It may not look like it, but yes, that's an Impreza up there, the 2017 edition of Subaru's long-running compact sedan and hatchback. If it doesn't look familiar to you, you're not alone. Other than the token fog-lights and those Pleiades on a field of blue on the nose, it'd be easy to mistake this car for something from, say, Mazda.
But the real reason why this car looks unfamiliar is because it's all new. And that's not the sort of "all new" label that's too often lifted from the auto press release jargon pile. The new Impreza has seen a raft of changes from nose to tail that make it a fundamentally different car than before.
More importantly, though, it's shaping up to be really, really good.
On being new
Subaru owners, on average, keep their cars for almost 10 years. That's about twice as long as buyers of other brands soldier on before trading in for something fresher. Given a stat like that, you'd be forgiven for thinking that Subaru would have little incentive in ever being progressive.
And you wouldn't be wrong. This is, after all, a manufacturer that doesn't offer a single hybrid in its lineup, doesn't make a proper crossover and, somehow, actually manages to sell more Impreza wagons than sedans in the US. Looking at Subaru is indeed a bit like looking back at the car industry of a decade ago.
But none of that matters, because the fourth-generation Impreza is here to usher in a new era for Subaru, rolling in on the aptly titled New Global Platform. This chassis that underpins the car offers a host of structural benefits I'll discuss in a moment, but crucially it finally opens the door for Subaru to start offering plug-in hybrid versions of its cars.
For now, though, the drivetrain options of the 2017 Impreza are rather limited. There's a sole engine, called FB20, the latest iteration of Subaru's long-serving, 2.0-liter flat-four. This motor finally gets direct injection and a higher, 12.5:1 compression ratio, both good bits of news. It also offers 28 mpg in the city and 38 on the highway, impressive figures for a car offering all-wheel drive as standard.
Power, however, hasn't changed much. 152 horsepower and 145 pound-feet of torque means this new motor has just four more ponies than the last generation, and while the CVT has had its ratios broadened and responsiveness sharpened, progress in the Impreza will certainly favor the patient. (Believe it or not, a five-speed manual is still available as an option, but sadly those are not available at launch.)
Thankfully, the rest of the driving experience is rather more engaging.
Stiffness as a virtue
That New Global Platform underpinning the 2017 Impreza means the car is 45mm longer, 35mm wider and 10mm lower, yet it weighs basically the same as the outgoing car. It's also between 70 and 100 percent better at resisting twisting and turning forces from every angle. This added rigidity, plus a host of suspension improvements, makes for a car that feels remarkably composed on the road. It's not a posh ride by any means, you'll feel the lane markers and concrete separation joints, but their presence won't be a jarring intrusion to your drive.
Subaru also radically sharpened the steering, throwing in a new rack with a BRZ-matching 13:1 ratio, far quicker than the old 16:1 unit. Brakes, too, are quick and firm, creating a package which turns and responds in a way that will make some older WRX owners envious.
And while there is no update on a next-gen WRX yet, Subaru is throwing a bone to the enthusiast market here with the inclusion of a Sport model. This car features larger, 18-inch wheels and slightly revised suspension. While it's impossible to know whether it was the lower-profile tires or indeed tweaks to the bouncy bits, the Sport was indeed a notch sharper in response than the base model, while still maintaining good ride quality.
If you think this thing looks different on the outside, wait until you see the interior. Subaru has raised the bar here in a big, big way, and that is quite a relief considering what Subaru loyalists have come to expect from the company.
Seats are comfortable and covered in durable materials, while every surface within reach features materials that are at least not unpleasant to the touch. It's not all win, though, with some unfortunately tacky faux carbon fiber found on some trims, made worse by the presence of not one but two separate, mismatching "weaves" of the stuff.
If you're going to wrap the interior in fake carbon fiber, at least make it match. But, as my friend Jeremy Korzeniewski at Autoblog pointed out during our drive together, if the biggest thing we have to complain about is the pattern of the fake carbon fiber in the interior, that's a very good sign.
Tech meets safety
Another area where Subaru has been decidedly retro has been their in-cabin technology. Thankfully, this too is an area seeing a reinvention, with a new infotainment system developed with Harman. On either a 6.5- or 8-inch touchscreen (depending on model) you'll have access to a grid of apps and features that is not only easy to use but fully customizable.
Higher-end models will see TomTom navigation, but more importantly all models, every Impreza sold, will offer compatibility with both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. Opt for the built-in nav, though, and you'll find a system that's remarkably snappy and useful.
Most cars will also feature AT&T-powered 4G LTE connectivity to power Subaru's OnStar-like Starlink system, which includes remote unlocking and automatic emergency response. Voice recognition is powered by Nuance, about the best in the business, and there's even a built-in birdwatching app. Why? Because Subaru.
The third-generation of Subaru's EyeSight, dual-camera system enables many active driver safety and convenience features like adaptive cruise, lane-keep assist and automatic emergency braking. There's also a rear cross-traffic alert and a new, automatic braking system to prevent you from accidentally backing into something.
Even the headlights are fancy, turning to look around corners and featuring high beams that dim themselves automatically. Sure, this is all stuff we've seen elsewhere first, but keep in mind this is a car that starts at just over $18,000.
Options and packages
There are three basic tiers for the 2017 Impreza. The lowest is the 2.0i, with a starting price of $18,395 and the most restrictive set of options: smallest infotainment system, no EyeSight and little in the way of niceties. Move up to the Premium tier and you'll spend at least $21,195. This steps up from the five-speed to the CVT and enables inclusion of the EyeSight system, which will add about $1,400 to the car, depending on the package.
Next up is the $21,995 Sport, with bigger wheels and tires, plus the 8-inch version of the infotainment system. Finally, there's the $24,095 Limited, which, fully optioned out, will cost you just under $30,000.
Going with the five-door on any of these models costs just $500 more. For that price it's well, well worth it.
Still a Subaru, just better
While this car may not look much like an Impreza of yore, when it comes to the interior at least that's actually a very good thing. A single day behind the wheel isn't enough time to write a full review, it's easy to see that the 2017 Impreza is shaping up to be an incredibly compelling choice in the incredibly competitive compact car segment. Though with its ever-swelling dimensions I'm increasingly loath to actually call it a compact.
Regardless, it's a damn good car, and will hopefully serve as a damn fine platform for even greater things to come.
Editor's note: Roadshow accepts multi-day vehicle loans from manufacturers in order to provide scored editorial reviews. All scored vehicle reviews are completed on our turf and on our terms. However, for this feature, travel costs were covered by the manufacturer. This is common in the auto industry, as it's far more economical to ship journalists to cars than to ship cars to journalists. The judgements and opinions of Roadshow's editorial team are our own and we do not accept paid content.