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June 5, 2012 > Auto Review: Subaru Impreza: new and impressive

Auto Review: Subaru Impreza: new and impressive

By Steve Schaefer

I was eager to get my hands on the new Subaru Impreza. It seems like the car was redesigned not long ago, but the new fourth-generation version is again completely redone. This one may be the best one yet.

All Imprezas boast all-wheel-drive for safety in the wet and snow. Subaru's system has always been intended for safety in the rain and in other low-traction situations, working completely independent of the driver's input. The compact all-wheel-drive system is tucked in underneath the horizontally opposed four-cylinder engine and doesn't burden the Impreza with a significant weight penalty.

The four-wheel disc brakes with antilock help improve safety, as do electronic brake distribution and electronic brake force distribution. Those electronic enhancements make the car smarter than you... welcome in an emergency.

The Impreza's compact wagon proportions now look a bit chunkier. The face is neither pretty nor soft, but forceful and strong. The 17-inch gunmetal-finish alloy wheels are an acquired taste; I tend to like a little more sparkle (but don't care much for chrome) but I know that the younger buyers Impreza is targeting are going to like them just fine.

As before, you can get a sedan version of the Impreza, too, but the wagon is more practical. Drop the rear seats and you've got 52.4 cubic feet of carrying capacity - a dream for us bass-playing types. The car is the same size on the outside as the '11 but roomier inside - that's some clever packaging! The windshield is more raked than in the previous model, with the bottom of the front pillar moved nearly eight inches forward, resulting in a front door opening nearly five inches longer for easier entry/exit.

Despite the increase in interior space, the 2012 Impreza weighs up to 165 pounds less than its 2011 model-year counterpart (depending on model and equipment). A new electric power steering system contributes two percent increase in efficiency; lower rolling resistance tires improve the numbers a little more.

The interior, with black plastic and cloth, seems unpretentious in a world of swirly shapes. The dash is padded where it is sometimes not found in other non-luxury cars. The seats show off their white stitching for a little extra sportiness and complement the black-on-white gauge cluster. The gauges, while perfectly useful and handsome, glow red at night - not as easy to see for those of us with a touch of color blindness.

Subaru's use of horizontally-opposed flat engines, not inline or vee-shaped, means it looks a little different in the engine compartment. The engine sits far down, creating a low center of gravity, which aids handling. It successfully moves 3,075 pounds of automobile; neither a rocket nor a slug. The 2.0-liter engine puts out 148 horsepower and 145 lb.-ft. of torque. It's rated by the EPA at 27 City and 36 Highway (average 30 mpg). That is a 36 percent improvement, according to Subaru.

I averaged 27.3 mpg, a little lower than the official figure, but that's still pretty good. The EPA Green Vehicle Guide gives the car a 9 for Air Pollution and 7 for Greenhouse gas - excellent numbers. The car's PZEV sticker (partial zero emission vehicle) is mounted proudly on one of the side windows.

The Impreza comes in five levels, so there's something for nearly everyone. Start with the 2.0i and work up through Premium, Limited, Sport Premium and Sport Limited models. My tester, a 2.0 Sport Premium, was very nicely equipped. The only extras were a continuously-variable six-speed automatic transmission ($1,000) and $69 worth of all-weather floor mats.

In brief, the Premium adds an audio system and 16-inch alloy wheels to the base car. Limited models add leather, automatic climate control, automatic transmission, and 17-inch wheels. Sport models add those gray wheels I wasn't keen on, roof rails, fog lamps and the all-weather package. You can do fine with the base car, but stepping up takes it in different directions - you pick - or have it both ways.

My test car didn't feel like it was missing anything essential. I lived fine without the luxury features. It had heated seats, although the controls were way back in the elbow area of the center console, where they are easy to activate unintentionally. That's actually how I discovered them.

My tester stickered at $22,414, including shipping, but prices start at just $18,190 for the plain 2.0i model.

This car is definitely on my "would be glad to own one" list. A 2.0 Premium with a five-speed manual transmission prices out at just $20,000. Today, that's a great deal. I'm favoring sky blue.

My young colleague, Loni, just got a '12 Impreza wagon and she's thrilled with it. Go build one and enjoy your own.

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