We recently sampled the new third-generation flat four in a European-spec Forester. Despite that vehicle's 3300-pound weight, we were satisfied with the modest power and its ability to move through city and highway traffic. Hard acceleration either from a standstill or at speed requires patience, though. Subaru claims a 10.7-second sprint to 62 mph, although a lighter and more aerodynamic Impreza would obviously undercut that sluggish figure.
Compared with the second-generation 2.0-liter (which hasn't been sold in the United States recently), the new engine uses a longer stroke and smaller bore for reduced friction and improved low- to mid-range torque. The longer stroke, though, makes for a noticeably harsh and loud demeanor at high load above 3000 rpm. The uncommon coarseness stands in direct contrast to Subaru's claim that the horizontally opposed four provides smoother operation than an in-line four-cylinder.
Although we haven't heard a word about the next-generation WRX or STI, that's hardly cause for concern. The two high-performance models are an inseparable piece of the Impreza brand. Expect the formula -- a turbocharger, more advanced all-wheel drive, and brash bodywork -- to remain unchanged.
Nowhere to go but up
Subaru still has a lot to prove with the production car, but our early preview of the 2012 Impreza shows that the brand is moving in the right direction. When we do get behind the wheel, we're hoping to find that the manual shifter has been tightened up, the slop in the steering has been eliminated, and the interior has been made much nicer. But for now, we can say that the much-needed progress in fuel economy and the potential for an exciting new design give us hope for the next Subaru Impreza.