New & Used Subaru Impreza: In Depth
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The Subaru Impreza is a compact car, offered either as a five-door hatchback or a four-door sedan, and the only mass-market compact car with all-wheel drive as standard in every model. Its rugged reputation and the reflected glory of its more performance-oriented siblings, the WRX and STI models, make it unique in a segment where the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla have long ruled.
The Impreza doesn't sell their volumes, but it's steadily gained popularity over recent years as Subaru has fitted it with the most popular features among budget-minded compact buyers.
After a short four-year run for its predecessor (2008-2011), the Impreza was entirely redesigned for the 2012. The goal was to convey a sleeker look with all-new sheetmetal, stretched over a slightly longer wheelbase and and housing reconfigured interior with increased rear-seat space.
The engine is an all-new, 148-hp, 2.0-liter flat four, that delivers EPA highway ratings as high as 36 mpg when combined with Subaru's Lineartronic CVT. The manual gearbox models, while better than before, are not quite as economical. Subaru also put a lot of effort into refining the interior and upgrading its materials--although wind and road noise remain an issue at times. The 2013 Impreza has only a handful of changes. Bluetooth, steering-wheel controls, and a USB port will be standard at last even on the base model.
The Impreza's more rugged appeal and excellent reputation for durability appeal to diverse buyers, but the ruboff of the WRX models sets it against sportier compacts as well, including the Volkswagen Golf and Jetta lines, and the Mazda Mazda3. The WRX and its even higher-performance model, the STI, compete with yet another entry, the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo--the only one to match the Impreza's all-wheel drive.
The related XV Crosstrek and XV Crosstrek Hybrid models were launched in 2013 and 2014 respectively. They're effectively Impreza five-doors with taller ride height, beefier wheels and tires, and a handful of hardware upgrades. They promise greater capability on muddy mountain trails, rough gravel roads, and the like--though we found those abilities come at the expense of handling and interior noise.
The Crosstrek supersedes the Outback Sport, a confusing application of the Outback name that was little more than a trim package on a standard Impreza hatchback. It's the perfect conveyance for the kayakers, mountain climbers, snow-dwellers, skiers, and snow-boarders who've always gravitated to Subarus--although we found it remarkably noisy and nervous at speed on certain highway surfaces. Its ground clearance is now 8.7 inches, and the same good all-wheel-drive systems make it a practical vehicle for light-duty off-road use.
Earlier Impreza models
The Impreza name itself, which succeeded the DL/GL/Loyale line, is now 20 years old. The first-generation 1993 Impreza was conventionally styled, and meant to compete head-to-head with the high-volume compacts. The base engine was a modest 110-horsepower, 1.8-liter flat four, with an optional 135-hp, 2.2-liter engine. In 1995, a two-door coupe model was added to the four-door sedan and five-door wagon lineup, as well as a new Outback Sport model.
Subaru first started teasing its success on the international rally stage with the sporty new 2.5 RS coupe, introduced for 1997, and the 2.5 RS sedan, which followed in 2000. With the stronger 165-hp engine, larger wheels, and a sport suspension, along with a big hood scoop and other cosmetic upgrades, the RS models found a strong following from small-car enthusiasts in winter-weather states.
The year of most dramatic change for the Impreza was 2002. That's the model year when Subaru brought the turbocharged Impreza WRX (covered with its higher-performance STI variant in a separate review) model to the lineup, but it's also when the automaker rolled out a thoroughly redesigned Impreza. At first Subaru introduced just a few models: the 2.5 RS sedan and comparable 2.5 TS wagon, and the Outback Sport wagon.
The new sedans and wagons introduced then had revised sheetmetal, with a new front end (including distinctive oval headlamps) and new wheels, along with improved safety, a redesigned instrument panel, and new materials inside. In 2004, the Impreza got yet another new front-end appearance, with smooth rectangular headlamps and other cosmetic changes. Model trims were renamed in 2006, with 2.5i sedan and wagon models and Outback Sport wagons remaining.
Throughout that generation of Imprezas, the car was known for sturdy construction, all-weather capability, and a responsive driving character unlike that of most other small cars. The boxer four-cylinder engine is torquey and responsive, and steering and handling is excellent, with the engine's low center of mass combined with all-wheel drive providing impressive stability and poise. Downsides, however, include a rather cramped rear seat and high levels of engine and road noise compared to most other small cars.
For 2008 the Subaru Impreza family was completely redesigned, with a significantly larger sedan model and new five-door hatchback replacing the former wagon. With an evolution of the base 170-horsepower, 2.5-liter flat four and Subaru's all-wheel drive systems along with five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmissions, the Impreza's powertrains were proven.
A new turbocharged 2.5GT model was introduced for 2009, but lasted only two years. It offered some of the thrill of the turbocharged WRX, with a 224-hp version of the engine, and a four-speed automatic. The idea behind the model was to appeal to those who aren't necessarily driving enthusiasts but want more power.
The 2008-2011 Impreza boasted better standards of refinement, more interior space (its back seat was truly usable by adults for the first time), and doors with window frames for reduced noise. Through 2011, fuel economy from Subaru's flat-four engines remained unimpressive, with base versions of the Impreza returning just 20 mpg city, 27 highway. That changed with the all-new engine in the 2012 models, while there were few other changes for 2013.