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."
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.
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.
"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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.