If there’s anything we’ve learned from driving through cold New England winters, it’s that when a big storm hits you better have the right car. The ability to get where you need to go despite the weather has long been the mantra of the Subaru brand. One of the Subaru’s most popular models is the Impreza. It’s a small four door sedan or hatch that goes squarely against the Elantra, Cruze, Civic, and Corolla. For 2012 the Impreza is all new and ready to fight with the big boys. How well has Subaru pulled this re-design off? Lets find out.
Performance, Fuel Economy, & Handling
For 2012 Subaru has made significant changes to the drivetrain of the Impreza. The horizontally-opposed 4-cylinder boxer engine has been downsized from 2.5L to 2.0L. Although smaller in displacement, the new 2.0L is more efficient, powerful, and obtains 30% better fuel economy. The new engine is also attached to a new transmission and produces 148-horsepower. Realizing that 4-speeds isn’t going to cut it anymore, Subaru has equipped the 2012 Impreza with a new state of the art continuously-variable transmission (CVT).
The new engine/transmission pairing is extremely refined, smooth, and drivable. This combination provides for a feeling that you’re always in the right gear. No odd downshifts and no hesitation. A slight dip into the throttle and the Impreza steamed forward at any speed, unlike it’s predecessor which at times felt under-powered.
All-wheel-drive usually puts a huge drag on fuel economy. Not so with the new Impreza. Subaru has achieved an EPA highway estimated 36mpg rating out of the new 2.0L engine. In the real world we didn’t quite achieve that number but we were impressed none the less. On the backwoods roads of New Hampshire we were able to average over 30mpg easily. During our two weeks with the Subaru we had to drive more than our normal share of urban and city roads. Thus, our total average fuel economy for the week was 28.8mpg. During one highway stint we saw 35mpg, so we know the potential is there. Over 30mpg is great for an all-wheel-drive vehicle of this size and type.
Perhaps the largest overall improvement we noticed with the new model is the strengthened chassis. The Impreza from 2011 and earlier had a nasty habit of feeling like a tin can on wheels. Not so in 2012. The Impreza is now on a class leading platform. When behind the wheel it becomes obvious that this car is capable of handling much more power than what is currently available. The stock 2012 model now carves with the confidence of the prior STi but with a smallish 148-horsepower. The electric steering is precise and never leaves you out of sorts in a corner. We couldn’t shake the feeling that the next generation WRX STi, based on this car, should be a killer.
Interior, Ergonomics, Fit & Finish
The outgoing Impreza had an interior that was made largely from hard, cold, and uninviting materials. The interior in the 2012 Impreza is substantially better, showing major improvement. Soft touch plastics and varying textures add an upscale feeling to what is still ultimately an affordable car. From the driver’s seat there’s distinct Volkswagen-like quality to things. Contrasting and complementary colors matched tastefully with simply textured surfaces are pleasing to the eye. Subaru didn’t see the need to go crazy and futuristic, only improving on what they had been doing in years prior.
The gauge cluster features a new driver-information-center display. Subaru has consolidated several readouts to the DIC that would normally be found with their own indicator. Gear shift position, fuel gauge, odometer, and trip odometer all find a home on the brightly lit display. At night we wished the electronic display was inverted in color, similar to the center information readout over the headunit, as it was extremely bright at night. Only a tachometer, speedometer, and a vague instant MPG gauge have anolog readouts in the cluster.
For the most part, the new Impreza receives high marks for switch-gear placement and use. However, we found the heated seat selectors hard to use and requiring you to bend your arm and wrist in an unnatural direction. The seats are generally comfortable for a 1-2 hour time frame but started to feel stiff after that.
Technology, Safety, & Electronics
Subaru seems to get what people expect to get, technology wise, in a car these days. The 2012 Impreza we tested came complete with a USB port, aux input, bluetooth handsfree and audio streaming. The stereo supports iPods and iPhones but its small display made it a hassle to operate those devices through the headunit. With that said, they were easy to setup and worked. Audio quality is substantially better than in the previous generation but audiophiles will be looking for more.
Subaru includes 4-wheel antilock disk brakes and vehicle dynamics control (stability/traction) standard across the entire 2012 Impreza line. Paired with the standard all-wheel-drive, the Impreza is an impressive winter weather machine. Because Subaru uses a full time and proper all-wheel setup, you not only get all-weather traction but balanced performance in all conditions. With proper snow tires, the Impreza would be virtually unstoppable in a winter storm. Unfortunately, we didn’t get a chance to try the new Impreza in the snow. On dry pavement however, the all-wheel-drive system keeps a composed and sporty driving dynamic.
The Impreza doesn’t skimp with it comes to airbags. A full outfit of protection surrounds the driver and passengers. Subaru’s “Advanced Airbag System” includes curtain side, front seat side-impact, driver’s knee, and rear seat headrest airbags.
So, is the 2012 Impreza something that Chevy, Hyundai, Toyota, and Honda should be scared of? In short, yes. Until now, the Impreza has been a much loved vehicle that a small niche of the market has coveted dearly. With a few tweaks and some much needed refinement, Subaru has set the 2012 model appeal to a substantially wider audience. Suddenly, all those folks in New England and anywhere else it snows no longer need to choose between fuel economy and all-weather ability. The 2012 Subaru Impreza delivers both. That makes it unique, compelling, and a home run.
The Impreza has successfully made the leap from cult favorite to competitive mainstream model. Subaru kept everything we loved about the outgoing generation intact while fixing everything we didn’t.
What we liked:
- Fuel economy is impressive for a vehicle with all-wheel-drive
- Subaru’s symmetrical all-wheel-drive never disappoints
- Modern but not outrageous styling
What we didn’t:
- Heated seat switches are incredibly awkward to use
- Cabin heater quick to give “warm” air but slow to provide “hot” air on cold mornings
- Cargo area carpet has “Velcro” like effect with dirt
Model Year: 2012
Trim: 2.0i Premium 5-door
EPA Fuel Economy: 27-mpg city/ 36-mpg highway
Observed Fuel Economy: 28.8 mpg (mostly urban driving)
Base MSRP: $19,295
As tested MSRP: $22,045
Engine: 2.0L 4-cylinder boxer / 148 horse-power at 6,200 rpm and 145 lb.- ft. of torque at 4,200 rpm
Transmission: Continuously-Variable (CVT)
Drivetrain: all-wheel-drive (AWD)
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