Along with its all-new styling, the 2012 Subaru Impreza comes with a brand-new powertrain. Subaru has replaced its old 2.5-liter flat-four with an entirely new and redesigned 148-horsepower 2.0-liter engine, still horizontally opposed, that produces similar power from 20 percent less displacement—with corresponding benefits in fuel efficiency.
The new 2.0-liter engine’s 145 lb-ft of torque is transmitted to all four wheels through either a five-speed manual gearbox or, for better gas mileage, the second generation of Subaru’s Lineartronic continuously variable transmission. The five-speed comes standard in lower-end models, with the CVT available on all trim levels and standard in the high-end Impreza Limited. Acceleration is quicker
The CVT is electronically controlled to keep the engine operating at maximal efficiency regardless of what the driver asks the car to do. Subaru has tuned it for better acceleration off the line, from 0 to 60 mph, and even in the 50 to 70 mph range crucial for safe passing. At the same time, the company has mostly avoided the usual downside of CVTs; the engine rarely races up to peak revs without a corresponding increase in road speed.
All models except the base Impreza 2.0i offer paddle shifters behind the wheel (they're optional on Premium models, standard on the Limited trim level). The paddles let drivers “shift down” one or two simulated ratios in a “six-speed manual mode” to get the engine output up before speedy acceleration is needed for passing or long hills. The 2012 Impreza will run out of steam when heavily loaded under maximum acceleration, but as with the 2010 Outback model that introduced Lineartronic, the company has kept the CVT annoyance factor low.
One unexpected feature of the CVT is the simulated engine braking on downhill stretches. It’s a good-news/bad-news quality: The good news is that the transmission keeps the car traveling at a consistent speed, avoiding that inadvertent 10-mph increase that can make the difference between traveling at the speed limit and a pricey ticket at the bottom of the hill. The bad news is that the simulated engine braking kicks in quickly, making the driver feel like the car drove into a pool of molasses that is dragging on its tires. We hope Subaru’s engineers will tweak their software a bit to make the transition less abrupt.
Subaru engineers claimed that their goal was to make the 2012 Impreza “best in class for Fun To Drive,” and while it faces tough competition in the Mazda3 and VW Golf, it’s a viable competitor for that title. The boxer engine gives all Subarus a low center of gravity, and the Impreza is flat in cornering, accelerating neutrally out of corners with little discernible understeer—unlike virtually all of its front-wheel drive competitors. Despite new electric power steering, the Impreza retains decent feedback at the wheel, though it’s not quite as eager and agile as the Mazda3. Brakes are progressive, as is typical for Subarus, but haul the car down from speed without fuss. Overall, the Impreza’s handling is admirably drama-free, inspiring confidence when pushed and doing the job without fuss otherwise.