2014 Subaru Impreza Review

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Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
August 12, 2014

The 2014 Subaru Impreza remains the only option in its class to come equipped with standard all-wheel-drive, where many don't offer it all. It's tough, practical, and looks good, too.

The 2014 Subaru Impreza lineup may look like a conventional pair of economy-minded compact cars: a four-door sedan and a five-door hatchback. But its standard all-wheel drive sets it apart from more mainstream competitors that don't offer AWD outside crossover utility vehicles, and it lets the Impreza tackle more adventurous outings--not to mention handle winter weather with greater aplomb--than the average Honda Civic or Ford Focus.

The current car is in its third model year after an extensive redesign that gave it crisper styling, better fuel efficiency, additional features and options, and even more competitive pricing. It's now closer to the mainstream compact market than ever before, though it's more often compared to the second tier of competitors--the Volkswagen Jetta and Golf and the Mazda 3--than it is to the market-leading Toyota Corolla.

The redesign from 2012 yielded an exterior that's almost exactly the same size as the model it replaced, yet Subaru has made better use of the space, with a new seat design that has more passenger space and now folds flat. There's also a useful variety of bins, trays, cubbies, and cup holders, along with a pair of 12-volt power outlets. Our only complaint about the interior is that you hear a bit too much road noise on some surfaces.

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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 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 Mazda 3 or Ford Focus).

The federal government has given the Impreza five stars; while in IIHS testing it's earned the group's Top Safety Pick+ accolade, with a top-tier 'good' performance in the tough small overlap frontal test. You'll find all the other safety equipment that's expected in this class, and with the recent redesign Subaru slimmed the pillars for better visibility. 

The 2014 Impreza remains offered in base, Premium, Limited and Sport Limited models. Premium models add popular equipment like cruise control and fog lamps. The Limited trim level adds 17-inch alloy wheels and the CVT with six-speed manual mode and paddle shifters as standard, plus leather seat upholstery, automatic climate control, auto on/off headlights, an AM/FM/CD stereo with HD radio, and some trim options. One of the few options is a navigation system with a 6.1-inch screen. For 2014, Aha Radio is included with any car optioned with the navigation system, and a rearview camera comes as part of the Limited package.

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2014 Subaru Impreza

Styling

The Subaru Impreza has crossed into the styling mainstream, with some lovely details in its cockpit.

Two years ago, Subaru redesigned the Impreza with similar dimensions but altogether more attractive sheetmetal with a more rakish profile, a lower waistline, and a higher seating position. It's gone essentially unchanged since.

While not necessarily the most stylish car on the road, the Impreza also no longer looks awkward or dowdy. The brand has returned to its trapezoidal grille shape, and added "hawkeye" headlights–making it look more closely related to the larger Outback crossover.

To our eyes the four-door sedan isn't quite as good-looking; it can come off as tall and stubby from some angles, but the five-door hatchback is quite neatly styled at the rear. A number of Impreza details echo other cars—the front hood line has a touch of Chevrolet Cruze, the taillights a hint of the latest Honda Civic, the sharply defined bumper edges recall the Chevy Volt. And overall, the form is far crisper and more coherent than the 2007-2011 Impreza it replaces.

Along the sides, exaggerated wheel arches nod to the Outback, but also serve to break up the height of the flanks. The only disappointing area of the Impreza is the side view of the front fenders, where the wheels appear a size too small for the tall cowl and substantial front overhang.

Underneath, if you care to look, there's been more attention to smoothing air turbulence and a longer undertray also reduce air drag, which helps with that other issue: gas mileage.

Straightforward and functional would be a good way to describe the cabin design. The Impreza has neither the fashion-forward shape of the Ford Focus hatchback nor the interior panache of the Chevrolet Cruze’s twin-cockpit dashboard. But it’s also no longer the wallflower at the ball, and it's lost the gawkiness of the last generation.

A half-oval cowl in front of the driver covers the speedometer and tachometer, with a square digital display screen between them. At the top of the center of the dash, an eyebrow cowl shades a wide multifunction display where less mission-critical data is displayed in larger and easier-to-read type. Modest matte silver accents divide the top dash and door surfaces from the vertical lower portions.

Overall, the Impreza offers a sensible, no-nonsense cabin with few extraneous frills or electronic distractions. Only in a few places does the design come off as cut-rate; the plain, flat silver gear-shift surround is one, the plain black radio surround is another.

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2014 Subaru Impreza

Performance

Standard all-wheel drive and a smooth ride are nice, but there's nothing earth-shattering about the Impreza's acceleration.

With exception to the WRX and STI models (which will be covered in a separate review), all Imprezas receive a 2.0-liter horizontally opposed 'flat' four-cylinder engine that produces 148 horsepower and 145 pound-feet of torque. That power moves through either a five-speed manual or continuously-variable (CVT) transmission into Subaru's famous symmetrical all-wheel-drive system.

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.

All CVT 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 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.

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.

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2014 Subaru Impreza

Comfort & Quality

Some road noise filters into the cabin, but the Impreza's seats are supportive and its interior space is ample.

The current generation of Impreza models makes better use of its interior space–both for passengers and cargo–giving it a leg up on previous models with similar dimensions.

There's enough room in the Impreza to seat four average-sized adults comfortably, though it'll take a squeeze to put someone in the rear middle seat. The seatbacks of the front seats have been scalloped to create extra legroom for passengers in the rear, and ease of entry and exit benefits from that update, too.

Materials were recently improved, with soft-touch materials now covering the majority of the dashboard and center console, and controls are mostly simple and intuitive, with large round ventilation knobs and a particularly neat optional navigation system integrated into the radio.

A peeve we noted in an earlier drive is that you need to reach through or around the steering wheel in order to cycle through the different modes on the central multifunction display; it's hard to operate when the car is moving, and should be moved to the steering wheel or main dash.

Subaru has put a lot of thought into cargo capacity and versatility in the Impreza. Its rear seat folds fully flat, and the five-door model accepts many standard roof carriers. Also, befitting its practical, hey-let’s-go-kayaking-and-spelunking-today image, Subaru enlarged the hatch and trunk openings with last year's redesign, to accommodate a medium-sized dog carrier or a mountain bike with its front wheel in place (the headliner is even scalloped to allow two mountain bikes, standing upright with the front wheels removed.

There's also a useful variety of bins, trays, cubbies, and cup holders, along with a pair of 12-volt power outlets. Our only complaint about the interior is that you hear a bit too much road noise on some surfaces.

One exception that keeps the Impreza from a higher rating here is wind noise from around the door mirrors, long a Subaru weak spot, and tire roar, which is excessive on certain surfaces.

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2014 Subaru Impreza

Safety

With good scores from the NHTSA and a top-tier performance in IIHS tests, the Impreza is among the safest compact-car picks.

The 2014 Impreza is one of the top-performing small cars for safety; and that holds true whether you're referring to crash-test protection or features.

The Impreza is an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) Top Safety Pick+ choice, meaning that it's received a top score of "Good" across the board in all tests--including in the new small overlap frontal test.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has also given the Impreza an overall five out of five star rating–with top scores in all tests, with exception only for a four-star rating in frontal impacts. At the time that this review was updated, the federal government still hadn't officially carried over the Impreza's four-star frontal and five-star overall scores, but for now we're assuming that will be the case as there have been no changes to the body structure.

Subaru also improved outward visibility with the current design, by slimming the pillars; and with a relatively high front seating position and somewhat low shoulder line, there's now good visibility in most directions. The side-mirror design introduced in 2012 is also 20 percent larger, providing a full field of rear view.

Subaru models from recent years have, with few exceptions, achieved top-tier safety ratings. The roster of safety features is good, too; in addition to the usual set of airbags, Subaru has added a seventh airbag to protect the driver’s knees. A brake-override system is also included. 

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2014 Subaru Impreza

Features

Infotainment is a sore point, but the Impreza has standard all-wheel drive.

There are four trims available on the 2014 Subaru Impreza–base, Premium, Limited, and Sport Limited–and each of them is surprisingly value-driven, offering a lot of features for the money.

All-wheel drive, Bluetooth hands-free connectivity, a USB port, an auxiliary jack and iPod controls are all standard on every Impreza model.

Options include the Lineartronic CVT, the Navigation package, a power moonroof, a 17-inch alloy wheel package, and an all-weather package with heated front seats and exterior mirrors and a wiper de-icer.

Four sound systems are available across the various models: standard, premium, a Display Radio with a 4.3-inch screen, and a Navigation Radio that neatly packages a navigation system that displays on a 6.1-inch LCD screen. However there's no single infotainment system that wraps connectivity, apps capabilities, and navigation together.

Premium models add to the base model popular equipment like cruise control, alloy wheels, six-speaker sound, and fog lamps. The Limited trim level adds 17-inch alloy wheels and the CVT with six-speed manual mode and paddle shifters as standard, plus leather seat upholstery, automatic climate control, auto on/off headlights, an AM/FM/CD stereo with HD radio, and some trim options. A navigation system with a 6.1-inch screen is one of a few options.

There's also an appearance-oriented Sport Premium model that has a leather-wrapped steering-wheel and shift knob.

The Outback Sport model is gone, replaced by an outdoor- and activity-themed model, the XV Crosstrek.

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2014 Subaru Impreza

Fuel Economy

The Impreza gets the best gas mileage of any passenger car with standard all-wheel drive.

The 2014 Subaru Impreza gets better fuel economy than any other all-wheel-drive vehicle currently available on the market, pushing well north of the 30-mpg mark with either transmission option.

The Impreza is clean enough to earn the designation of Partial Zero-Emission Vehicle, or P-ZEV—the label for vehicles that follow California’s stricter emissions standards; and Subaru has decided to offer it in all 50 states, not just where it's required.

With the continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), the 2014 Impreza sedan and hatchback get 27 mpg city, 36 mpg highway, while are expected to earn EPA ratings of 27 city, 36 mpg highway, for a combined 30-mpg rating. Manual numbers are somewhat lower, at 25/34 mpg. And that 36-mpg highway rating enables an impressive cruising range of up to 523 miles.

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Styling 8
Performance 7
Comfort & Quality 8
Safety 9
Features 8
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