2012 Subaru Impreza. Click image to enlarge
We’ve gone into great detail about the new Impreza in recent weeks. Check the link up top to read a variety of reports. But to summarize, with the 2012 Impreza, Subaru is trying to bring fuel economy, content and price in line with its major competitors, while retaining the all-wheel drive that it is well known for. The wheelbase has been stretched marginally allowing for more rear seat leg room, while the interior has been much improved. Base equipment is generally better than competitors, but the entry price is also higher. The most significant change for 2012 is the deployment of a 2.0-litre 4-cylinder engine replacing the former 2.5-L 4-cylinder, significantly improving fuel consumption ratings but reducing horsepower from 170 to 148 and torque from 170 lb.-ft. to 145 lb.-ft. A switch from a four-speed automatic to a continuously variable transmission (CVT) has not been well received by the automotive press.
For my part, I can’t say that my love for the CVT grew fonder, the longer I lived with the Impreza. The noise it releases from the engine under acceleration, as well as the interminably long transfer from forward to reverse and back again, is simply annoying. On the freeway however, the combination worked well, with the 2.0-litre humming along quietly at 2,100 rpm at 112 km/h, the freeway speed limit in Michigan, Indiana and Illinois.
The accelerator is set up for quick take-offs and coddling it, so as to get the best fuel economy, takes some concentration. It doesn’t feel underpowered at all, not on initial take-off, not while accelerating to merge onto a freeway, and not while overtaking slower traffic. Fuel consumption for the full 2,600 km driven was 7.4 L/100 km, respectable, but well below the Impreza’s Energuide rating of 5.5 L/100 km. Fuel consumption ratings are set in ideal conditions and not while driving into head winds or keeping up with traffic on the 401 or I-94.
2012 Subaru Impreza; photo by Chris Chase. Click image to enlarge
I viewed the cloth seats in the Impreza with trepidation. Too firm, too flat and not enough support, I thought. But a true measure of comfort is not how a seat feels to the touch, but how you feel after spending three, four or five hours virtually motionless. After one five-hour plus run, I emerged from the car feeling stiff – who wouldn’t? – but I had felt no pressure points while driving, no sore lower back and no aching joints.
I did wish that the Impreza came equipped with satellite radio, as I constantly searched for decent radio along the route, but satellite radio is only available with the top-of-the-line Impreza Limited. Nevertheless, the six-speaker audio system didn’t leave me wishing for greater clarity or robustness.
The biggest challenge driving such a distance in good weather is fatigue. The unchanging (though distant) drone of the engine, the rhythmical slap of the tires on road and the monotony of freeway scenery induces sleep. Interestingly, the Impreza has a cure for this problem, and it’s not necessarily a good thing. Perhaps it is just the winter tires, but the Impreza demands continuous steering adjustments to stay on course. With its electric power rack and pinion steering, there is little on centre feel, and even small bumps and cracks will move the car off centre. It is a nuisance, but the benefit for a long distance drive is never taking your eyes off the road.
All controls are logically located and easy to use – without taking your eyes off the road. The Impreza’s interior fit and finish is one of the best in its class. You could be forgiven for thinking you are driving a much more expensive vehicle; that is, until you put your foot down on the accelerator and the engine intrudes loudly until you reach cruising speed.
The 2012 Chicago Auto Show may go down as one of the least memorable of auto shows in recent years and the annual pilgrimage turned out to be one of the easiest ever, and not just because the weather was good.
Though not perfect, the 2012 Subaru sedan proved to be a comfortable compact for a long distance drive.