2016 Subaru Impreza Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
June 29, 2016

The 2016 Subaru Impreza is the compact car to choose when you require all-wheel drive for year-round traction but don't want or need the gas-mileage hit that comes with boxy SUVs and rugged trail ability.

The 2016 Subaru Impreza is a line of compact hatchback and sedan models, but you might actually end up weighing these models against crossovers and SUVs. That's because they're the only ones in their segment to include standard all-wheel drive, even on the least expensive models.

While the closely related 2016 Subaru XV Crosstrek shares essentially the same sheet metal and body—and much of the same feature set—as the Impreza hatchback, it focuses more on ruggedness and trail-ability, so we cover it under a separate review.

Last year, the Impreza received a refresh that included new front-end styling, improved infotainment, new advanced-safety options, and better fuel economy. In all, the refresh makes this subcompact family, which essentially carries over into 2016, even more attractive to those in need of all-weather ability. Next year, the Impreza will be all new with a model that made its debut at the New York International Auto Show.

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That refresh was visually subtle, and included just some new headlights and a redesigned grille and bumper. They inch the Impreza lineup a bit closer to the look of the larger Legacy sedan, and the trunk-mounted lip spoiler helps Impreza Sedan models look a little more proportionally fit; sedans tend to look a little taller (some might say more homely), while hatchbacks are sportier and a little more cohesive in their design and styling.

In all standard Impreza models (we also cover the high-performance Subaru WRX and STI models, no longer as closely related, in a separate review), a 2.0-liter flat-4 engine makes 148 horsepower and 145 pound-feet of torque, transmitting it to all four wheels. You can get a 5-speed manual gearbox on some of the more affordable models, yet upper trims make Subaru's continuously variable transmission (CVT) mandatory. We actually prefer the manual here; while the CVT works just fine, it can be a little sluggish to bring revs up when needed for a short burst of power (although it yields better fuel economy). Handling is responsive and drama-free, and braking is reassuring, although we'd choose a Ford Focus or Mazda 3 over the Impreza if driving enjoyment (and not AWD) were the priority. 

The cabin is very well designed, with rear seats that fold flat for better cargo handling, and a surprising abundance of rear legroom. There's also a useful variety of bins, trays, cubbies, and cup holders, along with a pair of 12-volt power outlets. Last year Subaru added thicker side glass, and while that made the cabin a little more hushed than before it can still be a little loud on coarse surfaces.

The 2016 Impreza is perhaps the best pick in its class for safety. A rearview camera standard equipment on all models, while the excellent EyeSight system is now available; it uses front-mounted cameras and sensors for adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning, and automatic emergency braking functions. In IIHS testing, it has earned the Top Safety Pick+ accolade, with a top-tier "Good" score in the tough small-overlap frontal test as well as all other categories—including a "Superior" rating for that EyeSight suite. 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 federal government has also given the Impreza a five-star overall safety rating.

The Impreza is available 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 6-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. Aha Radio is included with any car optioned with the navigation system, and the entire lineup now gets some far more impressive 6.2- and 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment systems.

The Impreza has great fuel economy—28 mpg city, 37 highway, 31 combined with the CVT, or 25/34/28 mpg with the 5-speed manual—when pitted against other all-wheel drive competitors. Stacked against other compact cars, which are typically front-drive only, the Impreza isn't as impressive.

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2016 Subaru Impreza

Styling

The Impreza is quite stylish and sleek on the outside, yet keeps to Subaru's simple, utilitarian aesthetic inside.

The current version of the Subaru Impreza has dodged the somewhat dowdy, awkward look of previous versions of this vehicle. Yet to our eyes the five-door hatchback does get the better looks of the two.

The Impreza four-door sedan looks a little tall and stubby from some angles, while the five-door hatchback is quite neatly styled at the rear—and that's the key difference that makes the proportions really work better for the hatchback. A number of Impreza details echo those of other small cars, but in all it adds up to a distinctive look that falls into place nicely with the latest Forester, as well as larger models like the Legacy.

The Impreza's trapezoidal grille and "hawkeye" headlights were updated last year—making those similarities even more apparent. With that refresh, the grille, front bumper, and headlights have all been replaced with similarly shaped pieces. Sedans also got a standard trunk-mounted lip spoiler, which does help a bit with the profile, as well as an LED-illuminated third brake light.

Alongside, the detailing is smooth quite conservative, in a way that dodges the aggressive contouring and creased sheet metal that seems increasingly common in small cars. Exaggerated wheel arches serve to break up the height of the flanks, while the wheels can seem a little too small for the front overhang and tall cowl. Side mirrors hang back from the front pillars, for better aerodynamics (and outward visibility, we think). Last year brought a new mirror design, and top-trim models include turn-signal lights there.

Underneath, if you care to look, there's been more attention to smoothing air turbulence, and a longer undertray also reduces 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 clean lines of the Mazda3. But it’s also no longer the wallflower at the ball, and it's lost the gawkiness of the last generation.

Some of the interior trims and materials feel rather plain, although last year Subaru improved them somewhat. Yet overall, the Impreza cabin has a no-nonsense look, with few extraneous frills—even though infotainment systems were upgraded this past year.

The gauge-cluster layout is simple, with a half-oval cowl in front of the driver covering 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 multi-function display where extraneous data is displayed in larger and easier-to-read type.

Yet it's clear Subaru has been working on ways to spice up the lineup. For 2016, the Impreza is offered in a new 2.0i Sport Premium model, in hatchback form, that adds body-color rocker-panel spoilers, 17-inch alloy wheels, turn-signal mirrors, roof rails, and special seat fabric—all of which might help you see this model in a different light.

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2016 Subaru Impreza

Performance

With competent handling and capable all-wheel drive a standard feature, the Impreza's just-adequate acceleration is certainly forgivable.

Across the 2016 Subaru Impreza lineup, power is provided by a 2.0-liter horizontally opposed 4-cylinder engine that produces 148 horsepower and 145 pound-feet of torque, with all-wheel drive.

There's a choice between a 5-speed manual or continuously variable transmission (CVT) on some of the lineup, although the manual isn't offered at all on top Limited trims. That's unfortunate, as the manual is largely our preference between the two; the CVT is offered in all trims and standard in the high-end Impreza Limited, as well as the Premium, Sport Premium, and Sport Limited, and although it's one of the better-behaved of its kind, it serves to make the engine feel somewhat sluggish or noisy at times.

The CVT automatic aims at maintaining peak engine efficiency regardless of what the driver asks the car to do. While it works for quick straight-line acceleration, it's slower to let revs ramp up than we would hope for when a quick burst of passing power is needed.

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 allows drivers some set ratios that may still be a little mushy but help get the revs up ahead of time—for passing, or on curvy roads.

Two all-wheel-drive systems are offered in the Impreza; one with the CVT and one that's paired with the manual. Manual cars get a more basic viscous coupling in the center differential, while the CVT is backed by an electronically controlled hydraulic clutch that apportions torque front to rear.

The Impreza has great maneuverability, and it handles in a responsive, drama-free way, although it doesn't have the edgy, athletic feel of the Ford Focus or Mazda 3. Yet, the boxer engine helps give this model—and all Subarus—a low center of gravity and stable feel through quick corners and esses. Feedback through the electric power steering system is actually quite good, brakes are progressive, and there's not a lot of nosedive in hard stops.

The turbocharged, performance-oriented WRX and WRX STI performance variants of the Impreza—no longer as closely related to the Impreza as they used to be—are covered in a separate review.

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2016 Subaru Impreza

Comfort & Quality

Subaru got all the basics right, with ample interior space and supportive seats, although some will find too much road noise.

The 2016 Subaru Impreza lineup of compact cars make pretty good use of space for both passengers and cargo—and that gives them an advantage over previous versions of these models, as well as over some of the Impreza's current rivals.

Between hatchbacks and sedans, there's essentially the same amount of front and rear passenger space, although sedans do offer a larger (albeit somewhat less flexible) trunk.

You'll find comfortable space for four average-sized adults in the Impreza, though the narrow body means that fitting three across might be a challenge. Front seats have a scalloped design that helps create extra leg room for passengers in back, it's easy to get in and out of the rear seats.

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 also scalloped to allow two mountain bikes, standing upright with the front wheels removed.

Don't let the very simplified, almost stark look of the interior throw you off. Materials were improved at the beginning of this generation, and then this past year, so most of the cheap bits are history. There are now softer materials 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.

There's also a useful variety of bins, trays, cubbies, and cup holders, along with a pair of 12-volt power outlets.

Last year Subaru added more sound deadening to the Impreza, and added a new side mirror design and thicker side class, all to help with road and wind noise. For the most part, it works, although coarse road surfaces still ring through and the engine remains quite noisy during any sort of acceleration.

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2016 Subaru Impreza

Safety

With a full EyeSight suite of active-safety features available, the 2016 Impreza is one of the most affordable models with top-tier accident-avoidance tech.

There's a lot to like about the safety built into the 2016 Subaru Impreza. It has some of the best occupant-protection ratings among compact cars; and its available active-safety features aren't limited to a token, expensive option package at the top of the lineup.

In addition to the usual set of airbags, the Impreza includes a seventh airbag to protect the driver’s knees. For 2015, the rearview camera was standard across all trim levels.

Premium and Limited models are available with the EyeSight safety systems, which brings adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning, and automatic emergency braking, all enabled through a camera-based system with some very sophisticated processing.

Outward visibility is quite good, as Subaru has both slimmed down the corner pillars, raised the seating position somewhat, and brought down the shoulder line. The pulled-back side mirror design helps, too.

The IIHS has named the Impreza a Top Safety Pick+ choice. To get that, it's earned "Good" scores across the board in all tests—including in the tough small overlap frontal test—and includes front collision avoidance and automatic braking technology.

On the latter front, the EyeSight system has earned a "Superior" rating in testing—the best the IIHS awards, beating out the active-safety options in many luxury-brand vehicles.

The NHTSA has given the current Impreza an overall five-star rating—with top scores in all tests, save for a four-star rating in frontal impacts.

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2016 Subaru Impreza

Features

The big-value items on the feature set are safety-related, although the Impreza is also at last up to snuff on infotainment and general creature comforts.

The 2016 Subaru Impreza model lineup includes base, Premium, Sport Premium, Limited, and Sport Limited models; and while the Impreza models add progressively more features up the model line, all models now have generous touchscreen audio systems and good connectivity.

The standard-feature list is very impressive at the base level. Air conditioning, cruise control, power accessories, a rearview camera, Bluetooth hands-free connectivity, a USB port, an auxiliary jack, and iPod controls are all standard on every Impreza model.

The base infotainment setup has a 6.2-inch touchscreen and includes Subaru's Starlink smartphone and app integration (as well as emergency services, and by subscription, things like remote locking and unlocking). Limited models step up to a 7.0-inch touchscreen and add satellite radio, voice control, and twin USB ports.

Premium models add to the base model popular equipment like alloy wheels, six-speaker sound, and fog lamps. The Limited trim level adds 17-inch alloy wheels and the CVT with 6-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.

Sport models mainly add a series of appearance tweaks. For instance, the Sport Premium model has a leather-wrapped steering-wheel and shift knob, as well as the 17-inch wheels.

Options include a 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. The new EyeSight safety system is also available on Limited models and also includes a function that uses the fog lights as cornering lights.

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2016 Subaru Impreza

Fuel Economy

If you consider the Impreza up against other models with all-wheel drive, it's quite fuel-efficient.

Whether or not you see the Subaru Impreza as a very fuel-efficient car—or merely one with typical small-car ratings—depends on how much value you place on its all-wheel-drive system.

Relative to other all-wheel-drive vehicles, the Impreza has great ratings—of 28 mpg city, 37 highway, 31 combined with the continuously variable transmission, or 25/34/28 mpg with the 5-speed manual. We've seen quite numbers close to that in real-world driving with the Impreza, too.

Keep in mind that Sport models drop 1 mpg in both the city and highway ratings—with either transmission—likely due to higher-rolling-resistance tires.

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October 14, 2015
2016 Subaru Impreza 4-Door Manual 2.0i

Bought a brand new 2016 WRX limited edition and I'm loving it!

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I love this car! It may be a bit noisy, but it's expected from a sports compact car. Every car guy would love this car regardless of the noise from the outside. Anyhow, it holds up to its performance! The... + More »
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