angle. It’s not ugly, it’s just bland, missing any real styling elements to set it apart in a crowd. At a casual glance from the rear, it could be anything from a 20-year-old Honda Civic to a previous generation Toyota Camry. That’s not necessarily bad, and exterior styling may not be enough to sell cars on its own, but it won’t talk many buyers out of buying an Impreza, either.
Inside, the new Impreza is a giant step forward from the previous model. The dash uses nicer materials (like soft-touch vinyl) and there’s more attention given to fit and finish. Sure, there’s still hard plastic to be found throughout, but the Impreza didn’t emit so much as a squeak or rattle during our time behind the wheel. While we liked the dash-top driver information display, the Impreza (like many other vehicles) uses a nav and infotainment screen mounted in the middle of the center console. Looking at the map requires taking your eyes off the road ahead, which isn’t always the best idea. It’s not a flaw, but it is something to be aware of if that sort of thing is distracting to you.
Instruments are easily read in all lighting conditions, and we liked the gray-on-white dials of the tach and speedometer, trimmed with metallic rings. The central driver information display (between the two primary gauges) only shows the gear selected (ironic, because the Impreza uses a CVT), trip distance, fuel level and odometer, but other trip information is shown on the dash-top display.
Front seats, wrapped in leather on Limited models, are surprisingly comfortable given the Impreza’s price point. There’s ample head room, even with the sunroof, and plenty of room in the foot well for driver and passenger. As with the trunk, the interior seems to use some kind of spatial magic to deliver midsize car room from a compact car platform.
Rear seats are something of a mixed bag. There’s more headroom than you’d expect, but leg room is merely adequate. Seat bottoms are on the short side, and seat backs don’t offer much in the way of support for long-distance trips. Only those taller than six-foot-three (or unusually long of leg) will complain when you show up for the carpool in your new Impreza, but you can expect rear seat passengers to fight over the shotgun perch on longer road trips.
For 2012, the Impreza loses its old 2.5-liter boxer four in favor of a 2.0-liter version that produces some 148 horsepower and 145 pound feet of torque. The most astute among you will point out that those numbers are lower than last year by some 22 horsepower and 25 pound feet of torque, but the trade-off is in fuel economy. The previous Impreza sedan delivered 20 mpg in the city and just 26 on the highway, while the 2012 Impreza sedan returns an impressive 27 mpg city and 36 mpg highway. As you’d also expect, performance suffers: the previous Impreza cranked out a 0-60 mph run in around 8.5 seconds, while the new model takes a leisurely 9.6 seconds to do the same. If we were talking about a car with sporting ambitions, numbers like that would be a deal-breaker, but we’re not. Given the Impreza’s all-weather-commuter-car mission, we’d call the acceleration adequate.
While base and Premium trim models are still available with a manual transmission, all Impreza Limited models now come with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) instead of last year’s four speed automatic. In automatic mode, the CVT is as bad as any other we’ve ever driven, seemingly producing more noise than forward motion. In manual mode, however, simulated “shifts” with the steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters are crisp and remarkably quick, and we found ourselves driving in manual mode more often than not.
Like the acceleration, we’d call the Impreza’s handling “perfectly acceptable” for its role. The car is nimble enough thanks to its compact size and all-wheel-drive, but the suspension is tuned for comfort, not handling. You can still carry a surprising amount of speed into a corner, but expect plenty of body roll and gobs of understeer. As long as you understand that the Impreza is happiest at speeds just slightly above the legal limit, the car won’t disappoint. The ride is composed, even over bumps and rough surfaces, and there’s enough steering feel to give you an idea of what’s going on with the front wheels. The car’s four-wheel disc brakes handled any challenge we threw their way without complaint, which is really all you can ask for a car in this segment.
We’ll admit to being surprised by how much Subaru improved the Impreza over the previous generation. If you need a fuel-efficient commuter car to get you through the worst that Mother Nature can dish out (within reason, of course) the new Impreza would be near the top of our “must shop” list.
Subaru provided the 2012 Impreza 2.0i Limited for our review. Base price on our press fleet tester was $22,645, including a destination charge of $750. The sole option was the $2,000 navigation system / moonroof package, bringing the total sticker price to $24,645.
For comparison, a 2012 Mitsubishi Lancer SE with similar options would sticker for $24,135, while a comparable (but larger) Suzuki Kizashi Sport SLS would price at $29,713. Both sedans also come equipped with all-wheel-drive.