Of all the products in Subaru’s model lineup, the Impreza wears the most hats, ranging from the fuel-efficient wagon which won our Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year award last year in the best value category, to the WRX STi, which dominates the World Rally Cup circuit. Subaru’s talent, and the secret to the company’s success, is its ability to develop loyal followings in niche markets.
Subaru owners are almost religious in their love for their automobiles, because they seem to meet their needs in uncanny fashion. For example, the newest Impreza wagon features standard all-wheel drive and 36 mile-per-gallon fuel economy. Since all-wheel drive decreases gas mileage, it’s amazing that engineers boosted EPA figures by thirty percent compared to the outgoing model.
Increasing the gas mileage for the fourth generation Impreza didn’t involve any particularly innovative technology. It was more a matter of being thrifty and paying attention to details. A new two-liter engine replaces the 2.5-liter block in the outgoing models. The new engine is lighter, with variable valve timing which improves its efficiency.
Other weight-saving measures include replacing the hydraulic steering pump with an electric one, reducing the size of the fuel tank and using more high-strength steel in the chassis. Depending on the model, the new car weighs up to 165 pounds less than the one it replaces. Low rolling resistance tires and a continuously variable automatic transmission also boost gas mileage.
Designers made the interior more spacious by pushing the wheels to the corners, lengthening the wheelbase. They added text messaging, Bluetooth streaming audio and XM real-time weather and traffic updates to the list of available options, giving owners the ability to stay connected on the road.
Pricing starts below $20,000
Most important, Subaru kept the car affordable. Base price for the 2012 Impreza wagon with the five-speed manual transmission is $18,745 including destination. The Premium model tested starts at $19,595 excluding the $750 destination. The CVT automatic transmission with six-speed manual mode adds $1000.
Other options include an all-weather package with heated front seats, side mirrors and windshield wiper de-icer; 17-inch alloy wheels with a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob; navigation and a power moonroof, bringing the price as tested to $24,345.
Powered by athletes
It’s no secret that the active audience is core to Subaru’s marketing strategy. The automaker has supported athletes and outdoor causes for almost four decades, beginning with the US Ski team in the mid-1970s.
But there’s another, more visceral reason that Subarus resonate with active buyers: Subaru says what it does, and does what it says. The newest Impreza is a case in point, delivering exactly what the manufacturer promises it will, from its affordable price tag to segment-leading gas mileage.
Over the past week, I drove the new Impreza wagon around the Phoenix metro area and on some rural roads through the Gila River reservation south of town. Despite some minor flaws, I left with a very positive impression. While the engine isn’t exactly a barn burner, its power was more than adequate for the types of driving most urban denizens do, including commuting through high-speed traffic, maneuvering through crowded city streets, and carrying small-to-midsized cargo on a regular basis.
Hard acceleration requires dipping far into the throttle, but that doesn’t seem to impact gas mileage. Once the car warms up to operating temperature, fuel economy is on par with EPA estimates.
There is a fair amount of road noise at higher speeds, but I’d rather put up with that than loose gas mileage due to extra weight from insulating materials in the body. Curb weight for the five-door model is 2910 pounds, which is very light for a vehicle this size.
Visibility around the perimeter is refreshingly good. I had no problems looking over the shoulder to monitor traffic in the adjacent lanes, nor were there any issues with the view out the front, including cornering. Side mirrors do a good job of minimizing rear blind spots from the car’s thick D pillars. The wagon’s low profile makes it easier to see obstacles to the rear than some competing crossovers.
The electric power steering system has good feedback at all speeds. The occasional evasive maneuver should not be an issue. Standard all-wheel drive sends engine power to the wheels with the best traction, enhancing directional control on rain or snow-covered roads.
Four-wheel disc brakes stop the car in a firm, linear fashion and are easier maintain than drums.
The four-wheel independent suspension incorporates a double wishbone system in the rear. The compact design enabled designers to maximize usable cargo space. The suspension produces a pleasantly compliant ride on a variety of road surfaces. Although the Impreza isn’t designed to traverse extreme off-road trails, buyers will find it surprisingly adept on unimproved roads.
Stylish exterior and spacious interior
Subaru designers have broken free from years of plain Jane styling with a sleek, aerodynamic exterior which makes the new Impreza look like a more expensive car than it is. The cloth interior on the test car is attractive and practical for runners and cyclists who need easily cleanable surfaces after a day on the trails.
The Impreza can seat up to five adults. A tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel makes it easier for small drivers to maintain a safe distance from the front airbag. I found the audio and climate controls easy to use. Graphics on the optional navigation system are relatively easy to read. I had no problems reading displays in the center stack and gauge cluster in bright sunlight.
A standard information screen at the top of the center stack includes an ambient temperature meter, average and real-time gas mileage, as well as driving range. Designers did a good job of giving all passengers access to functional cup and bottle holders.
The second-row seats fold flat to extend the cargo floor, so the Impreza meets our bicycle-friendly criteria. A removable tonneau cover keeps smaller items stashed in back hidden.
The Subaru Impreza comes with front, side, side curtain and driver’s knee airbags, antilock brakes, stability and traction control. A hill hold feature on cars with manual transmissions prevents the car from sliding backwards when the driver accelerates up a steep grade from a stop. The factory warranty includes complimentary roadside assistance for up to three years or 36,000 miles.
The all-new Impreza wagon is on display at Subaru dealerships nationwide.
Likes: An affordable, versatile, all-wheel drive wagon with exceptional gas mileage and a high level of standard safety features. The newest Impreza continues in the tradition of athlete-friendly vehicles with its easy-to-clean interior which can hold a bicycle and all-terrain capability.
Model: Impreza 2.0i Premium
Base price: $19,595
As tested: $24,345
Horsepower: 148 Hp @ 6200 rpm
Torque: 145 ft.-lbs. @ 4200 rpm
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: Yes
Fuel economy: 27/36 mpg city/highway
Comment: Test car meets Pzev standards