Test Drive: 2012 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Sport hatchback car test drives subaru reviews
2012 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Sport. Click image to enlarge

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Review and photos by Chris Chase

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2012 Subaru Impreza

Subaru’s first nod toward environmental awareness was its PZEV (which stands for Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle) powertrain, which used a tighter emissions control system to clean up the car’s exhaust. At its introduction in 2009, Subaru said it worked so well that, in particularly smoggy prevailing conditions, the car’s tailpipe emissions could actually be cleaner than the surrounding air.

Any effort to reduce a car’s environmental impact is a noble one, but the PZEV system’s problem is that, while it cleans up the car’s emissions, it doesn’t reduce fuel consumption in the Legacy, Outback and Forester models fitted with it. As a result, PZEV appeals to drivers who want a car that runs cleaner, but not to those who simply want a car that’s less expensive to operate.

The 2012 Impreza’s mechanical updates – a smaller, more-efficient engine and optional continuously variable transmission (CVT) – are aimed squarely at thrift-seeking drivers who have panned the brand in the past. This year’s redesign also brings new styling and more interior space via a longer wheelbase. Perhaps ironically, this is the only four-cylinder Subaru that doesn’t get a PZEV option.

Test Drive: 2012 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Sport hatchback car test drives subaru reviews
2012 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Sport. Click image to enlarge

Subaru says the mechanical changes contribute to the car’s impressive fuel consumption estimates of 7.5 L/100 km (city) and 5.5 L/100 km (highway), a 27 per cent improvement in both cases. The trade-off is power. The new 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine (horizontally-opposed, as is Subaru’s way) makes 148 horsepower and 145 lb.-ft. of torque, a notable decrease from the 170 hp/170 lb.-ft. produced by last year’s 2.5-litre.

My tester averaged 11.4 L/100 km in a week of cold weather and short trips (two mortal enemies of good fuel economy); my test car was barely, if at all, broken in, with just 1,400 km on the odometer when I picked it up. It’s worth noting that Greg Wilson got 11.5 L/100 km out of a 2010 Impreza in warm weather. My result was disappointing, but the car deserves the benefit of the doubt given the conditions I subjected it to.

It’s not often a new engine makes less power than the one it replaces; in a new-car market seemingly driven by who can boast the biggest/strongest/fastest. My tester, a 2.0i Sport hatchback with CVT, was a leisurely performer, at least on the highway, where the engine runs out of breath quickly at full throttle. In 2012 Canadian Car of the Year performance testing, a 2012 Impreza with the CVT posted an 11.1-second zero-to-100 km/h acceleration time, a full second slower to a hundred than a 2008 Impreza managed, with its larger engine and four-speed automatic transmission.

Test Drive: 2012 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Sport hatchback car test drives subaru reviews
2012 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Sport. Click image to enlarge

If you pay attention, you’ll notice the characteristically odd vibration this flat-four generates, but Subaru has done a good job isolating the passenger cabin from the worst of it. Engine noise is only significant when the car is cold and the CVT keeps revs high to help get the motor up to temperature. Once it’s warmed up, the mechanical noises you can hear sound better than in last year’s Impreza.

I doubt there are many who look forward to their favourite car being updated with a continuously variable transmission (CVT); the two prevailing opinions seem to be either that these devices are the devil’s own design, or (for apathetic drivers) that whatever makes the car go is all it needs. This is the second Subaru (or third, depending how you count) to use this Lineartronic CVT, following the Legacy and mechanically-similar Outback wagon.