Subaru’s Impreza WRX and WRX STI certainly help draw attention to the brand, but ironically, their plebian sibling — the base Impreza — may actually be much more important to the automaker. It’s understandable, once you’ve seen the numbers: in both 2009 and 2010, the Impreza — not the recently redesigned Legacy — is Subaru’s best-selling sedan, and the brand’s third-best selling model line altogether.
That’s not too shabby, but there’s always room for improvement. Critics and consumers alike have docked the third-generation Impreza for its subpar interior materials, sloppy handling, and poor fuel economy. It’s no surprise that the new 2012 Impreza, which debuts at the 2011 New York auto show, promises to improve upon each of those shortcomings.
Growing Up, but Barely Growing
You’ll be forgiven if you mistake the fourth-generation Impreza for its larger Legacy/Outback sibling from afar. As the 2009 Impreza concept car suggested, the new Impreza bears a close resemblance to its bigger brethren, particularly in the front clip. The rhombus-shaped grille and tapered headlamps echo the Legacy. Five-door models will likely turn the most heads, thanks in part to a tall, chunky rear bumper that does more for aerodynamics than aesthetics.
If the new cars look larger than before, consider this an optical illusion. Subaru officials proclaimed the previous Impreza to be “right-sized” for today’s compact segment, so it’s no surprise that the 2012 Impreza doesn’t stray far from that dimensional sweet spot. Despite riding on a wheelbase that’s grown by an inch, the 2012 Impreza’s footprint is virtually identical to the outgoing car: overall length (180.3″ for sedans, 173.8″ for wagons) and width (68.5″) are unchanged, while overall height (57.6″) actually comes in at a half-inch under than the 2011 model.
Interior dimensions, particularly those for the front passengers, are nearly identical to those of the previous model, although larger windows and a lowered instrument panel give the impression of additional space. Passengers relegated to the rear seats, however, may appreciate the newfound space. Legroom jumps by two inches, shoulder room is increased by two inches, and the rear door openings are slightly wider than before, easing both entry and egress.
Cargo volume is also increased, especially on wagon models, which now offers 49.7 cubic feet of space once the rear seatbacks are folded. Better yet, thanks to the use of a smaller fuel tank and the relocation of the charcoal canister, the intrusive hump over the rear axle is a thing of the past.
Downsized Engine, Increased Fuel Economy
A smaller fuel tank may suggest a sacrifice in cruising range, but the 2012 Impreza counters that sacrifice with a significant boost in fuel economy. While a number of tricks, including careful aerodynamic sculpting and the adoption of electric power steering, certainly help, the biggest aid in increasing the Impreza’s mileage lies with an all-new engine.
2012 Impreza models are fitted with a new 2.0-liter boxer-four-cylinder, which is similar to the FB-series 2.5-liter flat-four launched in the 2011 Forester. The new engine isn’t a wild departure from the EJ-series 2.5-liter engine used in the outgoing Impreza, but it does eschew single overhead cams for a DOHC configuration, adopt variable timing for both intake and exhaust valves, and use a smaller bore size to help improve efficiency.
As it stands, the new 2.0-liter is rated at 147 horsepower at 6200 rpm, and 145 pound-feet of torque at 4200 rpm. That’s down from the 170 horsepower and 170 pound-feet offered by last year’s 2.5-liter four-cylinder. Subaru counters that the 110-pound reduction in weight may not affect performance, but many consumers will likely find the improvement in fuel economy alone worth the sacrifice in both displacement and output.
Finalized EPA figures are still weeks away, but Subaru estimates that, when coupled with a new continuously variable transmission, the Impreza will be rated at 27/36 mpg (city/highway). Stick with the five-speed manual on lower trim levels, and those figures come in at 25/34 mpg, respectively. Those are impressive gains, considering 2011 Imprezas fitted with the four-speed automatic earned a 20/26-mpg rating from the EPA.
Considering several competitors boast of 40-plus-MPG figures for their C-segment offerings, 36 mpg may not sound like much. Still, the figure is impressive considering the Impreza remains an all-wheel-drive vehicle. In fact, the 2012 Impreza appears to surpass most compact all-wheel-drive competitors in terms of highway fuel economy, including both Suzuki’s Kizashi and SX4, and the Mitsubishi Outlander Sport.
Fun To Drive – Or So We Hear
Fuel economy aside, Subaru’s next priority was to make the 2012 Impreza a true driver’s car. Engineers repeatedly mentioned that the Mazda 3 served as a benchmark, and that the new Impreza compares favorably to Mazda’s beloved C-segment offering.
This could be mere marketing hyperbole, but we’ll reserve judgment until we actually drive the car, but on paper, it does seem as if Subaru has done its homework. Improvements include a new front cradle subframe, revised struts and springs, new bushings and bushing clamps, reinforced strut towers, and extensive use of high-tensile steel, including a hot-pressed steel roof brace above the B-pillars. All this increases bending stiffness by 25 percent, which suggests the new Impreza may be much more tactile and tossable than its predecessor.
Performance junkies are likely interested in three letters: W, R, and X. Sadly, Subaru isn’t discussing the rally-bred WRX or WRX STI at this stage. Officials acknowledge the performance models will ultimately shift to the new platform, but since a revamped WRX and WRX STI launched late last year as 2011 models, expect both nameplates to remain unchanged for another few years.
Until those cars debut, the 2012 Impreza is available in five different forms — two of which are exclusive to the five-door wagon.
Base Impreza 2.0i sedan and wagons feature a long list of standard equipment (i.e. ABS, split-folding rear seat, AM/FM/CD/MP3 radio, power locks and windows, air conditioning, remote keyless entry, and seven airbags), although the list of available equipment is limited to a single option: the CVT.
If your budget allows, consider stepping up to the 2.0i Premium. In addition to 16-inch aluminum wheels and a rear stabilizer bar, standard equipment includes cruise control, Bluetooth hands-free phone connectivity, a 6-speaker audio system, and a USB audio input. An all-weather package (i.e. heated front seats and exterior mirrors), 17-inch aluminum wheels, a power moonroof, and a new navigation system are all available at extra cost.
The all-weather package and 17-inch wheels are standard fare on the 2.0i Limited, which also lumps in the CVT as standard equipment. Additional content includes leather seating, a rear armrest, chrome exterior door handles, fog lamps, automatic climate control, and a HD radio tuner.
After 16 years, the Outback Sport model is officially dead, although a new Impreza Sport model, available only on U.S.-spec five-door wagons, essentially serves as its replacement. Bundled with either the 2.0i Premium or 2.0i Limited trims, Sport models add roof rails, unique 17-inch aluminum wheels, the all-weather package, body-colored rocker panels, fog lamps, and a new grille insert. Unlike the previous Outback sport, a meager suspension lift and modest underbody skid plates are not part of the package.
Pricing for the entire range won’t be released until the cars arrive at dealers this fall, but we’re told the 2012 model won’t carry a significant premium over the 2011 Impreza. Expect MSRPs to range from $17,495 to just under $20,000.
Another Successful Subaru?
With Chevrolet, Ford Hyundai, Honda, and Volkswagen all launching new C-segment offerings, the compact car class has never been more competitive. Luckily, Subaru’s new offering finally brings more than all-wheel-drive to the table. The 2012 Impreza appears to offer the space, sophistication, and frugality consumers expect from a modern compact and the all-wheel-drive traction demanded by Subaru loyalists.