The Subaru Impreza gets a full redesign for 2012 in the hopes that it can move beyond the mediocrity of the last generation. The last Impreza easily blended in with other compacts, and its attempts to soften Subaru’s image angered plenty of its long-time fans. The sedan especially lost its character in the redesign, and although performance was broadly similar, Subaru fans were vocal in their displeasure.
|1. Subaru is famous for its standard all-wheel drive across the board, and the Impreza is no exception.
2. A 2.0L boxer 4-cylinder replaces the old 2.5L engine. Power is down, but the new Impreza’s 150 lb weight loss helps offset the deficit.
3. The reduction in power means much improved fuel economy; 24/34 mpg with the stick shift and 27/36 mpg with the CVT.
4. Pricing starts at $17,495 for a base model to $21,595 for a loaded sedan.
The new Impreza’s sharper lines will hopefully create a better imprint in our memory banks. It has a Mini Me-feel to the latest Legacy, although the taillight and trunk treatments are unique to the smaller car. Bits and pieces look like they came from an old Toyota Echo, which can’t be flattering. Neither are the 15-inch steel wheels on base models that look seriously undersized because of the enormous fender flares.
Leaving the outward dimensions alone, Subaru lengthened the wheelbase to help free up added trunk space and more rear legroom. That gives it a leg up over some competitors, including the smallish Mazda3 and Focus. The trunk holds 12 cu. ft. and all Subaru Imprezas get 60/40 split-folding seats to maximize cargo room, but if you plan on hauling bulkier items routinely, just buy the five-door hatch instead.
One serious criticism leveled at the previous generation was its unpleasant cabin. Hard, grey plastics dominated with a dated style introduced on the original Tribeca SUV. On the new car, the dash-top and door panels are friendlier to fingers, and the style is more modern and squared off. Still very generic, though. Cover up the Subaru badge and there’s nothing to distinguish it from other mid-market manufacturers.
The seats are comfortable for taller drivers, but surprisingly, the telescoping steering wheel doesn’t have much travel. It is nicely sized though, although the plastic used in base models doesn’t feel especially pleasant. Leather-wrapped versions make the driver feel much more connected.
Regardless of model, the Impreza keeps Subaru’s current trend of responsive steering ratios alive; it’s not twitchy, but quick enough to trick a driver into thinking the car reacts faster than it does. The suspension tuning is slightly revised from before, but the front MacPherson struts and rear double-wishbones remain tuned more for comfort than corner carving. Low rolling resistance tires appear on every model to maximize fuel efficiency. They aren’t the most thrilling sets of rubber around.
Enthusiastic driving certainly wasn’t the focus when Subaru chose the next generation engine for the Impreza. The familiar 2.5-liter flat-four is long gone, replaced with a smaller, 2.0-liter version of the Forester’s engine. Subaru focused primarily on torque delivery, promising that much of the 145 lb-ft maximum will appear lower in the rev range. Horsepower is pegged at 148. Both of those figures are down significantly to the old 2.5, although Subaru claims the Impreza is 150 lb. lighter than before, offsetting the loss.
Subaru also claims the 2012 Impreza accelerates faster than before too. The old four-speed automatic transmission was replaced by a continually variable transmission (CVT), so it’s not really an apples-to-apples comparison. If the old 2.5 had a CVT, it would still be quicker. When comparing the standard five-speed manuals, the new 2.0 is decidedly off the pace.
Ostensibly, the downsizing is Subaru’s attempt to rein in its fuel economy numbers. It now gets 25/34 mpg with the manual, or 27/36 with the CVT, an impressive feat considering that Subaru’s all-wheel drive system is a handicap to efficiency.
Out on the road, the new engine doesn’t make friends easily. With the CVT, which presumably will be used in the highest percentage of cars, the engine makes unpleasant noises under strong acceleration. That familiar flat-four burble is reduced, now drowned out by wind noise and whine.
Thankfully, the CVT does have six ‘pre-programmed’ fixed gear ratios that can be accessed using the shift paddles on the steering wheel. It helps bring some spirit back into the car, but most people will just stick it in drive and leave it there.
Even with the benefit of aggressive pricing - $17,495 for base 2.0i through $21,595 for the all-new 2.0i Limited – the Impreza doesn’t deliver a real must-have message beyond standard all-wheel drive. Those in warmer climes will continue buying two-wheel-drive Hondas, Hyundais, Mazdas and Toyotas in droves. The Subaru Impreza just isn’t special enough yet.