With the Outback growing up to become more of a crossover and less of a wagon, the 2012 Subaru Impreza is angling to fill its bigger sibling's shoes with a roomier and more fuel-efficient small vehicle to compete in the growing compact car segment.
Bigger than the subcompacts millennials may have bought during or just out of school, and more refined than their parents' hand-me-downs, Subaru wants the Impreza to be a car buyers' first real car.
To make the compact car seem bigger, Subaru enlarged the vehicle's wheelbase by an inch while shortening the body overhang to retain the same footprint as the previous model. The sedan is still 180.3 inches and the five-door model is still 173.8 inches, but the subtle changes opened up 2.3 cubic feet of interior space in the sedan, and 2.9 in the five-door.
The star feature of the 2012 Subaru Impreza is the fuel economy, which is expected to be rated at 27 mpg in the city and 36 on the highway--a 30 percent increase over the previous model. As of this posting, the 2012 Impreza is the most fuel-efficient gasoline-powered all-wheel-drive passenger car in America, according to Subaru.
That leap in fuel efficiency is due in no small part due to the new, 2-liter Boxer engine, which provides a 10 percent fuel economy gain compared to the outgoing 2.5-liter engine. As with any give, there will be a little take: you have only 148 horsepower to play with in the 2012 Impreza, compared to the 170 hp found in the previous model year.
The Boxer engine can be paired with either the standard five-speed manual or new second-generation six-speed continuously variable transmission (CVT) option. New electric steering also contributes to a 2 percent efficiency gain.
With a dedicated tuner and driving enthusiast following, Subaru expects a 30 percent take rate with the manual transmission. But the new CVT offers a comparable shifting experience that won't nauseate manual die-hards. The gear ratios of the second-generation transmission have been tuned to feel more like a manual transmission and offer increased power out of the gate, according to Subaru. And on that claim, the 2012 Impreza actually delivers.
To give the Impreza an upmarket feel, Subaru replaced much of the hard plastic interior with soft touch points on the dashboard, door trim, and center console armrest. That, coupled with better audio options, shows that Subaru is racing to catch up to competitors that started paying closer attention to infotainment a lot earlier.
The Impreza is available in the base, Premium, Sport Premium, Limited, and Sport Limited models. With the 2.0i base model, you basically get a car with an AM/FM radio. In fact, the only option in the base model is the CVT transmission. But the Premium model upgrades from 15-inch steel to 16-inch aluminum alloy wheels, and adds an audio system with a CD player, six speakers, USB ports for iPod integration, auxiliary inputs for MP3 players, Bluetooth connectivity, and audio streaming, along with a few interior and exterior changes.
At 22.5 cu. ft., the cargo space of the five-door model is 3.5 cu. ft. larger than the previous model year, which means that with the rear seats folded flat, the 2012 Impreza can hold a mountain bike with the front wheel still attached.
The Limited comes with the CVT, 17-inch wheels, fog lights, and the cold weather package, to name a few advantages. It also adds a 4.3-inch audio display with enhanced graphics for HD radio and iPod integration. With an iPod connected, you'll also be able to tag songs that you can purchase on iTunes the next time you sync your mobile device.
On both the Premium and Limited models, you can spring for the optional 6.1-inch touch-screen display with navigation system. The navigation system has easy-to-read graphics with a fairly intuitive interface, and the upgraded head unit adds available XM Satellite Radio and XM NavTraffic (subscription required), and is equipped with about 50 voice control commands to facilitate some amount of hands-free infotainment control.
As with most systems, the GPS system doesn't read addresses from your address book. But to help make navigating to the same destinations easier, Subaru expanded the number of points of interest that you can save to the database to around 500. The navi also supports SMS text capability, and to help drivers save gas, an eco-route mode shows them the most fuel-efficient way to get to their destination.