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2012 Subaru Impreza 5-Door - Click above for high-res image gallery

The fourth generation 2012 Subaru Impreza has arrived, and to paraphrase Huey Lewis, the first thing you might notice is that it's hip to be square... er. Underneath its skin, the new Impreza says a few things that Americans aren't so used to – nor so fond of – hearing, like the fact that it has a smaller-displacement engine with less horsepower.

If that's the step backward, though, there are more than two steps forward: It's lighter, faster, more frugal, stiffer, nicer inside, has a better suspension and more interior room, all the while being the same size as the previous generation. Said Carliine Planning Manager for Impreza, Todd Hill, "it's all upside."

We'll let you decide that. But in the meantime...

Continue reading 2012 Subaru Impreza: Deep Dive...

The driving force behind the redesign of the 2012 Impreza was less about reinvention and more about continued improvement and refinement. That might sound obvious, but the point is this: Subaru felt there were no massive issues to address, it simply wanted to make this latest Impreza better in every way.

"From the last-gen revamp in 2007, we considered things that kept people from buying the car – that was mostly size and price," said Director of Product Management Kenneth Lin. "We got the basics down with that one, now we added fuel economy and space with this one."

Subaru hasn't announced pricing so we don't know what, if any, premium there will be on those two bonus features, but we know the Subaru crew did it without making a larger car. In fact, the Impreza is the same length (180.3 inches for the sedan and 173.8 for the wagon) and width as the outgoing model, while the wheelbase of both the sedan and five-door has grown by an inch to span a total of 104.1 inches.

"The car was already the right size," said Lin, "there was as no need to make it bigger. People liked the size of the car and we wanted to stay firmly in the compact segment."

2012 Subaru Impreza 5-Door

What you can't see is that through the use of hot-pressed and high-tensile steel, a lighter brake system, svelter seat frames and interior trim and electronic power steering among other improvements. The entire package is 110 pounds lighter than the last car. The base four-door with the five-speed manual weighs in at just 2,911 pounds with Subaru's symmetrical all-wheel-drive system – a comparable Toyota Corolla comes in at just over 2,700 pounds, by comparison.

Yet while the overall shape of the Impreza hasn't changed, what you can see is that it's radically, comprehensively sharper. In addition to advancing the looks of the car, this was also done in the name of wind cheating and brand cohesion.

The mostly unbroken curves of the current car are now a collection of planes and angles. Up front, the headlights are pulled away from the grille and, along with the creased front bumper, the fascia looks chiseled onto the nose. Down in the corners, the fog lamps aren't just recessed into the body but now fitted into their own sculpted plastic housings. On the sides, the upper character line of the current car has been made less prominent, while the lower crease is more apparent, and instead of merely breaking up the mass of the body their role is to connect the two punched-up wheel arches.

2012 Subaru Impreza front detail2012 Subaru Impreza grille2012 Subaru Impreza wheel2012 Subaru Impreza rear detail

In back, the look is more familiar – even the cut line from the rear wheel arch to the bumper is barely changed. However, every element has still been sharpened: the shorter decklid flicks out over the rear valance, the taillights protrude from the body, the lower rear sides have been given flat planes that terminate in sharp lines before turning into the rear of the car and a keener bumper.

"The profile of the front, the sharpness everywhere, all this was about fuel economy, with considerations of aesthetics afterward," said Lin. The race to improve gas mileage was the one Subaru felt it had to win. Big.

"We optimized the length and profile of the roof and the sharp edges get air off the car and away from it instead of being turbulent against the car, and sucking against the car in the rear. It reduced drag, and we have a much-reduced Cd" says Lin. That's how the new Impreza gets 36 miles per gallon on the highway, a new record for a production all-wheel-drive car.

That achieved, Subaru worked its compact over to bring it into line with the rest of the brand.

2012 Subaru Impreza front 3/4 view2012 Subaru Impreza rear 3/4 view

"We're trying to create more family styling, create a Subaru image," said Lin. "In the past we tended to go in 20 different directions with five vehicles, but with a small company it's hard to achieve brand awareness since nobody knows what a Subaru is."

Legacy-inspired design leads the way, with the brand's hexagonal grille and hawk-eye headlights grafted into the design. The grille is outlined by a chrome strip, and instead of a chrome parallel running through it, arrow-tipped chrome spars – called wings – frame the Subaru badge. The wheel arches are another Legacy trait, adding more visual interest to flanks the car.

The greenhouse, however, is where the Impreza makes its own way, the upper mass elongated and opened to the world. The base of the A-pillar was moved 7.9 inches forward, for greater rake of the windshield and a roof that comes in a half-inch lower. Thankfully, that didn't force Subaru to turn the A-pillar into a massive column – in fact, it's actually thinner. The mirrors – which are 23% larger and, to our eyes, qualify as massive – have been moved to the doors, which leaves a new quarter window at the front of the door. That window section is part of the door – the front doors are five inches longer – which helps retain the strength.

2012 Subaru Impreza driving

Further greenhouse alterations that enhance visibility are the slimmer B-pillar, a shoulder line that has been lowered by 2.4 inches atop a sill that has been dropped by eight-tenths of an inch, and a lower, flatter dashboard.

Behind that, the rear doors are long on both variants, and there's a rear quarter-glass on the sedan that's now part of the door. It isn't combined on the five-door, but the shutline graphic is the same as on the sedan.

It's quickly apparent on the four-door how this adds up to that briefer decklid and truncated rear end. For Subaru, more important than the visibility equation was that of roominess. "A big focus," said Lin, "was making the rear seats bigger."

2012 Subaru Impreza rear seats

The rear entry opening is larger, being able to fit an 18.9 inch wide box. The hip points of the seats have been raised by 0.67-inches in front and 0.79 in the rear, while the backs of the front seats are scalloped, and the extra inch of wheelbase provides, like United Airlines, Economy Plus seating. Rear legroom is boosted by two inches, and with the front seat adjusted to our liking there were still a few fingers between our knees and the backs of the front seats.

Additional trunk space has also been pried out of the package. "The old car could fit three golf bags," said Lin of the sedan, "but this one can fit four." Cargo room is up 0.7-cubic-inch on the sedan, a whopping 3.4 cubic feet on the five-door. Goosenecks still handle opening duty on the four-door, but they're canted outward and disappear into the trim. Folding the seats on the five-door yields a flat floor, now level with the bumper.

You and your four golfing buddies will find a nicer car inside, as well. The previous hard plastic dash is now a soft-touch affair, joined by softer materials in the door trim and on the armrest. Headroom, shoulder room and hip room are all incrementally increased; new seats are higher, more sculpted and boast more design detail and adjustable headrests; storage spaces are larger and more plentiful; and the new steering wheel that tilts and telescopes is standard equipment on all Imprezas.

2012 Subaru Impreza interior2012 Subaru Impreza steering wheel2012 Subaru Impreza gauges2012 Subaru Impreza shifter

When Lin said he believes the sedan is now fully competitive, we asked whether he thought it was the next Subaru in line to stray from the brand faithful. "'Mature' is a word often heard of Subaru of late and not always flattering – there's the idea of selling out, like U2 got 'mature'," he said. "But are you alienating buyers? They're still buying our cars. We've been able to keep loyal customers, actually grow them, and get conquest buyers."

But for those faithful who like their Subarus in two colors, better get it while you can: "We're transitioning away from two-tone paint, getting away from the offroad look," said Lin. "But we'll offer it as an option."

But at the heart of it, the 2.0-liter, DOHC FB20 engine is what made so much of the new Impreza redesign possible. Slightly heavier than the outgoing 2.5-liter EB engine due to increased complexity of features like its double-overhead cams (instead of the SOHC 2.5-liter), common rail injectors and oversquare stroke with asymmetrical conrods, it puts out 148 horsepower at a sky high 6,200 rpm and 145 pound-feet of torque at a less nose-bleeding 4,200 rpm. That's 22 horses and 25 pound-feet down from the previous motor, but with the CVT and lighter weight it still gets to 60 miles per hour in 9.8 seconds – a 0.3-second improvement. Not only that, but every passing metric, 50 mph to 70 mph, for instance, is improved.

The fuel-economy benefits of the motor and the sleeker body add up to EPA ratings 27 miles per gallon in the city, 36 on the highway for the new Lineartronic CVT-equipped Impreza, a 30-percent improvement, and 25 city/33 highway for the five-speed manual. The Lineartronic CVT is smaller and lighter than that on the Legacy and Outback, and engineered specifically for this application with details like a different chain pitch. Yet even with the Impreza's smaller tank (it's reduced by 2.3 gallons), which permitted much of the repackaging shenanigans that provided more interior room, cruising range is still 520 miles.

2012 Subaru Impreza engine

Said Dominic Infante, Subaru's U.S. product manager, "Now we're not apologizing for AWD. And it's roomier, stronger, safer, stiffer."

Speaking of AWD, there will be two flavors on offer: a viscous-coupling locking center differential with a 50/50 front/rear split on the five-speed, and an Active Torque Split AWD with an electronically controlled, continuously variable hydraulic transfer clutch on the Lineartronic models.

Driving duties will be handled via the new electronic power steering system (which contributed another two percent to fuel economy and repackaging benefits). The driving experience should be improved because of the car's stiffer body and wider track, expanded by a half-an-inch in front and 0.7-inch in back, and refinements like the stronger components, a new stiffening crossmember up front and pillow-ball bushings in the double-wishbone rear suspension from the STI. Spend on the upper trims and Subaru adds different springs in the front dampers and a rear stabilizer bar.

The road experience takes a step up with increased noise-deadening material to keep things calm, and enhanced mod-cons for you to enjoy the calm. Remote keyless entry, power windows, door locks and side mirrors will be standard on the base, with the Premium and Limited trims adding Bluetooth telephone operation and radio streaming. A new navigation system with a 6.3-inch LCD screen, HD radio, SMS texting ability, USB and auxiliary jacks, XM radio and traffic, and new software, plus voice control for the nav and radio will be offered as an option. On start-up, the gauges will do the STI sweep, but one-touch operation is still for the driver's window only.

2012 Subaru Impreza instrument panel

Subaru expects the 2012 Impreza to receive a five-star rating from NHTSA and remain an IIHS Top Safety Pick. "The Impreza can support four times its weight on its roof," said Infante. "You need three times to get a five-star rating." Those credentials are polished with a new deployment sequence on the driver's front airbag for pilots who sit close to the wheel, a driver's knee airbag and rear-seat headrest for all three positions.

Finally, 15-inch steel wheels with wheel covers will come with the base, while Premium and Limited step up to new 16- and 17-inch alloy designs.

When will there be an STI version? "I can't say," is all Kenneth Lin would tell us. But every other version will go on sale this Fall.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 4 Years Ago
      This is a far-cry better-looking than the last Impreza iteration, especially for the sedan. Cant wait for the WRX/STi!
      • 4 Years Ago
      A few too many shapes around the nose, but have to say this is the first Subaru in a while that hasn't instantly made me think "ugh". Probably look pretty excellent in STI form.
      2 Wheeled Menace
      • 4 Years Ago
      Very impressive motor, i knew they had to have reduced it's size to get that MPG! The car though, oh my god. Looks like all the worst stylings from Toyota SUVs mixed with BMW cues mixed with some Hyundai. It's pretty bad. Overstyled is the word to describe it.. like what happened with the Pontiac cars, particularly the Aztec.
        • 4 Years Ago
        @2 Wheeled Menace
        Not so much reduced the size of the engine as much as picked a different, more efficient one. The 2.0 has been in Europe for years. The new Subaru coupe will have the same engine. Styling... the more I look at it the more I like it. I bet it will grow on us quicker than the previous one did. I'd say it's much improved in almost every respect.
      • 4 Years Ago
      This should result in the best looking WRX/Sti in YEARS. I don't like the hatch much, but I can see how an Sti would look great. Also... can't wait to see how the Legacy wears this design. High hopes! It's sort of hard to imagine this on the FT-86 though. No wonder they are taking years to make it. I'd have trouble making the design work too!
      • 4 Years Ago
      Maybe it's because my expectations were already crushed, but this ( in at least wagon form) looks better than I was expecting to see. Curious to see that interior, sure they gave it a nice upgrade when it comes to materials.
      • 4 Years Ago
      I am a 2006 Impreza owner, with 140,000+ miles under my belt in under six years. I'd like a new car within the next 1-2 years, and I WAS considering other replacement cars besides a new Impreza (2008-11 version)... Why? Two Words: FUEL ECONOMY. I knew that when I bought my car in 2005, one essentially had no choice but to sacrifice MPG if you wanted the benefit of All-Wheel-Drive... I do love my car, but it has been a bit of a hard pill to swallow to get approximately 25MPG out of a car that is still considered "compact." Official EPA numbers are 22City/29Highway. But when I saw the figures on the NEW-new (2012) Impreza, I was just floored. Yeah, it's got significantly less horsepower, but it's lighter, has CVT, somehow accelerates better, and gets 36 highway? In other words: Corolla and/or Civic numbers WITH all wheel drive and WITHOUT the coma-inducing effects of owning a Toyota or Honda? SIGN ME UP! I personally think it looks nice too (like a miniature Legacy, which I'm sure is fully intentional). I know that looks are totally subjective, but hey, I'm in my late 20's... the way my car looks stopped defining me as a human being a solid decade ago :). Long story short, I think this all looks VERY promising. I hope to be in the market for a wagon when the 2013s are coming out. (PS: Toyotas and Hondas are great cars, so there's really no need to take my off-the-cuff cheap shot at them in paragraph 3 seriously :) )
        • 3 Years Ago
        Nice. I agree. If you're looking to buy a car in the next couple years, you might wait for the new Legacy. It should be receiving new duds soon.
      • 4 Years Ago
      When you have a good thing going for you, like Subaru does with their loyal buyers of these special AWD cars and wagons, you don't keep reinventing the wheel every time you redo a car. That may alienate your core buyers. But of course you want new buyers also, right? No doubt. This car does that I think. It looks nice. Mature looking on the outside. Nice interior. Now if they were just entering into the game like say the Cruze or to an extent, the Elantra, you would need more to get to that level. I mean they've been making the Impreza for almost 20 years. I would consider that "brand" like, like the Civic, Jetta or Corolla are, and not just another "car" like the Elantra or Cruze. The Focus is almost brand like. There's nothing wrong with just being a c'ar", you're just trying to get to "brand" status and once you hit that status, you can't really stray too much left or right. Good job Subaru.
        • 4 Years Ago
        I agree with you Smooth--you have to strike a balance between keeping your core buyers and attracting new ones, while sticking to your brand. It's just that I don't know if Subaru has done this with the new Impreza. Honda actually did a better balancing act with the 2012 Civic--it looks like a Civic, and thereby taps into a 40-year legacy of communicating 'reliable, high-revving, fun-to-drive, good value'. But has Subie done this with the Impreza? It's a beautiful car, and will no doubt attract new buyers. I guess I'll have to see it first. I've always loved trusty, reliable, AWD-making Subaru, so I'm willing to give it a shot.
        • 3 Years Ago
        Okay you lost me after the Cruze/Elantra comment. Maybe I'm not reading it right, but I don't understand what you're saying.
      • 4 Years Ago
      A CVT tranny, and "getting away from the off-road look" ... two strikes right there. The third strike is the styling, and I actually really like the current gen 5-door. This thing is looking really nasty with some of the sharp lines, and the odd wheel arches that are 1/2 as tall as the wheels themselves. Plus, "brand recognition" and "getting away from odd-road" looks are counter-intuitive. Subaru has been advertised as out-doors "off the beaten path" cars for nature and adventure seekers... soooo now we're getting away from that? I was really looking forward to the 2012 Impreza too. I'll be in the market for a new car soon, and after owning a '00 Impreza 2.5RS and an '01 Forester S, I was looking forward to getting my 3rd Subaru. I don't think I want one of these now though... not unless the STi is completely awesome in such a way that it overcomes the styling.
      • 4 Years Ago
      I will reserve final judgment on the 5-door until I see the STI version. I think this boxy-looking thing could really benefit from wider fenders, some gold wheels, and rally blue paint.
      Sherman Cahal
      • 4 Years Ago
      Doing away with the two-toned paint? Well, I hope they keep the rugged plastic when they revise the Outback Sport. There is no sense in going away from what has worked so well for the brand in the past. You can still do that and go for a more aggressive style. The hatch looks much nicer - front and rear, than the sedan. There was that one commercial where they mocked Kia for their bland cars, and that was only last year. Have they forgotten about that?
        • 4 Years Ago
        @Sherman Cahal
        I have an '08 Outback and I love my two tone just as much as everyone else but I do think it's time for Subaru to move on... The 2010-11 Outback would look really weird in two tone. In 10-15 years they can revive it again and call it retro. ha ha I just want the Outback to look more like... an Outback rather than the massive SUV it is today. Long live wagons!! Also, I don't see this as bland. Exciting? No, but that's what the WRX is for. I do wish it was a little more upscale looking however. And the sedan is easily better looking than the hatch. Just goes to show you how subjective styling is. To each his own...
      Jeff Zekas
      • 4 Years Ago
      Finally, Subaru is going in the right direction! My Impreza gets 22mpg in town... horrible for a "small" car... hoping Fuji will continue in this direction with a hybrid and diesel version!
      • 4 Years Ago
      I appreciate the engineering they put into this car, but stylistically, they had a great looking design with the concept car they showed off a couple of months ago, and yet the styling of this production car is quite bland and boring. Very disappointed in that department.
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