By on April 6, 2011

The evolution of Subaru’s design (if, indeed evolution is the right word) is one of those topics that never ceases to draw the interest of the auto-obsessed. Unlike most mainstream car brands, Subaru created a hard-core fanbase on the strength of its unique greasy bits, specifically its distinctive commitment to boxer engines and AWD. In Subaru’s formative years on the market, wacky and ever-changing designs were something the fans learned to live with.

Now, however, with Subaru breaking into the mass market’s consciousness, its design is gradually becoming more consistent and more mainstream, a trend that this first shot of the 2012 Impreza seems unlikely to roll back. And with 36 highway MPG reportedly on tap for the next Impreza, Subaru is reeling in its fuel economy disadvantage as well. The only question: does each evolution towards consistency and mass appeal continue to alienate that fanbase? And if so, does it matter?

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65 Comments on “What’s Wrong With This Picture: Imprez’d? Edition...”


  • avatar
    salhany

    As long as they continue to offer standard AWD throughout their entire line, and don’t move too far upscale in pricing, I don’t see Subaru alienating their traditional fanbase.
    I live in Maine, and we own 1 Subaru, our second one. The cars are so perfectly suited to our weather conditions and horrible roads that it seems like there are millions of them up here.

    • 0 avatar
      rocketrodeo

      I can appreciate Subaru making AWD available throughout its line, but why do you feel it’s necessary to keep it standard? It’s one reason I won’t consider a Subaru.

    • 0 avatar
      anchke

      Subies are so ubiquitous up Nawth that my brother-in-law used a Brat as a farm field bomb a few years back, and there was an L.L. Bean Edition Subie, which was kinda weird, I thought.  I’ve noticed CR-Vs have also caught on, at least in the Southern part of the state. Maine is not an environment for cars with a spleeny personality.

  • avatar
    jdmcomp

    It appears that Subis greasy bits have not been living up to the old standard for some time now, and so it looks like they are trying a “cover up” as a solution.  I do not think that works.  However, getting rid of some of the worst styling is needed and a two wheel drive option would be a freebe so why not give that a try.  And while your are at it, try fixing the greasy bits so that they last longer.

    • 0 avatar
      TEXN3

      The 2011 Forester debuted with a completely new generation of boxer engine. More efficient and it will allow for direct injection. I’m pretty sure that the head gasket issues are taken care of now, but we won’t know for probably 10 years (as most took that long to have head gasket failure).

      Not sure what they’re trying to cover up, could you expand on that?

      I’m sure the 36mpg rating will come when the power is transferred to the front-wheels, and with a CVT. I’m more interested in seeing what the MT ratings will be, if they’re significantly better than the current model then I might consider a new Impreza to replace my 98 Acura at some point. The Outback only has 50k miles and it’ll be a long time before it gets replaced.

    • 0 avatar
      Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

      Subaru online configurator says the 2.5XT Forester still comes with a 4-speed slushbox?  Can that possibly be correct?  My 25 year old Benz has that!

  • avatar

    I just wish that someone still made light weight utilitarian cars.
    Don’t understand what I’m referring to? Go drive a 1993 Impreza. Perfection.

    • 0 avatar
      TEXN3

      Regulations (across the world now) work against such a car. Especially if you’re trying to meet a certain price point.

      If you want a lightweight utilitarian car, you’ll have to buy used (unfortunately). But I agree, it was great when you could lightweight hatchbacks and wagons.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      You could buy a Yaris or Fit.  Heck, Honda even makes an AWD Fit for Japan.  They’re still plenty utilitarian
       
      Regulations are only a small part of the issue; the other, larger part is that no one really wants to drive late-80s/early-90s tin cans.  We had people ridiculing the crank windows on a “utilitarian” car a few days back.  If manufacturers aren’t selling them, we have only ourselves to blame.

    • 0 avatar
      TEXN3

      I always forget about the Fit, but that would definitely be a good second vehicle for us. Don’t need any options.

    • 0 avatar
      vbofw

      I always forget about the Fit, but that would definitely be a good second vehicle for us. Don’t need any options.
       
      Good thing you don’t, because the Fit doesn’t offer any!  No heated seats……the horror!!!

    • 0 avatar
      TEXN3

      I could get by without heated seats, but they are nice for winter time and long-drives. Especially the Outback’s heated cloth/tweed seats with 4 variable settings on a rheostat.

      I guess I should have said the Fit base model would suit me well, not the higher trim levels.

    • 0 avatar
      Almost Jake

      The noise levels in the Fit may make you think twice about long-drives. It was a deal breaker for me.

  • avatar
    Sam P

    The “greasy bits” of my 1998 Outback wagon were working great when I sold it at 214k and 11 years of age. YMMV.
     
    I like the side profile of the new Impreza. It looks far better than most other sedans in the segment. 2WD? Maybe AWD that can be run in 2WD to save fuel when it isn’t needed.

  • avatar
    TEXN3

    I like the profile, but it does look similiar to the Mazda3…however, if it is more refined than that’ll be a good thing. Look forward to seeing what the wagon will be.

    I do lament the loss the frameless windows. My Subaru and Acura have them…I just think they’re cool.

    • 0 avatar

      Really? I mean, they are funky, but my Outback is the first time I’ve had them and I have to say, they make absolutely NO sense. The doors don’t sound as solid, the windows wobble when down, there are numerous issues that crop up in terms of the power windows, more wind noise and no forseeable benefit to them. So yeah, I’m glad to see that they got rid of them, as much as I like my Outback.

  • avatar
    Advance_92

    Subarus, like everything else, are getting larger.  Hopefully a new smaller car will join the lineup that will mimic the old Impreza.  I heard about problems from 06 on, but since they’re usually in conjunction with a variety of modifications usually done in someone’s garage it’s not easy to pinpoint the blame, other than to indicate Subarus don’t have the same tolerances for modifications they once had.

  • avatar
    gessvt

    The latest generation Outback and Impreza look like they were designed by a market research firm.  With the exception of the Tribeca, the mid-2000’s Subies looked the best.
    However, I think the growing Toyota influence will alienate Subaru’s fanbase more than design.  Perhaps they are intertwined?

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      Toyota only own a small (~15%) stake in Subaru’s parent company and, on occasion, both companies will plug holes in each other’s product planning, development and production processes. For example, Toyota will allow Subaru to sell kei cars in order to make up volume, or Subaru’s American plants might assemble Camries for the same reason. Toyota doesn’t own Subaru, not in the sense that, say, GM owned Saab or Ford did Volvo. This is more akin to Ford/Mazda.
       
      This car, though, is pretty much all Subaru’s own doing, for good or ill.

  • avatar
    gottacook

    Well, the wheel arches are less ridiculous than those on the Legacy and Outback, but ones that looked more ridiculous weren’t possible, in my opinion. Perhaps I’ll like the 5-door better. (It seems pretty clear that the rear doors of the 5-door will have to differ from those of the sedan, unlike the current and previous generations of Imprezas.)
     
    I’m one of those hard-core Subaru fans (for more than 20 years) but have zero interest in any of the current designs; the only good thing I have to say about them, including this new one, is that they are keeping the beltlines somewhat lower than those of their competitors’ cars. Seeing Subaru of America do well with its current offerings is like learning that an old friend has become extraordinarily happy and prosperous after having adopted a religion whose precepts you disagree violently with.

  • avatar
    Orangutan

    Looks like a Cruze. Glad I didn’t wait on this to come out before getting my Mazda.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    Cue the predictable complaints about bigger/blander/uglier/slower/faster/different-from-how-it-was-when-I-was-eighteen-and-thusly-bad.

    • 0 avatar
      Quentin

      I had a first gen Impreza when I was 18.  It was charming in the slam-it-into-everything-don’t-care-for-it way.  No way I’d want that car now, though, at 28.  It was tiny, loud, slow, and sloppy.  If this comes out as a proper wagon and gets into the mid-30s with fuel economy with a manual transmission*, I’d certain consider it.  My wife likes the idea of AWD and I’ve always been a Subaru fan. 

      * I can deal with an AT in SUVs and hybrids, but in a traditional drivetrain on a car, give me a manual, please. 

  • avatar
    Charles T

    The last time a marginal carmaker loved in cold climates for its snow performance and rally heritage was thrust into a mass-market position by a multinational parent company, we got GM-ized Saabs. Let’s see if Toyota does better with Subaru.

    • 0 avatar
      TEXN3

      GM, in my mind, actually helped Subaru a bit. Look at their offerings in the last decade…the previous Legacy/Outback, while a bit narrow, are perfectly executed in all manners.

    • 0 avatar
      gottacook

      TEXN3: The proportions of the 2005-09 Legacy and Outback (including width) were about the same as those of the preceding three generations, going back to 1989-90; GM had nothing to do with it.

    • 0 avatar
      TEXN3

      I understand that, as they were sold as a “world” model, which are often a bit more narrow than domestic models (such as the Accord).

      GM gave money to improve the overall design, engineering, etc… moreso than Isuzu ever did. I’m no fan of GM (except the CTS lineup) but I guess I was just calling it as I saw.

  • avatar
    jjster6

    At first I thought that was a picture of a Sebring/200.  I’ve never owned a Subura (no dealer where I live) but I always liked them.  This new “style” however looks like poop!!!

    • 0 avatar
      Domestic Hearse

      The color of the car pictured certainly isn’t flattering, I’ll grant you that.

      In silver, the pre-production Impreza didn’t look half bad. I’d like to see more angles of the car above. Hopefully not sprayed with, erm, poop brown.

      http://www.autoblog.com/photos/la-2010-subaru-impreza-concept/

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      JJster6: My thoughts exactly. I was like, what, ANOTHER posting on the 200? Haven’t we had enough already?

  • avatar
    Domestic Hearse

    Going mainstream has always been a challenge for Subaru. For a great backstory, check out the book Where the Suckers Moon.

    Subaru must do two things: adopt a design language that smooths out the quirk (without alienating loyalists), and convince drivers south of the Rocky Mountains, Great Plains, Great Lakes and New England regions that AWD is a benefit where little or no snow falls.

    So far the last two years, Subaru has been on a sales tear, selling everything Fuji can build and import into the US (without much marketing spend, either).

    Early feedback from current owners regarding the newly designed ‘Preza are mixed. It seems that Subiephiles like being outside the mainstream, enjoy the “I know something you don’t” attitude that Subaru ownership provides, and are not all that keen about Subaru becoming a car everyone “gets” — Toyotification, as it were.

    Non-owner feedback is…well, nice, but not overwhelming. Nobody hates it. Some like it. But few fall over themselves in love with it. Subaru was careful not to swing too hard and whiff, so they rapped out a solid double. Cautious but sensible play.

    Will this translate into a market share upswing? Will the conquest Toyhondassan owners successfully? Can the new ‘Preza open sales inroads in the south?

    I’m guessing yes, yes and yes.

    The only questions I have are these: How does the “face” of the production car pictured in profile compare to the concept car’s mug, and will Farago come out of hiding to compare it to reproductive anatomy again?

  • avatar

    Meh.  Looks like everything else out in the market without anything distinctive.  I’ve never been a Subaru fan — their cars always looked a bit too odd, the interiors were generic and, with the exception of the WRX, the drive experience wasn’t very interesting and engaging.  Yes, it’s nice to have AWD, but 10-15 years ago, that was a selling point.  Now, with the myriad AWD models available, it’s a gimmick.  My sense is the brand has benefited from the perception of outdoorsy/drive anywhere motoring.  But lots of other vehicles do that, as well, and do it better with better mileage, drive experience and overall quality.
     
    Watch Hyundai/KIA eat them for lunch they way they’ve been socking it to Toyota/Honda and the Big 2.5.

    • 0 avatar
      Ubermensch

      What was odd about the 2005-2009 Legacy?  I thought it is one of the best looking cars in it’s class, especially the wagon.  The interior while slightly bland was very upscale and well put together.  The driving experience of the Legacy was also way more engaging than any of the Camcords.  I may be a bit biased as I own a 2006 Legacy 2.5i wagon, but I will admit that the last gen Legacy/Outback was an anomaly and the latest gen is totally boring and generic.

    • 0 avatar
      Sam P

      “Watch Hyundai/KIA eat them for lunch they way they’ve been socking it to Toyota/Honda and the Big 2.5.”
       
      Considering Subaru’s upward sales trajectory over the past few years, I find this outcome unlikely.

  • avatar
    segfault

    It’s an attractive looking car in a conservative color.  Subaru has been very slow to add new features on their US models, such as stability control, automatic transmissions with more than four speeds, and keyless ignition.

    • 0 avatar
      colin42

      My 05 Ouback has a 5 speed auto!

    • 0 avatar
      segfault

      colin42, the 2011 Forester and 2011 Impreza both have a 4-speed auto.

    • 0 avatar
      Wraith

      Subaru started standardizing stability control in model years 2008 and 2009. And the CVT started in the 2010 Legacy/Outback, replacing the 4-spd auto. The CVT is coming to the Impreza, so only the Forester is left with the 4-spd auto (unless it gets updated for 2012, too). Keyless ignition isn’t a big deal for me, but I’m glad to see mpg improving in the new Impreza. I’m interested to see what the new (Impreza-based) Outback Sport looks like.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    Nothing wrong. The profile photo shows me what the perfectly proportioned Honda Accord should look like!

  • avatar
    cmoibenlepro

    I don’t understand why a better mileage would alienate fan base.

  • avatar
    eggsalad

    I’m no fan, but for those that need AWD, 36 hwy mpg seems near the top of the heap.

  • avatar
    mazder3

    Two things:
     
    1. Holy crud! A car with actual glass area!
     
    2. The only thing that has alienated the fanbase so far is the bloating of the Forester and the mandatory Outback option on the Legacy wagon. They’ll still buy them, but they grumble about it constantly.

    • 0 avatar
      ihatetrees

      +1 on #1. I noticed the glass too. Let’s pray it’s the start of a trend.

    • 0 avatar
      jet_silver

      +1 on #2.  I will not buy that Outback, it is scratched.  Far, far better to get an old Gen4 (2005-2009) Legacy wagon.  If I find another one like mine (2005 LGT wagon, 5MT) I will probably buy it and throw a new engine at it.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Looks like a refreshed Nissan Altima to me.

  • avatar
    carguy

    It’s not offensive and that is what counts in this class. The questions for me are:
     
    1. Does it have a decent 6 speed auto transmission?
     
    2. Can you get it with seats not designed for the morbidly obese?
     
    3. Will there be a hatch/wagon?

  • avatar
    Mark MacInnis

    Looks like a 200.  The horror.  The horror.

  • avatar
    Subifreak

    Exactly what Salhany said!

  • avatar
    Philosophil

    I like that it’s a little less wedged-shaped than many other cars in this class, and appears to have decent visibility.
     
    An AWD compact hatchback that gets good mileage sounds like a potential winner to me!

  • avatar

    I look at the profile photo, and my first thought is, “Okay, Subaru, show us the butt-ugly grill.”

    Our house at 4000 feet has been hit with 13′ of snow so far this year, so AWD/4WD is essential before next winter, and I want decent mileage. We’ll be looking at primarily CRV and RAV-4 (the easy choices) but I sat in a Kia Sportage yesterday. Some cheap bits there, so further review is needed.

    We visited a Subaru dealer Sunday. I’ve owned two Gen1 Legacies before, my sister is happy with their Gen2 Forester, and my in-laws are in their third Forester, a 2009. I’m not Subie-averse. I’m just not a major fan, mainly due to styling. I told the dealer Sunday, “If Fuji would just hire ONE Italian in their design department!” My wife likes the 2010-11 Outback, but I refuse to have that ugly snout in my garage. It’s an insult to auto design, not much better than the flying hoohoos of recent Tribecas and Imprezas (exactly what were they thinking?). She refuses to look at the Forester (which I think is their most acceptable current design), and she isn’t sold on the Impreza.

    [I also had some local content/quality issues with my ’91 Legacy AWD wagon built in Indiana – parts were falling off like they were never fully latched on at assembly, and I had to replace its transmission at just over 100k. Weird, when compared with my bulletproof Japan-build 2WD ’89 sedan. And, the placement of a solenoid caused an eternally lit CEL on both of them. So, I have my continuing doubts about build quality – I realize I might have just been unlucky, there are always bad apples.]

    The way Subaru has been going about increasing mileage is via CVTs, and they were industry leaders there (Justy), but a CVT will take some time to get used to. I’ll assume that’s what this 36 MPG Impreza will feature.

    But, Subaru will first need to win me over with a more mainstream design. In my case, heading mainstream is a GOOD thing. About damn time.

    • 0 avatar
      Advance_92

      Oddly enough the original Tribeca was designed by someone poached from Alfa; they copied the 156 tail lights but stopped there.

    • 0 avatar
      grzydj

      If you’re seriously looking for a 4 wheeled snow machine, offerings from Honda and Toyota are not going to get through the white stuff nearly as competently as a Subaru.
       
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ooQRxlChvMw
       
      Do a few searches on Youtube and you’ll see that the difference is quite remarkable. I have a Legacy wagon and an Impreza wagon shod with General Altimax Arctic tires and they have yet to to stopped by anything.

      • 0 avatar

        Agreed. I also was looking for something good in the snow, and our family is a total Honda family (I’m the only one who doesn’t have one), but the CR-V’s AWD system is so utterly useless that it wasn’t worth it. Try looking at a facelifted Tribeca, they are pretty mainstream.

  • avatar
    Acubra

    Will stick to my 05 Outback for a few more years thank you very much.

    Subie design should outsource to Europe more – as was the case with Legacy/Outback 2 and 4 (both extremely elegant and clean designs), because left on their own devices it only produces horror.

    Going generic for the sake of attracting sales from Mr & Mrs Average will only produce a mediocre car that would have to compete with toyonda that’s been perfecting the art of averageness for decades.
    SAAB and its demise into oblivion is a good example of that.

  • avatar
    mtymsi

    From this one side profile shot there isn’t anything I don’t like about the styling but I’m reserving judgement until I can see the front/rear views and the hatchback.
     
    Either a FWD version or on demand AWD would get me a whole lot more interested but 36 hwy mpg for the AWD version as long as city is upper 20’s makes it a consideration.
     
     

  • avatar
    CJinSD

    I know someone who paid full new retail for a used 2009 Outback wagon to avoid the bloated new one. I’ve heard other negative opinions about the current Legacy/Outback’s size and styling too. The above side view of the new Imprezza has a lot in common with a ten year old Ford Focus sedan. I don’t know if that is good or bad. I do think the previous  generation Legacy/Outback was a pleasant looking car, but most Subarus are not. I would assume that Subaru buyers could care less, excpept for the guy who bought the used Outback wagon having strong opinions about looks. Or maybe he just thought the new Outback was too big to be ‘sustainable.’

    • 0 avatar
      Ubermensch

      The areas where the new Legacy/Outback improved was where it needed to according to customers.  More interior room, better gas mileage, etc…  The areas where it got worse, handling, steering, etc… are things that the masses just don’t care about.  Styling is really subjective and most Americans, frankly, don’t have any tastes so that point is moot.  A drive through suburbia proves that most Americans wouldn’t know good design if it slapped them in the face.  The terms sheetrock palace, garage mahaul, and faux chateau are what the wife and I used to describe most of these abominations.

    • 0 avatar
      Grahambo

      I’m with the 05-09 Legacy crowd.  I have had an 05 LGT wagon for 4 years now and, with upgraded tires and some non-spec tire pressures, it handles so incredibly well that I don’t feel the need to immediately get the 944 out of the garage on nice days.  It is so fast that it makes me wonder why anyone needs or could use any more than 250 hp (or 246, I guess, to be more precise) on a daily basis.  It can also carry about anything quite comfortably except for super tall trees or super big people.  With the deletion of the wagon and the overall blandification of the Legacy, I am placing a fair amount of hope on the new Impreza (specifically, WRX).  If let down (and, based on this picture, the jury is still out), I don’t know where I will go.  My last three car purchases have been Subarus (94 SVX, now driven by daughter, and wife’s 00 Outback) and they have been truly great, but the company seems to be committed to path I simply don’t want to follow.  I look at the new Legacy GT and ask myself — why not just buy the real, actual G37X?  Unfortunately, it’s looking more and more like Infiniti or BMW — despite the significant issues I have with each of those options — are becoming more likely bets the next time a car purchase comes around. 

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      Ubermensch, your thinking is as good as your writing.

      Grahambo, I was with you right up until you said you’re thinking about moving to an Infiniti or BMW. I came from decades of BMWs, and their current dung is just that. I wouldn’t wish a Nissan product on most of my enemies, and I won’t take on another girlfriend that comes with one. There are two surviving car companies with good engineers. Neither of them have been mentioned here. Neither of them seems interested in making cars for enthusiasts at the moment, but I’m willing to wait.

  • avatar
    DavidB

    My 1996 base model Legacy wagon 5-speed (purchased new) had zero problems (at 67K) when I traded it in towards a new leftover 2004 Forester in early ’05. We wanted an AT, electric locks, and electric windows (two new kiddos). The ’04 Forester has had a transmission problem fixed under warranty; the head gaskets done two months ago for a $200 deductible; speaker in RF door was bad out the door; a common air seal problem on the driver rearview mirror/door gasket area fixed once and is back! It takes lots of short “mom trips” and despite meticulous maintenance at the dealer, short, cold trips are tough on any vehicle. We are just finishing our second consecutive winter in KC with 40+ (that’s FORTY PLUS) inches of snow and it makes getting around almost effortless (w/Michelins, anyway). I’d like to know from TTAC readers if this would be considered a horrible car repair history or par for the (automotive) course… (It just ticked over 56K)

    • 0 avatar
      gottacook

      Well, it all depends… We have two Subarus, both 5-speeds: an ’03 Legacy wagon bought new and an ’06 Forester purchased from a sibling who bought it new. As you might know, the Legacy was built in Indiana and the Forester in Japan; they have 80K and 62K miles, respectively.
       
      The Forester, kineahora, has needed very little in the way of extraordinary maintenance (a few miscellaneous repairs under warranty, such as a bad connection to the heated-seat switches; brake-rotor resurfacing, once under warranty, once not).
       
      By contrast, the Legacy would have needed a major repair a few years ago if the dealer hadn’t stretched a point and covered us under the 5-year/60,000-mile drivetrain warranty – we had exceeded one but not the other – when our engine gasket went (actually the dealer discovered the coolant leak during an oil change and immediately took the initiative to do the gasket repair). Twice we’ve had to change front brake rotors; a front wheel bearing went after 70K miles. Two different door speakers quit and were replaced with used ones. No problems with window seals, dual sunroof, etc., although exhaust noises and other odd resonances (at specific rpm’s in any gear) have accumulated.
       
      Still, we’re glad to have two Subarus, especially given the way our recent winters have been (Washington DC area).
       
      The revisions to the 2.5 motor (when it went from 165 to 173 hp) may mean that the head gasket problem has been licked; at least I’ve not read about gasket problems with any Subaru newer than ’05. (Our 1990 Legacy wagon’s gasket went in early ’03, and we know people who’ve required an expensive gasket repair at 90K miles in an ’03 Forester – yet one of my in-laws has put well over 160K miles on her ’03 Forester with no such problem.)

  • avatar
    rudiger

    Considering their humble beginning in the US as the brainchild of con-artist Malcolm Bricklin to import the cheap and dimunitive (but dangerous) 360, and their all too common forays into weirdness (SVX, BRAT, Tribeca, Baja), Subaru has done pretty damn good for themselves, particularly when considering their size in relation to the major Japanese players like Toyota and Honda.

    I guess that’s to be expected when you also build well-packaged, practical designs (as well as the oddballs) that are nearly as reliable as the class leaders.

    • 0 avatar
      Ubermensch

      I have always loved the BRAT and have come close to picking one up as a project car on a few occations.  I would consider a modern version with a real bed (not like the horrible Baja).

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