Vital Stats

Engine:
2.0L Boxer-Four
Power:
148 HP / 145 LB-FT
Transmission:
CVT
Drivetrain:
All-Wheel Drive
Curb Weight:
3,099 LBS
Seating:
2+3
Cargo:
12.0 CU-FT
MPG:
27 City / 36 HWY
Going Mainstream With The Beauty Of All-Wheel-Drive



Subaru found itself in an interesting position when the North American auto market imploded back in 2009. While most manufacturers were busily darting about trying to stop their sales from bleeding out, the quirky Japanese automaker actually posted gains in both market share and earnings during the recession.

It was a dark time for most dealers. Salesmen began eying the fairest compacts on their lot for sacrifice in an attempt to appease the sales gods that had abandoned them, and showrooms began devolving into tribal law in earnest. Meanwhile, we're guessing many Subaru dealers watched through gold-rimmed monocles from across the street with a mixture of curiosity and amusement.

But what happens when the national financial ship rights itself and social order is restored once again? Will buyers still shun emblems of excess and continue to opt for practical, economy-minded Japanese all-wheel-drive wagons and compacts? If the 2012 Subaru Impreza is any indication, the company may be concerned its products aren't quite mainstream enough to retain conquests acquired through the dark days of '09. The 2012 Impreza is more comfortable, quieter and offers a more attractive interior than ever before, but those gains come with sacrifices that risk alienating the model's longtime fans, ourselves included.
2012 Subaru Impreza side view2012 Subaru Impreza front view2012 Subaru Impreza rear view

For better or worse, Subaru has held onto the company's tradition of embracing unconventional styling. We've never loved the automaker's products because of their bodywork, and the 2012 Impreza sedan isn't out to buck that trend. Designers have blessed the four door with an aggressive face that's far from anonymous. Large, scowling headlamps lie beneath a nicely contoured hood and are split by an attractive hexagonal grille. The front fascia features a large lower air inlet with sizable fog light bezels set far toward each corner. And speaking of corners, engineers have rolled in the squared-off aero edges popularized by hybrid models like the Toyota Prius, Chevrolet Volt and Hyundai Sonata Hybrid.

We're willing to chalk up the sedan's questionable lines as par for the course from a company responsible for the likes of the curious SVX and infamous Tribeca.

From the front, the 2012 Impreza looks more like a baby Legacy than an anonymous compact. Unfortunately, that impression wanes as soon as the vehicle is viewed from the side. In profile, the 2011 Impreza simply looks awkward, particularly in sedan guise. Individual elements like a strong character line that transitions seamlessly into the taillights and expressive, exaggerated fender arches look good when taken individually, but make for a muddled finished product when combined. There's simply too much going on here for this design to be considered clean. Combine those issues with the standard 16-inch alloy wheels on our 2.0 Premium tester and a too-tall ride height, and you have a perfect recipe for awkward pie.

Whereas compacts like the Ford Focus and Chevrolet Cruze serve up sheetmetal that looks either more stylish or more mature than we've come to expect from the segment, Subaru seems committed to the unpleasantness of bygone compact design. But, being the generous folks we are, we're willing to chalk up the sedan's questionable lines as par for the course from a company responsible for the likes of the curious SVX and infamous Tribeca. Ugly is as Subaru does.

2012 Subaru Impreza headlight2012 Subaru Impreza logo2012 Subaru Impreza wheel2012 Subaru Impreza taillight

We've been quick to rail on the Japanese automaker for building interiors well behind the curve in the past, and it appears Subaru has finally moved to cure that ail. The 2012 Impreza now features a vastly improved material selection inside. The driver gets to enjoy a three-spoke, multi-function steering wheel, and our 2.0 Premium tester came equipped with a very attractive two-tone interior. The dash is covered in squeak-fighting soft-touch materials, and while the center stack isn't anything we'd consider beautiful, the controls are logically organized and easy to manipulate. Perhaps the best place to see an improvement is the vehicle's front door panels. These pieces have been a wasteland of hard plastic in the past, but with soft touch uppers, well-grained plastics and cloth inserts, the panels now use a multitude of materials to improve the overall feel of the cabin. On the whole, the interior is a massive improvement, though it's a bit sober and lacks cutting-edge infotainment options.

Rear passengers are now treated to two-inches of additional leg room over the outgoing model.

Fortunately, Subaru has also worked to make the 2012 Impreza more accommodating inside. Engineers have stretched the vehicle's wheelbase by a full inch, and thanks to some clever packaging, rear passengers are now treated to two-inches of additional leg room over the outgoing model. That's partially due to new scalloped front seatbacks that provide space for knobby knees. Even with the extra space, the 35.4 inches of rear legroom in the Impreza just ties that available in the Chevrolet Cruze and still falls to the 36.2 inches available in the segment-conquering Honda Civic.

Speaking of those front seats, Subaru redesigned the buckets for long-term comfort, and there's more lumbar support available than in the past. Even the base Impreza is now packed with convenience features, including power windows, locks and side-view mirrors as well as keyless entry.

2012 Subaru Impreza interior2012 Subaru Impreza front seats2012 Subaru Impreza door2012 Subaru Impreza rear seats

But if there's a reason to get excited about the 2012 Subaru Impreza, it's under the vehicle's hood. The four-door packs an all-new, dual-overhead cam naturally-aspirated 2.0-liter four-cylinder good for up to 36 mpg according to the Environmental Protection Agency. If that seems a shade low for the compact segment, it pays to keep in mind that this is the only vehicle in the class that comes with all-wheel drive as standard equipment. And, if a little perspective helps, the previous-generation Impreza managed to drag home a pathetic 20 mpg city and 27 mpg highway. In 2011. The outgoing model's numbers were bested even by the likes of the Honda CR-V.

But that was then. Now, the 2012 Impreza is good for 27 mpg city by the EPA's reckoning. That's a massive step up, and during our time with the vehicle, we saw an honest 31.5 mpg combined. We know previous-generation Impreza owners who would perform all sorts of sinister acts to milk that kind of fuel economy from their thirsty boxer fours. Of course, those numbers come with a sacrifice. At 148 horsepower, the new 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine produces 22 less horsepower than the old 2.5-liter single-overhead cam lump. The story isn't much better when it comes to torque, with the 2012 model delivering 145 pound-feet to the 2011 version's 170 pound-feet.

2012 Subaru Impreza engine

To further complicate matters, our tester came saddled with a dreaded continuously variable transmission. There are companies that build excellent CVT gearboxes. Subaru is not one of them. While we have no problem with the idea of relying on smaller-displacement engines with lower power figures to meet fuel economy goals, the CVT means that the driver is forced to cane the breath out of the engine just to feel like the car's getting under way. The bands shift the engine from barely above idle to outright screaming at red line with little to no happy medium, leaving the 2.0-liter lump sounding like a bipolar blender. The experience is simply grating, and genuinely detracts from the overall driving experience. Of course, the fact that we spent a week with the vehicle screaming in the upper registers of the RPM band and still managed to net 31.5 mpg combined makes us wonder what we could coax from the standard five-speed manual transmission.

Or at least it would if both vehicles utilized the same all-wheel-drive system. Subaru has pulled something of a quick one when it comes to putting power to all four corners in the 2012 Impreza. Buyers who opt for the manual transmission are treated to the same tried-and-true continuous all-wheel-drive system we've come to know and love, complete with a viscous coupling locking center differential. CVT models, meanwhile, make use of an active all-wheel-drive system with an electronically controlled hydraulic transfer clutch. That means that most of the time, the rear wheels are simply along for the ride. Should the vehicle decide you need extra grip, it can kick power to the rear tires accordingly.

2012 Subaru Impreza rear 3/4 view

So, how does it drive? Subaru says that it has worked to improve the vehicle's noise, vibration and harshness with tricks like hydraulic engine mounts, and it's true that this is probably the quietest boxer from Subaru we've had the pleasure of not hearing for years. That's particularly impressive given that the company abandoned the typical quiet timing belt in favor of a more durable, but characteristically louder timing chain. By and large, the whole cabin does seem quieter, but the company's engineers seem to have created a much softer suspension to go along with the decrease in decibels. The whole car simply feels tippy when of hustling. Interestingly enough, our Premium 2.0 came loaded with a larger rear stabilizer bar than the base model, so we can only assume that our tester should be sharper than the entry-level four-door.

Subaru has effectively excised any of the light-footed precision of the previous-generation Impreza with the 2012 model, and that's sure to be a disappointment for fans of the company's fun-to-drive persona. Still, a quieter, larger, more comfortable and more efficient Impreza that still offers the grip of all-wheel drive can't help but resonate with buyers looking for a solid commuter.

Our tester arrived carrying an MSRP of $18,795 plus destination, which is fair given the vehicle's capabilities. Even so, we have to imagine we could find more playful or more comfortable ways to get around town in other competitors with the help of a set of snow tires.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 125 Comments
      Ocellaris
      • 3 Years Ago
      The MSRP is wrong too. $18,795 is the price for a Premium with a manual transmission. The number of errors in this article is pretty surprising for a site that should have editors for proofreading. Maybe they will go through and update the article...
      MANARC100
      • 3 Years Ago
      just a quick note to the author. The vehicle you are reviewing is in fact the 2012 Impreza not a 2011.
      Jordan Ayoub-Mion
      • 3 Years Ago
      In correction to this review, here are the real facts regarding the AWD system in the 2012 Impreza. This information is taken directly from Subaru.ca. (Not one Subaru take "it's rear wheels for the ride") Multi-plate Transfer Clutch (MPT) (CVT models only) Sophisticated system distributes engine power 60/40 front/rear in good driving conditions and up to 50/50 front rear in poor traction conditions for enhanced acceleration, hill climbing, handling and control in all weather and driving conditions
      MotionDesigner
      • 3 Years Ago
      The sedan looks bland but I don't really mind the 5-door wagon. Impressive fuel mileage too.
      tipdrip215
      • 3 Years Ago
      Did they have to throw in that Civic-style divide in the front windows next to the mirrors? You may not know this, Subie, but the Civic is not a good role model. On the bright side, check out the top mounted oil filter, DIY oil changes couldn't get much easier with this new boxer.
        gary
        • 3 Years Ago
        @tipdrip215
        You're criticism is fair; this is an element that is shared with the Honda Civic and other cars. The trade off is a much lower belt-line than the outgoing model. As a result, this car feels much more like a traditional 'old school' suby with low dash and great visibility from the driver's seat. The current Impreza feels like driving a bathtub in comparison.
        MotionDesigner
        • 3 Years Ago
        @tipdrip215
        Ugh... I didn't notice that until you pointed it out. I hate those too. They're hideous.
      Temple
      • 3 Years Ago
      You guys forgot to mention that this new Impreza is as much as 250lbs lighter than the previous model depending on trim level. Which is why it gets around identical performance as the out-going model which has 22 hp more. Most other reviews managed to mention this.
        pkchari
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Temple
        Well, if you go by the specs posted above, the Curb Weight is just over 15 tons! Notice : 30099 LBS? Maybe that's why they're so impressed. How can the power-to-weight ratio go down by nearly an order of magnitude and still perform roughly the same?
      S.
      • 3 Years Ago
      Holy front overhang, Batman. No, seriously. Look at the size of that thing. Sad that Subaru is losing its way. But I understand that a business can't care about its enthusiasts, just the bottom line. Since the early 90s, whenever it was time for a new car, my family bought a Subaru. But when it came time for Subaru #4 two years ago, they went with a SX4 AWD. Cheaper, better mpg, and smaller - even the Imprezas have grown too large for them.
        Chris Bangle
        • 3 Years Ago
        @S.
        Subaru overhang is due to the drivetrain being longitudal. The engine sits in front of the front axle with the transmission directly behind it with power flowing straight out to the front wheels. That longitudal layout is the key to Subaru's symmetrical all wheel drive. The penalty is front overhang.
        dinobot666
        • 3 Years Ago
        @S.
        You can thank the huge front overhang to European pedestrian crash safety laws. The Impreza hasn't grown in size since the GC model, and even then it only grew slightly. The SX4 is still smaller than the GC model Impreza.
      gtv4rudy
      • 3 Years Ago
      Why do the wheels look so small on this 2012 Impreza ?
        EChid
        • 3 Years Ago
        @gtv4rudy
        Those ARE small wheels. I believe there are two designs bigger that look much better. The Limited comes with nice looking alloys. This is an improvement over the last gen, which I almost never saw with decently sized rims.
      CivicDXG
      • 2 Years Ago
      I actually really like this car. The hatch doesn't look as awakward as the sedan, and since I live in Canada, the AWD is important for me. The interior is beautiful in my eyes compared to other compacts, and the price is really solid. This is probably my favourite compact out there right now!
      chirowolf
      • 3 Years Ago
      Wait did I miss something? sorry must have fallen asleep. Subaru you may join Honda and Toyota in the race to see who can be more beige.
        gary
        • 3 Years Ago
        @chirowolf
        Welcome back from your 4 year nap. The Impreza has been pegging the styling bland-o-meter since the last generation launched in late 2007.
      Jared
      • 3 Years Ago
      So many factual errors and/or ridiculous opinions in this article, I don't even know where to begin... ...the base 2.0i doesn't have a rear stabilizer bar ...the base model has had keyless entry, power windows/mirrors since at least 06 ...did you actually DRIVE the CVT? OMG it's so much better than the 4EAT, I have no idea why you would knock it ...the AWD systems are exactly the same as many years past... manual trans gets the Continuous AWD, automatic gets the Active, you're describing the Active as if it's new ...the car handles way better than the old Impreza ...as others have said, the new car is faster than the old generation, even with less horsepower and torque, thanks in part to the CVT that you complained about I give up, someone else can add
      Maxximtl
      • 3 Years Ago
      The really sad thing is that Subaru had to abandon their full-time awd system just so they'd have a model that is capable of decent MPG. They desperately need the diesel here in the US, but they refuse to bring it. I just don't get it.
        Jordan Ayoub-Mion
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Maxximtl
        The Journalist gave wrong information! This Impreza is still has always an all time all wheel drive. Subaru did not change the system to achieve better gas mileage.
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