2012 Subaru Impreza HD Video Review

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On a sunny day last week I took delivery of a 2012 Subaru Impreza, a car that was scheduled a few weeks back.  Inevitably, as expected, the rain came which is hardly surprising in our soggy corner of the world.  But then the Northwest got hit by Snowmageddon.  Snow is not normal in this neck of the woods. How lucky can a guy get?

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I’m not sure who benefits most from this situation, me or Subaru.  I get to use their car, which is doing pretty well in five to six inches snow, and they get the kind of exposure they can only dream of. I believe this is where Charlie Sheen says “winning”.

Until the sporty rear-drive BRZ hits showrooms, every Subaru comes standard with their Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive system (which is different depending on model and transmission). Good traction and a reasonable price is what makes them so popular with practical Northwesterners and Northeasterners.

I’m sloshing through the slush in a 5-door Premium model, and at $20,500 with destination as tested it’s an affordable tool to tackle sloppy stuff.  Base models go for around $18,500.

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Know Thy Customer

Subaru has never been known for elegant design (can you see Charlie Sheen driving a Forester?) but their owners are among the most loyal in the biz.  Impreza is no different.  It makes no kind of fashion statement, recalling the Dodge Caliber from some angles.  It’s useful though, fun to drive and gets people to work when the weather goes south. Is that north in this case?  Whatever.  Consider Impreza the “sensible shoes” of the automotive world.

About the only thing owners have consistently griped about over the years is fuel economy.  True, Impreza has had a bit of a drinking problem.  That changes for 2012.  Subaru crows that Impreza’s fuel economy is over 35 percent better, making it the most fuel-efficient all-wheel drive vehicle sold in the US.  The EPA rates the automatic transmission versio n at 27 city 36 highway (25/33 for the 5-Door manual).  Last year’s model scored a pathetic 20/26, pretty thirsty considering an AWD Chevy Equinox gets 20/29.

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A New Boxer Enters the Ring

Impreza’s unique 2.0-liter Boxer engine is new, replacing a 2.5-liter unit that made 170 horsepower.  The new smaller engine makes 148 horsepower @ 6,200 rpm and 145 lb-ft of torque @ 4,200 rpm but has some 160 pounds less to drag around.  A refresher, the pistons of a Boxer engine don’t pump up and down like most engines, they move horizontally in and out.  This means a flat powerplant that sits deep in the bay creating a lower center of gravity.

It’s teamed up with two gearboxes- a new second-generation continuously variable automatic and a manual five-speed transmission with good action.  0-60 happens in around 9.5 seconds.  Feels faster though and that counts for something.

I haven’t driven the CVT but in general I’ve found their rubbery dynamics to be less than desirable.  Subaru says this one is better, pay close attention on your test drive.  I enjoy the manual, it has a ”hill holder” feature for easy starts on steep grades.

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Out In the Real World

Power might be modest but all-wheel drive and traction control mean Impreza is very sure-footed.  You don’t need snow to feel it.  On wet streets Impreza accelerates from a stop confidently with much less wheel spin, very reassuring at busy intersections.  Because of weather I couldn’t perform 0-60 runs but a check of the web shows most reputable sources claiming 9.5 seconds.  Feels faster to me, more like 8.5.

Impreza isn’t made for severe off-roading, it’s not stout enough and it has the ground clearance of a normal car.  In moderate amounts of snow this Subie does just fine but remember, all-wheel drive gets you going but does little to stop the car.  The belief that it makes a car invincible in icy conditions is why many of the vehicles shown in the ditch on the nightly news are all-wheel drive rigs.  Also tires can make a huge difference.  I watched an Audi A5 with quattro and summer performance treads slide around like someone wearing dress shoes on a sledding hill.

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Handle It

Impreza’s fully independent suspension (MacPherson-type struts up front, double wishbone aft) has been softened and there’s a little more body roll but it’s still compelling in the curves.  All but the base model get a rear stabilizer bar.  This car is great fun to chuck into corners and I often catch myself driving faster than the speed limit.  FYI, the performance oriented STI and WRX models are based on last year’s car.

Part of the handling fun is due to all-wheel drive, but it helps that the low-profile Boxer engine sits low and deep in the engine bay, offering a lower center of gravity.  This is easily felt in the corners.

Impreza is generally quiet and comfortable on the road.  The engine makes itself known when the go pedal is pushed down.  Could be a positive, might be a negative depending on what kind of driver you are.  The sporty sound sounds good to my ear.  In the same vein I like that Impreza is not overly smooth feeling, it feels like a machine under hard acceleration.

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More Room, Better Materials

The new cabin is a skosh roomier this time around and the materials have been upgraded. Impreza’s windshield is raked back a bit more making the cabin feel bigger too.  In black it’s a bit dark and monochromatic though, not much pizzazz.  Check out the two-tone interior which may look more inviting.  The instrument panel gets soft touch materials, the overall design is very conservative especially when compared to Civics’ two-tiered Star Trek dashboard.

Comfortable, supportive seats get heat, the high setting will roast your behind (in a good way).  The sound system is impressive considering Imprezas low price and it gets iPod integration and Bluetooth streaming.

White-faced gauges are very easy to read, the driver gets a knee airbag. Subaru has put an emphasis on safe cars and the new Impreza gets a healthy dose of high strength steel in the structure.  Knobs have an average feel to them, the headliner looks like an old blanket.

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In back there’s a good amount of room for two full sized adults.   As expected in this class, three will be a bit tight.  There’s no folding armrest so passengers will have to stash drinks in the door cupholders. There’s no power port in the back and just one seat pocket.

Modest Power, But it Hauls.

Impreza is available as a sedan, the 5-door I’m driving is much more versatile (though it does cost $500 extra). The hatch is handy on those weekly “big box” store shopping sprees when you load up on mass bundles of bath tissue.  What?  I’m the only one who does that?

All-wheel drive vehicles can go where roadside service may take a long time to get to so Impreza’s spare tire is a good idea.  Tie downs are handy too.

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The cargo area is quite large with the split seats folded down.  I always do the TP test with the seats usable though and Impreza does fine swallowing up six packs of the two-ply.

What My Week Taught Me

This new Impreza is the perfect choice for those who want all-wheel drive but think standard SUVs are too big and thirsty.  There’s no doubt it made my life easier during a pretty nasty week and I have to believe that Northwest Subaru dealers will be swamped once people dig out from the big snowstorm.  The brand’s loyal buyers will certainly come back for more.  No matter what color they buy, they know it always looks good against white.

FULL GALLERY BELOW.  IMPREZA STILL PHOTOS ARE OF “SPORT” MODEL WITH OPTIONAL EQUIPMENT. ALL STILL PHOTOS PROVIDED BY SUBARU.

12 Comments

  1. kenwenzel says:

    Agree with the Caliber looks. Also one of the things (I think) that hurt Caliber sales was the CVT. Wish the BRZ motor with a decent auto was available with a decent 6 speed auto. Still don’t understand why VW is the only one who seems to put a 200 hp motor with a decent auto. 0-60 at 9 seconds sounds SLOW. As I said before, it appeared there were more Subarus per sq. mile in the midwest than anywhere else I’ve ever been. As to the DVD back to the store, Netflix is a fix for that.

  2. motorstreet says:

    I’ve noticed a lot of people criticizing the interior. I don’t see what’s so bad about it. It isn’t the best looking interior out there, but the quality is great and it seems very user-friendly. I looked at the Impreza at the Detroit Auto Show. The whole top of the dashboard is covered in soft touch plastic and there rest of it seems very well built. I think the interior is much better than the Civic, Jetta (not the GLI), Corolla, and Sentra, and it feels as nice as the Cruze, Mazda 3, and Elantra. I also like the styling and the new engine, but the transmissions are a big problem. The CVT will be awful and they need a 6 speed manual. Motor Trend got a 0-60 time of 9.4 seconds with the CVT and 8.0 seconds with the 5 speed manual, so the CVT turns a reasonably quick car into a slow car and simultaneously destroys the fun.

  3. fatbaldandhappy says:

    Is there a car company that understands its owners better than Subaru? It just seems like they tend to “get it right” more often than most others. They missed a bit on the interior, but everything else appears to be very well done. I can’t wait to see the WRX version.

  4. JF says:

    Love the Impreza, I drive a 2002 wagon myself. One thing I don’t like about the 2012 model is that Subaru shortened the rear end of the five-door version, making it quite a bit shorter than the sedan. If they kept more or less the same length on the five-door we would have gotten a huge cargo area and a true wagon look as well. At the end of the day I suppose styling is the deciding factor when taking these kind of decisions. Styling is probably what the average consumer prefers over practicality (and Subaru were adamant to make the new Impreza more visually appealing too).

    Still a great car though! And a great review.

    • TV says:

      With a larger trunk there’s a chance that it could eat into Forester sales too. Hard to know.

      • JF says:

        Absolutely. I’ve always thought that the new XV Crosstrek was an indirect competitor fo the Forester. With a larger trunk it would definitely eat into Forester sales. I have a theory on this… I think the Forester might grow larger during the next redesign and the Tribeca will be dropped. This would give the Crosstrek more breathing room. I hope not though, the current Subaru line-up is very well balanced.

  5. intotheoh says:

    I love this little car in hatchback form. I also think the higher trim levels (like the one pictured with the dark rims) look a little sinister. I bought my cruze last year when this bad boy wasn’t available. If I could do it again, I’d but the Impreza in a heartbeat

  6. FinalBlue says:

    The Juke is also an inexpensive AWD vehicle (although it doesn’t have much cargo space).

    As for the chunky Subaru…I think it’s a nice little car, but that interior isn’t very imprezzive.

    And when I look at the fact that Subaru is putting out this along the extremely similar XV Crosstrek, I get the the imprezzion that each car will eat into the other’s sales.

    • TV says:

      Juke’s backseat is also very small which is why I didn’t mention it. I suppose you could cross shop them but Juke’s mission seems to be more performance oriented, sort of a GTI meets tree frog. Impreza and SX4 are very mainstream.