On The Road Review: Subaru Impreza Redux

Back in January, the latest Subaru Impreza five-door hatchback appeared in this space to generally favorable reviews. Wearing enhanced styling front and rear, making the Impreza look more like its larger Legacy sibling, this compact Subaru also promises better drivability, increased fuel economy and greater interior comfort for 2012. All laudable goals, and — for the most part — achieved.

Our second look at a very similarly trimmed Impreza five-door did nothing to dissuade me from the previous impressions. This is a balanced package and readily is prepared for battle with the likes of the Hyundai Elantra Touring wagon, Honda’s Fit, Ford’s Focus hatchback, as well as Mazda’s estimable 3-series.

Sized almost exactly like the Mazda 3 and the Ford Focus, the Impreza offers up comfortable people accommodations in the front and the rear seat, as well as a flexible cargo hold aided by the liftgate and folding rear seatbacks. Piled high with banker boxes full of dated record-keeping, the Impreza proved its workhorse abilities in a raging summer downpour. This is a much more versatile — and valuable — layout than the sedan model.

Power is down for 2012, at 22 horsepower to 148 peak horsepower, as Subaru shrunk the boxer engine to 2.0 liters from the previous 2.5-liter engine used in the rest of Subaru’s lineup. EPA fuel economy numbers increase, significantly, to 27/36-mpg with the CVT automatic transmission. While the on-board trip computer frequently reported superb mid-30-mpg fuel economy, the real world calculations after refueling revealed somewhat lower numbers, generally in the 27-29-mpg range.

Our sample Sky Blue Premium wagon — same paint as previously seen — came equipped with a sliding sunroof, heated seats and paddle shifters for driver interaction (for what reason I am not sure, as a CVT has no ‘fixed’ gear ratios to select). The Impreza lacked one-touch lane change, push-button ignition and satellite radio, just a few of the components regularly found on the Subaru’s competitors.

After 1,000 miles together, with some long driving stints, the Impreza proved its mettle over and over. It is a confident driver, with good sight lines that let the driver get very comfortable in crowded city driving plus while exerting the smaller engine for rural road overtaking maneuvers. Balanced handling and ride dynamics never tire the operator, although the interior noise level could be lower.

Strangely, it always felt like you should be shifting the Impreza each time it was driven, that a clutch and manual gearbox should have been included. EPA testing revealed that the new CVT, however, delivers better fuel economy than the manual transmission, and over 92 percent of all cars now come only with an automatic. What are drivers doing with their left legs now?

Impreza five-door pricing starts at $17,995, five hundred dollars more than the sedan. A bargain in my book as this package is vastly more flexible than a regular four-door.

Move up to Premium trim for $1,300, gaining several convenience items, while Limited with leather, auto climate, etc. goes for $21,595. There is also a Sport trim edition. Add $1,000 to each price for the CVT automatic.

As mentioned in January, Subaru will hold the revised WRX version until later this year.

Impreza sales have more than doubled this year, leapfrogging over both the Legacy sedan and the Forester. Apparently the changes Subaru gave the Impreza were just what buyers were looking for.

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Tim Plouff

Tim Plouff

Columnist at The Ellsworth American
Tim Plouff has been reviewing automobiles in the pages of The Ellsworth American weekly for nearly two decades.