First Drive

2012 Subaru Impreza goes mainstream

Subaru opts for more appealing styling and better fuel efficiency in new Impreza

AT A GLANCE
PRICE
$19,995 base.

Brentwood Bay, BC - Despite staunch support from its loyal owners, the Subaru brand has never quite found a firm foothold in the mainstream marketplace. While its products have proven to be well-built, reliable and above average at retaining their value, they have have struggled for broad-market acceptance. In fact, the brand hasn’t even been on the radar of many shoppers.

Consumer feedback has criticized Subaru’s styling, which some consider quirky, and its interiors, which are thought to be more cramped than competing nameplates. Even its signature feature, standard all-wheel-drive, gets rapped in these days of continuously escalating fuel costs for contributing to poorer fuel consumption numbers than the competition.

So Subaru is changing, opting for more appealing styling and better fuel efficiency and, hopefully, building consumers’ awareness of the brand. The 2012 Impreza, which arrived in Canadian showrooms in late 2011, exemplifies that approach

This is the fourth generation of the Impreza, which made its debut in 1992 and has generated global sales of 1.85 million to date. This latest iteration is new from the ground up, delivering more aggressive styling, a roomier interior that’s also more refined, and a new powertrain that promises 30%-better fuel economy. Best of all, the improvements come without compromising one of the core values of the brand – it’s fun to drive.

We’ll have more about the Impreza’s driving character in a subsequent report, but after a day driving it on some wonderfully winding roads in lower Vancouver Island, it’s safe to say that the standards of performance and handling dynamics that endear current Subarus to enthusiasts has been preserved.

This new compact is offered in two body styles – a four-door sedan and a five-door hatchback – with four trim levels, starting with the base 2.0i, which includes features such as power windows, locks and mirrors, cruise control, keyless entry and air conditioning as standard equipment. Next up is a Touring edition, which includes additional amenities such as an audio upgrade, Bluetooth connectivity, heated front seats and 16-inch alloy wheels. The trim choices are topped off with a Sport Package and a Limited edition.

The new exterior includes styling cues that are helping redefine the brand, such as a hexagonal grille that is being shared throughout the Subaru lineup and the hawk-eye headlights that were introduced on the 2010 Legacy.

The car’s silhouette has a sleeker look, due in part to the more raked windshield and thinner A-pillar, which has been moved ahead 200 millimetres. Aggressive wheel arches, also shared with the Legacy, help give the car a sportier stance. The wheelbase on both the sedan and hatchback has been stretched to 2,645 mm from the current model’s 2,620 mm, yet the shorter overhangs front and rear result in an overall length that’s unchanged. Vehicle width remains the same, too.

The lengthened wheelbase contributes to better interior packaging, with more room in the cabin and a larger cargo area – the hatchback will accommodate three golf bags; the sedan will handle four. There’s more shoulder-, hip- and leg-room, especially in the rear seat, where occupants now have 50 mm more space for their lower limbs. Both models feature a 60/40-split rear seatback. A nice touch in the sedan’s trunk is the reshaped hinge arms, which are now enclosed to prevent crushing cargo when the lid is closed.

Access to the cabin has been improved with larger door openings front and rear. Moving the base of the A-pillar ahead has allowed the designers to stretch the front door opening 125 mm, while the door sills are now 20 mm lower.

The pulled-forward design of the windshield also allows the instrument panel to be positioned lower, making the cabin feel more spacious. Greater attention to detail in the interior is obvious, with significantly more soft-touch plastic on the instrument panel, door trim and centre console. Overall, there’s a more refined look, with a greater use of textures and paint tones to perk up the cabin.

A full suite of airbags is standard – seven in all, including a knee-bag for the driver. Four-sensor anti-lock braking technology controls the standard all-disc brakes, while a brake override system has been added for 2012. A stability control system is also standard.

Subaru has switched to an electric power steering system on the new Impreza, a move that improves fuel economy by 2%.

Fuel efficiency also gets a boost from a 50-kilogram reduction in the Impreza’s weight. The chassis is 10 kg lighter, yet its stiffness has been improved by 25%, thanks to greater use of high-strength steel.

The biggest contributor to the 30% overall improvement in fuel efficiency, however, is the new powertrain. Both models use a new 2.0-litre version of the FB Series boxer four-cylinder introduced in the 2011 Forester. The stroke has been lengthened resulting in improved torque (145 lb-ft), while power is rated at 148 hp.

The engine now sports double overhead camshafts – the current Impreza has single overhead cams – and changes have been made to reduce friction and improve durability, such as switching from a timing belt to chain-drive for the camshafts. The engine’s compression ratio has been bumped up to 10.5:1 from 10.2, but the engine is still content to function on regular-grade fuel.

The transmission channelling the engine’s output to the standard symmetrical all-wheel drive system is either a five-speed manual, with revised second and fifth gear ratios for improved fuel economy, or a new, second-generation Lineartronic CVT (continuously variable transmission) designed specifically for the Impreza. This more compact transmission offers wider gear ratio coverage and is tuned for more linear acceleration.

Pricing for the 2012 Impreza starts at just $1995 for the 2.0i four-door.

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