- Standard all-wheel drive
- Good ride quality
- Quiet cabin
- Responsive handling
- Strong value
- Poor fuel economy
- Limited cargo space
- Interior materials and trims
Standard all-wheel drive and strong performance and safety credentials give the 2011 Subaru Impreza and Outback Sport some meaningful advantages over most other small cars, though poor fuel economy stands as a blemish.
While Subaru's sporty WRX and STI models are well-known in performance circles, the Subaru Impreza on which they're based is sometimes overlooked by shoppers. But with standard all-wheel drive, good handling, a comfortable interior, and a great list of standard features, it sure shouldn't be.
The high-performance, rally-influenced WRX and STI models get a new wide-body look for 2011, with flared fenders and more aggressive air dams, but the standard Impreza and Outback Sport models don't follow suit—at least not yet. While the Impreza sedan isn't a bad-looking vehicle, it does feel more conservative and a bit dowdy from the back. The hatch, on the other hand, is more cohesive and sporty, and the pick of our editors. The Impreza remains offered either as a four-door sedan or a five-door hatchback; hatchback models can also be had in a ruggedly styled Outback Sport guise.
The likeness of the Impreza sedan and five-door models to the high-performance WRX and STI ends mostly at that; their performance is more pedestrian. That's not to say it isn't good next to other inexpensive small cars; it's just a different competitive set—more the likes of the Ford Focus and Hyundai Elantra than serious sports cars and sport sedans. All the Impreza models come with a flat-four "boxer" engine, displacing 2.5 liters, and all-wheel drive. The base engine is rated at 170 horsepower and 170 pound-feet of torque. It's torquey and responsive at low revs, making it especially well suited to the four-speed automatic transmission, though the five-speed manual also brings good performance. The automatic has gears that are spaced too far apart, though, and has an annoying tendency to downshift early.
The Impreza 2.5GT, which combined a lower-output version of the WRX's turbocharged engine with a four-speed automatic transmission, has been discontinued for 2011.
Unlike their rally-bred WRX and STi siblings, the regular Impreza sedan and hatch have suspension setups that are tuned more for commuter duty than high-speed hairpin handling. On each of these models, you'll find more accurate, better-weighted steering than is typical among inexpensive small cars, but there's a lot of give and body roll that keeps the standard Impreza and Outback Sport from having enthusiast appeal. On the other hand, Subaru's excellent all-wheel drive systems, included in all Impreza models, do add to these cars' driving dynamics in some situations—allowing them a more surefooted feel out of sharp, slick corners, for instance.
The 2011 Subaru Impreza and Outback Sport have a roomy, well-designed interior, but the cabin materials of these models leaves something to be desired. Ride comfort is quite good in the Impreza, with a relatively soft, compliant suspension, and the interior is well-hushed from wind and road noise. The main issue many shoppers will find with the Impreza's interior is that its materials feel cut-rate. The plastics are hard and hollow; switchgear feels basic (more standard '90s econo-car fare than anything); and some might find the base upholstery disappointing.
Subaru has made safety one of its main selling points, so it's no surprise that the 2011 Impreza has top-tier ratings for occupant protection; it's one of a few small cars to be named an IIHS Top Safety Pick.
Even in base form, the 2011 Subaru Impreza comes pretty well-equipped—and with all sound systems upgraded for 2011 the Impreza now includes standard Bluetooth hands-free capability. A Tom Tom Navigation System—with a detachable portable system with 4.3-inch screen—remains available with Impreza Premium or Outback Sport models; on Premium models it's packaged with the moonroof, fog lamps, a windshield wiper de-icer, and heated seats and mirrors.