New & Used Subaru Impreza: In Depth
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The Subaru Impreza is the Japanese automaker's family of compact sedans and hatchbacks. While it doesn't sell in the volumes of its rivals, it has steadily gained popularity over recent years as Subaru has fitted it with the most popular features among budget-minded compact buyers.
With the Impreza's reputation for ruggedness, as well as the reflected glory of its more performance-oriented siblings, the WRX and WRX STI models, the Impreza is a slightly different offering in its segment.
The Subaru Impreza's standard all-wheel drive helps it stand out among competitors such as the Honda Civic, Ford Focus, Hyundai Elantra, and Toyota Corolla.
MORE: Read our 2016 Subaru Impreza review
After a short, four-year run for its predecessor (2008–2011), the Impreza was entirely redesigned for the 2012 model year. The goal was to create a sleeker look with all-new sheetmetal, and to stretch it over a slightly longer wheelbase. This allowed for a reconfigured interior with increased rear-seat space and more cargo room.
The engine was all-new at the time, a 148-hp, 2.0-liter flat four that initially delivered EPA highway ratings as high as 36 mpg when combined with Subaru's Lineartronic CVT. The manual gearbox models, while rated better than before, are not quite as economical, largely due to gearing. Subaru also put a lot of effort into refining the interior and upgrading its materials--although wind and road noise initially remained issues.
The Impreza's more rugged nature and excellent reputation for durability appeal to diverse buyers, but the ruboff from the WRX models sets it against sportier compacts as well, including the Volkswagen Golf and Jetta lines, and the Mazda 3. The WRX and its even higher-performance variant, the WRX STI, compete with yet another entry, the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo--the only one to match the Impreza's all-wheel-drive, rally-bred heritage.
The 2013 Impreza brought a handful of changes—Bluetooth, steering-wheel controls, and a USB port finally became standard even on the base model.
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 find those abilities come at the expense of handling and interior sound levels.
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.
Subaru gave the Impreza a host of updates for the 2015 model year. This mid-cycle refresh included new headlights and some other small tweaks that together bring the look more in line with the larger Legacy sedan and Outback wagon. Subaru's EyeSight accident-avoidance tech was made available, and changes were made to better insulate the cabin from road noise. Small powertrain changes also resulted in improved fuel economy.
Only minor changes were made for 2016.
Earlier Impreza models
The Impreza name itself, which succeeded the DL/GL/Loyale line, is now over 20 years old. The first-generation Impreza, which bowed in 1993, 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.
Subaru added a 2.5GT Impreza for the 2009 model year. Its 224-hp turbocharged engine offered some of the WRX's fun with a four-speed automatic and a more comfortable ride. It was intended for those who wanted more power but didn't need all of the handling or capability of a WRX. The 2.5 GT was sold for two model years.
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 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.