For many, cars are the gateway drug into an automaker’s full pharmacy of vehicles. With lower starting prices, approachable demeanors and value-minded packaging, consumers will initially gravitate toward cars before being drawn to something more enticing. But buyers still have to notice you first, and competition is more cutthroat than ever.
Take Subaru, for example. Known for its all-AWD lineup, top safety awards and heart string-pulling ads, Subaru has made a name for itself as being the brand that cares. And being the nice guy seems to be working as the automaker saw sales increase for the eighth-straight year, surpassing 600,000 vehicles. But, like the industry trends, it was mostly thanks to its crossovers. Its compact car, the Impreza, saw sales fall 17.3 percent. So, what’s next? A redesign.
On sale now, the 2017 Subaru Impreza is new. Ninety-five percent new, in fact, according to Subaru. Design, engineering, safety, comfort, technology, factory–so much new! Offered in four trim levels, including a new Sport, sedans start at $18,395 MSRP and five-door models at $18,895 MSRP. Destination is an additional $820.
Although not as sexy as the Mazda3 or as love-it-or-hate-it striking as the Honda Civic, the new Impreza’s design is good looking in a 90s boy band way. Handsome with a dusting of masculinity, sure, you might lose the inoffensive Impreza in a crowded parking lot, but that’s what the key fob panic button is for.
The roomy new interior is equally clean-cut and uniformed, featuring supportive seats, fashionable stitching and geriatric-friendly large buttons, knobs and infotainment menu. Except on the steering wheel. The mounted controls are a convoluted mess of icons, which triggered a trial-and-error game of “What does this button do?”
But, as the first Impreza to be built in the U.S., the vehicle also debuts Subaru’s new global platform, which not only creates efficiency and flexibility in manufacturing but is designed to increase crash protection, ride comfort and driving dynamics. And it handles well enough, almost pedestrian in its effort.
The updated 2.0-liter four-cylinder boxer engine is 26 pounds lighter, features direct fuel injection and offers more performance. Its 152 horsepower and 148 lb-ft of torque (standard fare for the segment) is paired with a short-throw, five-speed manual or new seven-speed continuously variable transmission (CVT).
Subaru’s always-on AWD system remains as dependable as ever and is not a fuel economy penalty, offering up to 38 MPG on the highway—comfortably middle-of-the-pack against its FWD competitors. The Impreza’s overall ride is compliant and comfortable but can feel stiff on uneven road surfaces, owning up to more of a thud than a gentle bump when cruising around town.
The engine power is adequate but can be whiny at full throttle. There may be more sound-deadening materials but the high-rev note is no Top 40 melody. Thankfully, the CVT does shift rather smoothly that most drivers won’t notice (Nissan, take notes). Those wanting more boost, however, can give the upcoming 2018 WRX and STI models a taste. Due this spring, they’ll feature a 268-horsepower, turbocharged 2.0-liter.
And what’s a Subaru without beaucoup safety features? The new underpinnings improve crash energy absorption by 40 percent compared to the outgoing model and the Subaru EyeSight system includes driver-assistance technologies such as adaptive cruise control, automatic pre-collision braking, lane departure warning and lane keep assist.
Blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert also are available as are new features such as high beam assist, steering-responsive headlights, reverse automatic braking and a four-way tire pressure monitoring system. With Subaru, safety awards come standard.
For more whiz-bang techie stuff is SUBARU STARLINK, a connected-car system which links multimedia, navigation and safety. In addition to premium sound by Harman Kardon and navigation by TomTom, the infotainment system features smartphone integration, streaming audio and a selection of additional cloud-based apps. Safety and security services offer automatic collision notification, SOS emergency assistance, diagnostic alerts and stolen vehicle recovery.
While the Impreza isn’t the most provocative pill in the compact car lot, it does provide enough kick to keep brand acolytes satisfied as well as pique the interest of newcomers.