More attractive, more efficient, still all-wheel drive.
Extreme weather is experienced throughout the country. In some regions, it can change drastically from one day to the next. One day it can be warm and sunny, and the next day there can be a blistering snow storm. This is exactly why Subaru’s are so appealing. They offer all-wheel drive standard on most of their models, so you have that piece of mind knowing that you can always get where you need to go, no matter what the road conditions are.
When looking at the Impreza, it’s hard not to look back to its roots in rally racing. After all, the Impreza was developed as a result of rule changes in the World Rally Championship (WRC) which demanded a replacement to the Subaru Legacy that was previously used by Subaru in the WRC. The rule changes meant that a new lighter, smaller, and overall faster car was required in order to compete in the WRC. In 1992, the Subaru Impreza was born partially to satisfy this need, and continues to carry some of this rally inspiration to the public in a street car.
The Impreza is Subaru’s most affordable model and was redesigned for 2012. It is now in its 4th generation and comes in two body styles, a 4-door sedan and a 5-door hatchback. Our Impreza is the 2.0i premium 4-door with 5-speed manual transmission and all weather package which includes heated front seats, heated side mirrors, and windshield wiper de-icer.
The 2012 Impreza has the same exterior dimensions as the previous model. However, the new model has a longer wheelbase with shorter overhangs. In front, the Impreza displays a Subaru badge in the center of a hexagonal grill, a trademark of all new Subaru designs. Subaru describes the headlights as “hawk-eyes” and continues the look that was first introduced in the Legacy. From the side view, there are muscular wheel arches surrounding 16” aluminum alloy wheels with Yokohama Avid S30 P205/55R16 V rated tires. In the rear, the trunk lid forms an upper lip that rests on top of large rear tail lights. There’s also a tall bumper that starts just below the rear tail lights and extends down to the muffler.
Entering the Impreza is effortless. The bottom of the A-pillar was moved 7.9 inches forward from the previous Impreza, allowing the front door opening to be almost five inches longer than before. There is also an airy feel to the cabin partially because its windshield is more raked than before.
Overall, we are impressed with the new look of the interior. The 3-spoke tilt/telescopic steering wheel on our car contains integrated controls for audio, cruise control and Bluetooth hands-free phone. The instrument cluster houses the speedometer, tachometer and fuel economy gauge with red on silver numbering that’s positioned nicely and easy to read. Between the Speedomoter and tachometer is a digital LCD readout of the fuel level and odometer.
The audio system and climate controls in the center instrument console are logically placed, well organized and easy to read with large round knobs that are well within reach. We were not impressed with sound quality of the audio system which is fairly typical for factory units in this segment. Even with the bass and treble settings at their highest level, it doesn’t match the sound quality and range you could get in a decent aftermarket unit. Above the audio system centered on top of the dashboard is an LED readout for temperature, clock, and trip computer.
The 6-way manually adjustable driver’s seat provides a great driving position due to a long seat travel and height adjustment. The tricot upholstered seats are fairly comfortable with nice lateral support. There is no lumbar adjustment though. Legroom and headroom are plentiful, even for taller drivers.
Rear seat comfort is very good for its class for two adults. A third person will fit but it’ll be a bit tight. A six footer will easily fit behind another one without complaints. Legroom and headroom are good.
Although the interior is nice overall, there are some parts of the interior quality, and fit and finish we are not so impressed with. The biggest complaint (at least in our test car) is that the seat fabric is not wearing that well. With only 5,000 miles on it, our car shows pulls and frays in both the driver’s and front passenger seats. In addition, there is a squeak originating from the back center portion of the driver’s seat. The leather trim that comes on the Limited models provides a significantly more upscale feel, but it’s not currently available with the manual transmission. The steering wheel in our car is also not leather wrapped (although it’s an option) and has a somewhat cheap feel to it. A plastic cover behind the steering wheel moves around to the touch, and a thin fabric is used to conceal the steering column from view.
There are some richer looking materials too, such as a soft-touch dashboard, door trim and center console armrest (although it slides around too easily when elbows are on it), a brushed metallic black finish on the center instrument console, and a silver trim above the glove compartment.
Another strong point of the Impreza is its visibility, especially up front. The windows are big and the A-pillars are thin enough to not hinder visibility that much. However, it is a bit difficult to see a child standing behind the car while in the driver’s seat since the trunk sits high hindering rear visibility. A reverse camera or sensor did not come equipped with our car, but would be a nice option. Dashboard glare is also a non-issue.
Most cars typically receive an increase in horsepower when they get redesigned. The Impreza, on the other hand, didn’t. It actually went down approximately 22 hp and 25 lb ft of torque. The new Impreza is powered by a 2.0 liter horizontally opposed (boxer) 4-cylinder engine making 148 hp and 145 lb ft of torque. Subaru says “The new 2.0-liter boxer engine feels even more responsive than the 2.5-liter engine it replaces, thanks to a lighter vehicle weight that’s 100 – 160 pounds lighter depending on model and equipment”. Acceleration times are adequate, but it’s still not quick. We clocked 0-60 in 8.6 seconds. Power delivery feels linear from a stop all the way to the 6,600 redline. Although this time doesn’t sound all that fast, it delivers consistent acceleration times in the wet or dry with no drama. That means no wheels spinning, and no tires hopping. Imprezzive! The power from the engine goes straight to the road and gives the Impreza a planted feel.
At startup, the engine sounds coarse. When accelerating, it is quite vocal and sounds larger than it is. However we find the sound it makes quite pleasant, if not entertaining. We would find ourselves on several occasions downshifting just so we could hear it. Once it reaches a cruising speed, the engine quiets down nicely. Wind and road noise also make their way into the cabin at highway speeds but is appropriate for its class.
We’re glad our car came with the 5-speed manual transmission. The shift action is one of the better shifting ones Subaru has done in years, although it doesn’t feel sporty. The clutch uptake is also lightweight and easy to modulate. In addition, it comes with a hill hold feature called Incline Start Assist that prevents the vehicle from rolling backward for a few seconds when being driven away from a stop on an incline.
We also drove the CVT, and from an enthusiast’s standpoint, we were disappointed. It feels sluggish, it’s significantly slower than the 5-speed manual transmission, and it provides a less engaging feel. However, it does provide slightly better gas mileage numbers (2 MPG better).
The ride and handling in the Impreza are very well balanced. It’s not too soft or too firm. The horizontally opposed engine sits low in the vehicle dropping its center of gravity. That along with MacPherson struts in front and a double wishbone configuration in the rear helps provide the Impreza with handling that’s both nimble and responsive, but not as much so as a Mazda3. There is some body lean in fast corners, but we always felt in control while we were within the vehicles limits. The suspension does a fine job absorbing small bumps and other minor road imperfections. The steering wheel is nicely weighted and the electric power steering provides good feedback. The 4-wheel disc brakes feel strong and evenly balanced, and the pedal feel is great.
You could say that the previous model had a drinking problem compared to other cars in its class. However, fuel economy in this new model increased almost 30% to 27/36 MPG city/highway with the CVT automatic, and 25/34 MPG city/highway with the manual. This is very impressive considering that it has AWD and is the most efficient AWD vehicle sold in the US. With this increase in fuel economy, it’s much more competitive with other cars in its segment.
The Impreza’s all-wheel drive system is a major selling point for the car, especially since this feature is rare in it’s segment. During our testing period, we were fortunate enough to have plenty of rain. Normally we’d be disappointed and would wish for better weather, but not with the Impreza, as poor weather is where it really shines. Each time we were in the car and it began raining, a big smile overcame our faces. Although this car is not equipped to enter the next World Rally Championship event, we did have the opportunity to traverse dirt roads where the car feels planted, very predictable, and neutral without the typical understeer or oversteer we would experience in most front wheel or rear wheel drive cars. This is a car we would thoroughly enjoy driving through a RallyCross course in.
There are two different versions of Subaru’s standard symmetrical AWD available in the Impreza and both systems power all four wheels all the time, not just after the system detects wheel slip.
Models with 5-speed manual transmission receive continuous AWD with a viscous coupling locking center differential that splits power 50:50 front to rear. Once slippage is detected at either set of wheels the system will send more power to the opposite set of wheels.
Models with the Lineartronic CVT receive active AWD with an electronically managed continuously variable transfer clutch that actively manages the power split based on acceleration, deceleration and available traction.
The trunk in the Impreza is nice with a wide opening and a flat floor. It can be opened by either a latch on the floor by the driver’s seat or by pressing a button that’s integrated into the key. It has 12.0 cubic feet of trunk space and is expandable due to 60/40 spit folding rear seats that fold nearly flat. The 5-door has even more trunk room (22.5 cubic feet). Other storage includes large pockets in the front doors with bottle holders, bottle holders in the rear doors, two cup holders in the console between the front seats, a large open bin in front of the shifter, a small bi-level bin between the center cup holders and the shifter, a large glove box, and a center console storage compartment.
The IIHS awarded the 2012 Impreza a “Top Safety Pick” for 2012 and gave it a “Good” rating in front, side, rollover, and rear tests. Its new body structure uses a high-tensile strength steel and special stiffening elements at key locations. The 2012 Impreza also comes standard with a new driver’s knee airbag, vehicle dynamics control that combines stability and traction control functions that sense steering and braking inputs to help keep the vehicle on the driver’s intended path, 4-wheel disc anti-lock brakes which prevents wheel lock up, electronic brake-force distribution which balances braking and brake assist which can sense a panic stop and apply full braking force to help stop the vehicle faster.
The 2012 Impreza comes in five trim levels: 2.0i, 2.0i Premium, 2.0i Limited, 2.0i Sport Premium, and 2.0i Sport Limited. The sedan is only available in the first three trim levels, but the hatchback is available in all five. All trim levels come with the same engine. The only transmission offered in the 2.0i Limited and 2.0i Sport Limited is the Lineartronic CVT with manual shift.
Starting price ranges from $17,495 for the 2.0i, to $22,595 for the range topping 2.0i Sport Limited 5-door before destination. A 2.0i Sport Limited with moonroof and navigation system costs $25,680 after destination.
Although some can compare the Impreza to higher volume and more mainstream competitors such as the Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic, the reality is, for those looking for a compact car with standard all-wheel drive, the Impreza is in a class of its own. From a practicality standpoint, this car just makes sense. Despite some questionable interior materials, it is a very well rounded vehicle that’s fun to drive (especially when wet), comfortable, and roomy. With the improvements made to the 2012 model, it’s more attractive and more efficient too. Sure, it can use more power to up the fun factor, but for those who want that (like us), we’ll just have to wait for the new WRX.
RealWorldRoadTests Second Opinion – Dave Gran
Under ideal conditions or on paved roads, the Impreza feels on par with other vehicles in its class. It’s not fast or terribly exciting, but it’s a great car for daily use, especially in inclement weather. I did appreciate how, unlike the Honda Civic which completely blends in with the other “zillion” Civics on the road, the Impreza stands out a bit with it’s pleasant look.
My first experience driving the car was on a dreary day with some light rain. I kept thinking “more rain please!” and began an attempt at a rain dance. Fortunately, the Gods listened and granted me ideal conditions to play. It’s in these types of conditions the car transforms into a much more fun toy, or as my wife felt compelled to correct me, “safer to drive for a normal person”. Oh, Whatever!
If you are interested in further exploring the capabilities of the Impreza’s AWD system, give RallyCross a try.
Vehicle type: Front Engine, Symmetrical AWD, 5 passenger, 4-door
Base price (including destination): $19,845
Price as tested (including destination): $20,414
Horsepower: 2.0 Liter horizontally opposed 4-cylinder 148 hp @ 6,200 rpm
Torque: 145 lb ft @ 4,200 rpm
Transmission: 5-speed manual
RWRT’s 0 – 60 MPH: 8.6 Seconds
EPA Rating (city/hwy/comb): 25/34/28
Fuel: Regular unleaded
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