Not long ago, Subaru discovered that a huge portion of the general car-buying public thought that they were from the country responsible for Kangaroos, Shrimps on the Barbie, and Jacob Black. Australia is just the craziest – and thanks to their Outback crossover and old commercials starring Crocodile Dundee that ran during Home Improvement, many Canadians wondered if they should invest in an Australian car, like a Subaru. Many of these folks, unsure of Australian cars, didn’t.
This prompted things like the Sumo wrestler advertising campaign, designed to reinforce the fact that Subaru is, in fact, Japanese, not Australian.
Subaru also discovered that many folks thought of them as the ‘AWD’ brand. That’s not a bad thing per se, though shoppers not dead-set on ownership of an AWD car tended to shy away and buy a Toyota instead.
And so, today, Subaru is pushing a product line repositioned for an all-out assault on the mainstream market. First with the last-generation Legacy and now with the Impreza, Subaru has applied updates, re-strategized their pricing, improved fuel efficiency and worked to push attributes of their rides that extend beyond the presence of standard AWD.
There are a few reasons you buy a Subaru Impreza. One of them, and probably still the biggest, is that it’s about the only AWD car in its price range. And it’s not just All Wheel Drive, its Subaru Symmetrical AWD. There’s a difference.
Other reasons include the warm and fuzzy things loved by sensible and value-minded shoppers. These are built into the Impreza’s reputation and proven in its trophy rack. Things like residual value, reliability, owner satisfaction, a no-nonsense ownership experience and, maybe especially, safety, are all top notch here.
For 2015, recent updates have culminated in what Subaru hopes you’ll think is the best Impreza yet. Inside, there’s more upscale material and trim throughout, slick interfaces, and a higher feeling and appearance of quality. They’ve added thicker glass and more sound deadening for a quieter ride, and the central touch screen command interface is fast-to-respond and slick once you go through the learning curve. It responds to flicking, pinching and spreading of fingertips, just like an iPad.
Further, there’s storage aplenty for your pocket-sized items, the seats are comfortable and made of extra-slippery leather that’s easy to slide on and off of, and the climate controls are no problemo to operate with gloves.
Notables on board? Impreza feels more easily accessed, spacious, open and roomy than, say, a Mazda 3 or Dodge Dart, and with a low-set window line, outward visibility is above-average, too. Both rows of seats are easily accessed and surrounded by more than adequate room, and the deep trunk has a delightfully wide and tall opening for loading clumsy stuff, though there’s no inside-mounted trunk handle, so you’ll be touching salt when it comes time to close it.
Under the hood, all models get a 2.0L flat four for 148 high-efficiency horsepower. It’s smaller in displacement and output than Impreza’s previous engine, though by moving from a yucky four-speed automatic to a Continually Variable Transmission (CVT) that operates without confinement to predefined gears, performance is similar, and fuel economy improves.
Most of the time, this powertrain works perfectly: the low-end torque and the CVT’s ability to use it well work admirably at light to moderate throttle where revs stay steady, noise stays down, refinement is maintained, and fuel use is minimized. Drive with light to moderate throttle application, and things are smooth, the Impreza surges along gracefully, and most drivers won’t notice they’re not just in a really-freaking-smooth-shifting automatic. Press the throttle a little harder, and the transmission even fakes the odd gearshift for a more normal feel.
Thing is, past about 5,000 rpm with your boot down, the engine sound ramps up quickly, becomes loud, and sounds a bit strained. This isn’t one of those engines that’s remarkably quiet and refined when opened up, and with the CVT holding the revs up high, that sound stays on, long and strong. Passing an 18-wheeler can be a noisy experience.
Let’s keep context in mind before dismissing the powertrain because it doesn’t light our pants on fire with its performance. For how most drivers will drive their Impreza, most of the time, this drivetrain works exceptionally, and I’d argue that most shoppers concerned with the full-throttle operation of the Impreza will probably get the manual transmission, or a WRX, anyways. It’s not the full throttle experience that’s selling this car.
And, whether you’re a sporty driver or Maud Flanders, you’ll love what they’ve done with the ride and handling. As has been the case with every Impreza your writer has ever visited, comfort and agility are balanced out expertly: Impreza rides with a comfortable tautness over almost everything, it’s sporty and agile and responsive without punching occupant spinal columns over bumps, and simultaneously, it’s comfortable and laid back in the ride department without handling like a wheelbarrow full of gravy. Once again, they’ve nailed the balance here, and the light, quick and sporty steering rack makes it a good bit of fun to throw around some corners too, if you like.
You needn’t be driving on pristine roads to enjoy all of this either, because of the other recurring Impreza attribute your writer loves: the rough-road ride. Even on the nastiest surfaces, Impreza feels solid, well put together and robust not flimsy, delicate, and like its’ about to cough up a ball-joint. Many cars in this segment feel like they’re coming apart beneath you on rough roads. Impreza? Not so much.
Some winter driving notes, yes?
With a set of (absolutely excellent) Bridgestone Blizzak tires, I noted zero issues with traction, ever. Equipped thusly, the always-on AWD system gets the Impreza off the line with ease, even in deep snow, with that smug, Subaru sensation of pulling effortlessly through a greasy intersection while everyone else sits and spins and slips.
Subaru AWD doesn’t require wheels to slip before it engages, so there’s always max traction, even right from the first inch of acceleration. There’s also virtually no feeling of power being shuffled between the axles, no wasted wheelspin, and no squirming from beneath the car as various processes fine-tune the power delivered to between each wheel.
Braking and handling are similar: with the Blizzaks putting up an enormous fight before relinquishing grip, the tester’s traction and stability control systems were able to work with relatively unintrusive effectiveness in the background as needed. Pushed, or encountered with a low-traction situation, it’s a controlled and predictable udnersteer that results.
Here’s a good machine for feeling safe and confident and well backed-up, even in weather that makes CNN bust out the dramatic music and toss captions like SNOW TERROR and ICEPOCALYPSE across the screen. With winter rubber and a smart and effective AWD system, the Impreza grips the surface beneath like a Kim Kardashian unitard.
The auto-levelling xenon headlights included as part of the loaded tester are powerful and saturating, and for the roughly $29,000 they want for this loaded model, you get plenty of other goodies, including keyless engine start, navigation, a sunroof, a high-resolution back-up camera, and automatic climate control.
There’s also the EyeSight safety system, which warns drivers up up-the-road hazards and powers an adaptive cruise control system which works as smoothly and intelligently as any other I’ve tried. EyeSight can alert drivers of imminent crashes, lane departures, and even cancels throttle application if there’s a car in front of you. The system is camera based and needs a clear view outwards, so note that at 30 below, it might take 20 minutes to fully defrost Impreza’s tall windshield before the system can work.
Gripes? Noisy engine aside, the heated seat switches are placed approximately 0.2 inches from your right buttock, making them fussy to reach. Further, the various displays and interfaces lend a busy and high-tech look, though slight variations in colors, fonts and visual themes in each one don’t quite tie it all together.
Cross shopping? If you’re not set on AWD, you can easily find a sportier, punchier compact in this segment for the money. Two of my favorites are the Dodge Dart and Mazda 3, both of which, for similar cash, pack about 40 more horsepower, more pleasing full-throttle performance, and no shortage of goodies. Notably, the Mazda 3 offers an exceptionally smooth powertrain, more upscale feature content, and a more premium look and feel to its cabin. Plus, if you’re not set on a car, there’s no shortage of AWD-equipped crossover models at this price point that offer even more space.
3 years/60,000 km; 5 years/100,000 km powertrain; 5 years/unlimited distance corrosion perforation; 3 years/unlimited distance 24-hour roadside assistance
Ultimately though, if all-out performance firepower is lower on your priority list than driving a winter-slashing compact sedan that’s a proven long-haul bet, and one that’s comfortable, confident and pleasant to drive anywhere, in any weather, Impreza should be considered a priority test-drive.
Pricing: 2015 Subaru Impreza Limited with Technology Option
Base Price: $29,395
A/C Tax: $100
Price as Tested: $31,000