Second opinion: 2012 Subaru Impreza subaru reviews first drives
2012 Subaru Impreza. Click image to enlarge

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By Paul Williams; photos by Greg Wilson

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2012 Subaru Impreza

The all-new Impreza arrives shortly and the two big questions are, “does its smaller engine detract from the driving experience?” and “is the new grille better than the last one?”

Okay, I jest a bit regarding question number two, but Subaru does have grille (and overall styling) issues, changing them quite frequently and never really getting it right.

The more important consideration is the engine, which is reduced in size from 2.5 litres to 2.0 litres, with horsepower down from 170 to 148, and torque down from 170 pound-feet to 145. You’d expect the 2012 Impreza to be less responsive and slower overall, but that’s not the case. The electric power steering is quick, the car is nimble, and acceleration seems unaffected. “Comparable to the outgoing Impreza,” says Subaru Canada, and that was my experience behind the wheel.

Second opinion: 2012 Subaru Impreza subaru reviews first drives
2012 Subaru Impreza. Click image to enlarge

The chassis in this version is stiffer, and the doors have some heft, no longer sounding hollow when you shut them. The big, door mounted mirrors are an excellent feature.

The transmission is another all-new Impreza feature, and like other Subaru products, the automatic is a continuously variable (CVT) type. It’s designed to be lighter and quieter than early-generation CVTs, replacing rubber belts with a metal chain, and like the smaller, twin-overhead camshaft engine, it contributes to fuel economy.

Personally, though, I didn’t care for it (the transmission, that is). Even though Subaru engineers have attempted to address CVT drivability issues, this one still moans and roars under acceleration, and I didn’t feel it flattered the engine. The five-speed manual would likely be the choice of enthusiast buyers; it’ll save you $1,300 on the base price of $21,690 (including $1,695 delivery charges) for the four-door sedan, although it does reduce fuel economy from 7.5/5.5 L/100 km, city/highway, to 8.3/5.9 L/100 km.

The five-door, by the way, starts at $22,590, including delivery.

The exterior styling is an improvement, although the Impreza still suffers from a lack of… I don’t know what… flair? Thankfully gone are the trendy tuner rear lights, and gone inside is the rather oddly designed dashboard and trim, replaced with a more horizontally themed construction. The downside is that it looks kind of old-fashioned. And no navigation system, which is a strange omission, given the Subaru’s go-anywhere identity.

Second opinion: 2012 Subaru Impreza subaru reviews first drives
2012 Subaru Impreza. Click image to enlarge

That identity, of course, ties in with the company’s reputation for good engineering and toughness, and the fact that since 1996, all Subarus have been all-wheel drive (AWD) vehicles.

So it might come as a surprise that making this new Impreza available with front-wheel drive was on the table at Subaru. Why? To get the price down, because as well as having a reputation for good engineering, Subarus, we were told, are believed to be too expensive in comparison with compact cars from other manufacturers.

Although base “Subies” do come with standard air conditioning, power windows, keyless entry, etc., the fact is they’re still a couple of thousand more than an equivalently equipped Honda Civic, Ford Focus, Hyundai Elantra, Chevrolet Cruze, and similar vehicles.

So it was thought by Subaru that losing AWD might bring the price down, thus adding the Impreza to the compact-car shopper’s list in one fell swoop.

But apparently this wasn’t the case. Subaru’s number crunchers determined that offering a FWD version wouldn’t reduce the price significantly, and so AWD remains.

It’s a good thing, in my view. If this car didn’t have AWD, I can’t see what would distinguish it from its competitors. AWD is terrific in winter conditions, and when coupled with stability and traction control (as it is) and a set of winter tires, the Impreza is just about unstoppable even on the harshest Canadian roads.

Standard AWD elevates the Impreza in relation to its competition. If Subaru wants to get the price down, they’ll need another solution.

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