2011 Subaru Impreza Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
February 9, 2011

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.

Review continues below

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.

7

2011 Subaru Impreza

Styling

There's not much remarkable about the Impreza's styling, though the hatchback's exterior is less anonymous.

The Impreza remains offered either as a four-door sedan or a five-door hatchback. Wagon models can also be had in a ruggedly styled Outback Sport guise.

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. 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 hasn't changed significantly since its introduction a couple of years ago, though last year the Impreza got a new grille design that, from a distance, reminded us of the Honda Civic's.

Inside, the Impreza feels better styled, if not entirely upscale. Its instrument panel design wraps around to the doors and is punctuated by a center pos that contains audio and climate controls and vents, while the driver gets a sport-sedan-like hooded gauge cluster. Materials are mostly a mix of grained and matte-metallic-surfaced plastics.

Review continues below
7

2011 Subaru Impreza

Performance

Standard all-wheel drive and good steering give the 2011 Subaru Impreza models a confident driving feel, but its powertrains aren't so responsive.

While the Impreza sedan and five-door models bear more than a slight likeness to the high-performance WRX and STI models, 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.

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.

Review continues below
7

2011 Subaru Impreza

Comfort & Quality

If you can see past cut-rate cabin materials, the 2011 Subaru Impreza is a comfortable, roomy, and refined, small car in sedan or hatchback form.

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.

Whether in hatchbacks or sedans, front seating in the Impreza is excellent, with a ratcheting seat-height adjustment included in all models and a good, upright driving position (though the lack of telescopic steering-wheel adjustment is a feature-set blemish). Backseat space is also better than typical for adults, with six-footers able to sit front and back—with enough headroom in back, although legroom is a little tight. The trunk in sedans is surprisingly spacious, though there are drawbacks to both setups: In the sedan, the cargo floor has an odd slope to accommodate the rear suspension, while hatchbacks are a little disappointing for having a shorter shelf. Backseats fold nearly flat in either model, though, to expand cargo space.

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.

So far, so good, but 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.

Review continues below
9

2011 Subaru Impreza

Safety

The 2011 Impreza and Outback Sport keep with Subaru's reputation for safety and occupant protection.

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.

All the standard safety features are here, too, including anti-lock disc brakes, stability control, front-seat side airbags, side curtain airbags, and active front head restraints to help mitigate crash-induced whiplash. It could be argued that in some situations the standard all-wheel drive system also serves as a safety feature.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gives the Impreza and Impreza Sport top 'good' ratings for frontal, side, and rear impact, as well as the new roof strength test. That altogether makes it one of the IIHS Top Safety Picks for 2011.

The federal government hasn't yet tested the Impreza in its revised and more stringent battery of tests for 2011, but in previous model years this model has received a mix of four- and five-star results.

Review continues below
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2011 Subaru Impreza

Features

In addition to its standout all-wheel drive, the 2011 Subaru Impreza and Outback Sport include an extensive feature set for an attractively low price.

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.

Subaru has improved the value of most of its models in recent years, adding more standard equipment without significantly raising prices, and the Impreza and Outback Sport are no exceptions. The base 2.5i comes standard with 16-inch steel wheels, full power accessories, keyless entry, air conditioning, cruise control, and a 60/40-split-folding rear seat. The 2.5i Premium adds 16-inch alloy wheels, leather-wrapped steering wheel, and an upgraded sound system with steering-wheel controls.

In the Legacy family, the Outback is a very different model, with its own feature set and significantly more ground clearance, but here in the Impreza family, the Outback Sport is only a trim level of the Impreza. It also includes larger wheels, a slightly raised suspension, fog lamps, a roof rack, body color mirrors, a wiper de-icer, heated front seats, leather trim, and special two-tone paint schemes. The effect of the Outback Sport, which is only offered in hatchback form, is that it's a slightly more rugged-looking, well-equipped version of the Impreza.

The entire Impreza line gets new audio systems for 2011; the base sound system now includes six speakers, a CD player, XM and Sirius compatibility, an auxiliary input, a USB Port, iPod control capability, and integrated Bluetooth hands-free calling functions.

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.

Review continues below
6

2011 Subaru Impreza

Fuel Economy

Subaru's high-standing reputation with granola types and treehuggers doesn't translate to good fuel economy.

Given Subaru's messaging (and the brand's reputation for having socially and environmentally conscious followers), you might assume that this brand has especially green vehicles, that's not the case—or at least not in the case of the Impreza. The standard Impreza manages just 20 mpg city, 27 highway in EPA tests, with the automatic version a mile per gallon lower yet on the highway.

Subaru's full-time all-wheel drive has something to do with it, as does the automatic Impreza's four rather widely spaced ratios. Interestingly, the much larger Legacy—and even Outback—beat the Impreza for fuel economy, if you get their continuously variable (CVT) automatic, which isn't offered in the Impreza family.

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