Let’s get this right up front, I like the looks, ride and handling of the restyled 2012 Subaru Impreza.
The small sedan’s chiseled nose and flattened wheel flares give it a much more exciting appearance than its predecessor. But the variable speed 5-speed transmission is a stumbling block. The continuously variable transmission (CVT), like so many others, makes the car’s acceleration less than stellar, plus combines with the engine to create a whine and groan that make the car sound like it’s working awfully hard to get up to normal driving speeds.
Several car makers have moved to the CVT in an attempt to coax better gas mileage from their vehicles. Generally CVT-equipped vehicles get 1 mpg or so more than a car with an automatic. Although many of today’s new 6-speed (and more) automatic transmissions are now getting 1 or 2 more mpg themselves.
According to the trip computer I got an impressive 29.1 mpg in about 70% highway driving. The EPA rates the Impreza at 27 mpg city and 36 highway, so you’d think the CVT really was helping. Yet I really only got 23.5 mpg, a disappointment when I filled the tank. That number disappoints too because the Subaru isn’t packing a big motor. Imprezas, including the tested 2.0i Limited model, feature a 2.0-liter Boxer 4-cylinder engine with 148 horsepower. The car also weighs just 3,053 lbs.
Generally the engine provides adequate power when pulling away from a stoplight, but it isn’t quick. Push the pedal hard and you’ll get a little more oomph, but a lot of engine/tranny groan. You’ll also notice what feels like engine braking when you back off the accelerator and let the car coast. That’s the CVT slowing the car more quickly than you’d feel with a standard transmission.
All things considered, I believe Subaru would have been better served with a 6-speed manual transmission to put that power to better use.
Too bad the CVT spoils a rather strong effort from the rest of the car’s redesign. Riding on a 104.1-inch wheelbase, Impreza features good ride quality for a smaller sedan. This is close to what used to be a midsized car’s wheelbase, but as cars grow yearly, 104 inches is now about the upper end of the small or compact range.
Handling is good, not spot-on sporty, but fairly responsive. Steering effort is pleasantly light while feeling well balanced, but there is a little body lean in tight turns. The AWD system will help in sloppy weather, but we had none while I was testing.
Braking is good from four wheel discs equipped with ABS along with stability control. The car rides on 17-inch tires.
Inside the tested sparkling medium “Marine Blue” test car, the Impreza Limited featured black leather seating with gray stitching and a textured black dash with leather steering wheel and shift knob. There also was matte silver dash trim and a similar material around the shifter. Brushed black plastic facing is used on the center stack.
Seats are extremely flat and firm with the seat backs mildly contoured. Despite the lack of contouring on the seat bottoms I found them comfortable. Everything is manually adjusted too and includes a pump handle to raise the driver’s seat height. Amazing at this price level, the seats also include two-speed heating.
Head and legroom are fine front and rear so that four adults of normal size fit comfortably. Taller riders might feel a bit cramped for headroom in back though. Impreza’s rear seats split and fold to enlarge the deep 12.0 cubic foot trunk too and the Subaru comes with a manual tilt/telescope steering wheel with paddle shifters, key start (but keyless entry), and the usual power mirrors, windows and door locks.
Impreza’s dash is clean and easy to understand, but has a few issues. First, the two main gauges feature white numbers you can see fine in the daytime, but at night the entire gauge pods feature dim red lighting so you can barely read the speedometer or odometer. If you adjust those gauges’ light level to be brighter the remaining white dash gauges are distractingly bright.
The navigation/radio screen also is tiny with even smaller touchscreen buttons that you really must work hard at to hit just one channel button at a time. I have small hands and still rarely got the channel I wanted on the first poke, both frustrating and distracting while driving.
Audio and navigation buttons around the screen also are miniscule and the radio volume knob is small. The good news? There are redundant controls on the steering wheel hub that you will find much more useful. Also, the climate controls are three big round knobs, so easy to use.
Overhead are flimsy feeling visors that do not slide or include extenders. But the test car added a power sunroof, part of a $2,000 option package that also adds that navigation system and screen. The only other goodies were thick rubber floor mats, a $69 option that look seriously off-road oriented.
Now for some better news, the Impreza Limited with its leather interior and heated seats starts at $21,895, plus a $750 delivery fee. So the test car hit just $24,714. Remember the average cost of a new vehicle these days is about $31 grand.
Need an AWD vehicle, but have a little less cash to spend?
The base 2.0i sedan starts at $17,495 and features the same engine. A five-door (hatchback to most of us) begins at $17,995. There are several other levels in both sedan and hatchback versions, topping out with the Sport Limited with a base price of $22,595.
Subaru Impreza Stats
2012 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Limited
Made in: Japan
Engine: 2.0-liter Boxer 4-cyl., 148 hp
Transmission: VAR 5-speed (CVT)
Weight: 3,053 lbs.
Wheelbase: 104.1 in.
Cargo: 12.0 cu.ft.
Base Price: $21,895
Dealer’s Price: $20,919
Package 08 (power moonroof, navigation system w/LCD Touchscreen), $2,000
All-weather floor mats, $69
Test vehicle: $24,714
Sources: Subaru, www.autos.yahoo.com
Hits: Better looks (more chiseled) than predecessor and good a value with AWD, heated seats. Good ride and handling with comfortable interior.
Misses: Transmission moans and holds car back big time when you let off the gas. Engine/trany noise ruins otherwise quality feel of car. Acceleration is lackluster, visors feel flimsy and don’t slide and Touchscreen radio has miniscule buttons.