In all standard Impreza models (the higher-performance WRX and STI models are covered by a separate review), a 2.0-liter horizontally opposed ('flat') four-cylinder engine makes 148 hp and 145 lb-ft of torque, transmitting it 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 CVT is electronically controlled to keep the engine operating at maximal efficiency regardless of what the driver asks the car to do. For the most part it's quite responsive, and 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. Although the one thing we'd like to see changed is its very slow ramp-up of revs when a quick burst of power is needed.
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), and that helps when you anticipate needing that extra spurt. They let drivers “shift down” one or two simulated ratios in a “six-speed manual mode”
The five-speed comes standard in lower-end models, but it's largely our preference between the two; the CVT is offered in all trims and standard in the high-end Impreza Limited.
Handling is responsive and drama-free, but it doesn't quite win in the fun-to-drive category (that would go to the Mazda3 or Ford Focus). 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. The boxer engine also 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.