Subaru has redesigned the compact end of its lineup for 2012, with both the previously bland Impreza sedan and hatchback getting reboots that have resulted in increased interior room and fuel efficiency. We drove the five-door hatchback, which we think is the more appealing and practical model.
Appearance: Sensible has seemed like the operative word for Subaru, and it's evident here. There's nothing that will wow you about this hatchback's redesign. The look is more chiseled, with fender flares, silver-tone grille and fog lights giving it a slightly athletic feel. (Peter thinks the Impreza looks more like a station wagon than some of its compact hatchback competition.) Black roof rails and 17-inch aluminum wheels with gray finish complement the design.
Performance: The ride, like the car itself, is solid and well-balanced. With the redesign, Subaru traded HP for MPG: The new Impreza's engine is a 2.0-liter Boxer four-cylinder that produces 148 horsepower (down 22 from the previous model), and our tester had the continuously variable transmission (CVT). The MPG shot up to 27 city, 36 highway (from 20/27), impressive especially for an all-wheel drive. We found the engine adequate for commuting, but you'll likely wish for more power for interstate merging. The CVT makes for better gas mileage, but it also creates more noise since the engine revs are constant. Paddle shifters can offset the transmission drone, but the gear ratios are preset, so don't expect too much shifting input. (Regular readers know we're not big fans of CVTs.) A 5-speed manual transmission is standard for lower trims (CVT is optional), but the MPG goes down to 25/34.
Interior: One of the best in the compact segment: It's roomy — front and rear — and there's plenty of head- and legroom. Like all the Subarus we've driven, the seats (the tester had leather) stand out for being comfortable, supportive and well-bolstered. Subaru could give a master class in seat design. Elsewhere, the interior is uncluttered, with intuitive controls within easy reach and lots of storage nooks. The dashboard gauges are backlit and easy to read. Even the plastic is of quality, with a soft-touch feel on the dash, doors and console. There's a sliding armrest, which is always a nice touch, especially for shorter drivers. For a hatchback, there's good visibility. Our tester had USB, Bluetooth and iPod connectivity, but not navigation, which is optional. The cargo area is spacious. Put down the easy-folding rear seats and you get generous room — 52.5 cubic feet — that's perfect for those weekend runs to the home-improvement or warehouse stores.
Our 3 favorites
Wagon: I like the hatchback's more traditional look.
AWD: Always helpful in rainy Florida.
Doors: They open wide.
Safety: Named 2012 Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Ride: All-wheel drive, suspension, dynamic control and low center of gravity make for a controlled feel.
Cabin: Open and spacious with good visibility.
The bottom line: Subaru has quietly improved the Impreza, which often can get overlooked in the sea of compact cars. That's a shame. It's not flashy, but the hatchback model is practical and comfortable. And there's all-wheel drive.