By on March 29, 2012

Its squat boxer architecture meant a low centre of gravity, and by building in a low rate of roll and very little offset or castor in the MacPherson strut front suspension, the handling was truly revelatory, refreshingly neutral with precise steering…endlessly chuckable. [They]…were willing rather than fast, and there was more grip than the boxer engine…could ever hope to exploit…away from straight roads it still took a genuinely quick car to catch one.

Does this sound like a review of the 2012 Subaru Impreza? You may be surprised to read that the words here describe a car from a completely different country, with a culture and ethos that couldn’t be more different – but a car that may be the spiritual predecessor to the Impreza.

That quote, despite being hacked up to remove identifying details, is from Evo magazine’s retrospective on the Alfa Romeo Alfasud. The Alfasud was a scrappy little hatchback, powered by a fairly impotent boxer engine that was regarded as a supremely fun car with somewhat spotty build quality. Sound familiar?

Unlike the high-end, leather-clad sedan driven by Michael, my tester was a 5-speed hatch and the cabin was decidedly barebones. Black fabric covered the seats and the dash was also adorned in a dark, dour plastic. Subaru interiors have never been spectacular, but this car took it to new levels – while looking for the hood release, I managed to grab a handful of loose dashboard plastic that had a few inches of play to wiggle around. Unfortunately, my camera’s memory card corrupted, but Brendan’s preview drive has pictures of the exact same interior (minus the errant dash trim pieces, hopefully). The Impreza’s seats were too flat and firm for my liking, but the driving position itself is refreshingly old school. You can actually see that the hood exists, and you sit lower than most pseudo-CUV compacts these days.

Subaru decided to trim some weight out of the car in an effort to improve fuel economy (apparently they cut nearly 200 lbs from the car, which makes me wonder how it got so bloated in the first place), but the trade-off is less power compared to the outgoing model. The 2.0L boxer now puts out 148 horsepower and 145 lb-ft, and this tester came with the 5-speed manual gearbox, a rubbery, notchy unit that continues the Subaru tradition of building rubbery, notchy-feeling transmissions.

Any fears that this car would be a watered-down, slowpoke, mass market version of the old Impreza are immediately put to bed once the road opens up and John Law is absent from your rearview mirror. The steering is well-weighted, though hardly a paragon of feel or feedback. But the growl of the boxer is intoxicating, and the chassis communicates so well, it was probably tuned by a marriage counselor. Hit an on ramp in third gear and let the boxer get to its sweet spot around 4,000 RPM and the Impreza is absolutely tenacious, with endless grip allowing it to slingshot out of the corners. Oddly,the brake override system mentioned by Brendan didn’t make itself known during heel-toe downshifts, with chunky winter boots being the biggest obstacle. In a straight line, it’s no speed demon, but let the boxer wind up for just a second and the power is more than adequate for passing trucks or merging on to freeways.Compared to the Mazda3 SkyActiv or the Ford Focus, the boxer feels more robust, but only instrumented testing will determine that conclusively. All that driving yielded 24 mpg in mixed driving – poorer than Michael’s CVT equipped sedan got, but understandable given the chunky Bridgestone Blizzaks (10 percent poorer fuel economy right off the bat), the cold temperatures and the, ahem, spirited driving that the Impreza encourages.

Around town, the main drawback is the firm, unsettled ride. Even though Toronto’s roads are a tough test for any car, the Focus and Cruze feel much more composed than the Scoob, perhaps a trade-off made in the name of driving dynamics. The stereo system could also use a major overhaul, frequently sounding tinny and washed out. The hatchback bodystyle and compact footprint make it great for darting in and out of traffic, and rear seat room is fine for four average sized adults. The Impreza would be a very easy car to live with every day, but then, what current compact isn’t?

Canadian trim levels differ slightly, with the American equivalent of this car being the $20,295 (plus $750 destination) Impreza Sport Premium 5-door with the 5-speed manual. In Canada, the 5-door Sport costs $24,795 plus $1,695 for “Freight and Pre-Delivery Inspection” (our version of freight). So, $26,490 PLUS another $3,443.70 in sales taxes. Nevertheless, Subarus have a loyal following across the country. Independent analyst Timothy Cain’s sales figures for Canada shows that Impreza sales, year over year, are up a fair amount. People here are willing to pay for all-wheel drive, in a hatchback body style, and with Subaru dealers setting up shop in far-flung rural areas a few hundred kilometers away from major urban centers, the brand has established a foothold in snow-ridden areas similar to their strategy in New England. The faithful won’t be disappointed by these new revisions, but other consumers will have to ask themselves whether the higher cost of entry and reduced levels of refinement are worth it to get all-wheel drive, superb handling and the unique character not available anywhere else.

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38 Comments on “Capsule Review: 2012 Subaru Impreza Sport 5-Door...”

  • avatar

    Can’t wait for the Crosstrek variant.

  • avatar

    Up here in snow country, the Subie is pretty much the way to go (“But you don’t need AWD– you can have FWD with studded times!”… yeah, right).

    Glad to see Fuji Heavy Industries FINALLY figured out: it’s the gas mileage, stupid! Now, if only they would build a hybrid Impreza! And bring in the diesel!

    • 0 avatar

      Judging by the unimpressive figures being attained by some reviewers and many Fuelly members, I wouldn’t go celebrating the gas mileage just yet. I’d want to see more real-world data before shopping an Impreza.

      • 0 avatar

        If you don’t drive like a douche, you’ll probably get pretty good gas mileage. Dan Gray over at was able to get above the EPA estimates during his review time on the Impreza Sport top of the line model.

        As a point of comparison, I have a 2010 Outback with the 2.5L and CVT. The car is rated 22/29 MPG by the EPA. However on a recent trip from Portland to Campbell River,BC and back I covered 950 miles with my family and a couple hundred pounds of camping gear. I wasn’t hypermiling (staying just above the speed limit most of the time) and did about 20/80 percent city/hwy driving. Anyway, on this trip I average 32 mpg in an Outback! I was amazed.

        Being lighter and having a smaller engine, I don’t doubt that I could get around 38 mpg on a similar trip in the Impreza Sport Hatch.

        Just my two cents… If you get stuck in LA traffic every day then your gas mileage will of course be much worse.

    • 0 avatar

      I have an ’09 legacy and outback, both with the 5spd. Mileage is atrocious, esp on the outback.

      • 0 avatar

        The mpg between an 09 Outback and the 2010 models is night and day. See my comment above. I’m getting great mileage on my 2010 Outback especially on long trips.

  • avatar

    Sounds like driving my (wife’s) 2007 Outback 2.5 MT, except materials being slightly better. You gotta really grab it by the reins and give it a good kick, and you get rewarded with an extremely well planted and balanced drive on the Idaho mountain roads, no matter the surface. More mule than horse.

    The new Impreza is tempting in some ways, to replace the old Acura, but 1 slow vehicle is enough for me.

  • avatar

    Considering how well Subaru has weather the auto market downturn over the past few years, I need to avoid criticizing what seems to be working for them. I guess this just isn’t the brand for me anymore because I find their competition to be so much more interesting. The current Impreza doesn’t happily surprise me enough to make me want one. How it hustles don’t offest it’s cheap feel.

    I wish them continued success because every sale helps.

  • avatar

    What a great sounding little car. As you say, there is a lot of competition in this category, but the Impreza is a damn nice vehicle. While the price in Canada is a real killer (especially when you can get something like a Focus for much less), there’s still great appeal for a car like this up here in the Great White North.

    • 0 avatar

      Minden, Ontario, population 5655, has their own Subaru dealer. The town is 2-3 hours north of Toronto, and to give you an idea of their weather patterns, it’s where I competed in Ice Racing last year. These cars are well loved by Canadians, even when the fuel economy was relatively poor. I can’t say I blame them.

  • avatar

    I own the 2009 with the 170hp 2.5 engine. I can’t imagine the engine being smaller, even with 200 lbs stripped out.

    Seriously though, these cars handle in the rain like most cars handle in the dry. Just fantastic. I don’t really like the look of the new ones though. I wonder what they’ll do to the WRX. That was going to be my next car, but not if HP is down, or it looks as fugly as the pic above…..

  • avatar

    My sister currently drives a 2008 Impreza Outback Sport and this new one looks 1000% percent better IMO. It’s still not quite as good looking as the 06 that my mom had but it comes pretty close with the “sport” package (the one that adds the roof racks).

    And I have to agree about the lower powerplant. Granted the 08 was heavier, but I would never have called it quick or exciting (it is an auto) to drive. The 06 was fun to drive and had ~170 HP. The new one is just under 80 lbs (which I consider negligible) lighter than that one and has about 20 HP less. We will see…

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    So would spending the extra money for an STI or aftermarket short throw shifter improve things?

    How does the power split work on manual trans Subarus? 50/50 all the time?

    • 0 avatar

      Historically Subaru’s rubbery shifter is due to the soft rubber bushings used on the shifter stay. At least on the older models there are inexpensive after-market replacements for this. If you can do an oil change these are a pretty easy install. A short-shifter and solid knob (again multiple options here) will further improve it. Installing Subaru group-n tranny and engine mounts adds another level of directness to the shifter.

      The notchiness is unfortunately an inherent trait in the box and can’t really be tamed. Getting a nice direct feel with the mentioned mods makes it more easy to accept as part of the car’s character.

    • 0 avatar

      Yes, non-turbo H4 manual equipped Subarus are 50:50 split AWD, as are H6 powered models.

      • 0 avatar

        I would have to disagree with the 50/50 split. It always fells like their is more power going to the rear. If you are on a slippery surface it is always happy to let the rear step out.

  • avatar

    “The Impreza’s seats were too flat and firm for my liking, but the driving position itself is refreshingly old school. You can actually see that the hood exists, and you sit lower than most pseudo-CUV compacts these days.”

    Awesome! I’m so tired of the “tall green house and kitchen chair” thing that seems to have started with the Echo and spread through all the compact and subcompact cars. So many cars seem to have the seat tracks mounted up on little stilts. Let me sit low and stretch my legs. Even the Civic feels tallish these days!

    • 0 avatar
      30-mile fetch

      We went from an early 90s Civic to a Yaris, so we rapidly experienced both ends of that spectrum. From sitting on the floorboards to perching on a barstool. I prefer somewhere in between.

    • 0 avatar

      I had a Honda from the seats directly on the floorpan era.

      It was great fun zipping around on a 20 minute test drive.

      And, I discovered too late to do me any good, utter back-aching suck sitting in traffic and on longer trips.

      The upwards creep of seats in pretty much everything in the 20 years since then suggests I’m not the only person to have discovered that.

      • 0 avatar

        All but the absolute most crude vehicles, such as the Honda Fit, for instance, have seats are height adjustable these days. There’s no reason for the seats to keep getting higher if the driver can crank it as high as it needs to be. Additionally, it seems that automakers use the taller seat as an excuse to remove lateral distance to the pedals.

      • 0 avatar

        The problem with the basic mechanical height adjustment (like in my ’08 Elantra), is that raising the seat also tilts the bottom forward, taking away thigh support – making it a no-win scenario for long-legged drivers.

      • 0 avatar

        I have an Accord V6 and I feel the same way about the seats. The rest of the car is quite good but the seats have by far the worst lower back support and shaping of anything I’ve ever driven for more than half an hour. My legs get cramped they are so bad. This has never happened driving anything else. I usually roll a towel up and put it at the base of the seat, helps a little bit.

  • avatar

    I own a 2004 Impreza TS Sportwagon and it still serves me well. The 170HP engine + 5 speed does ok in most driving conditions, though I consciously avoid looking at the fuel economy, especially in winter.
    One aspect that drew me into buying the base wagon was the ability to use higher-end model parts in a Lego like parts swaps. My budget did not stretch to the WRX back then, but over time I had the chance to swap in JDM STI Wagon suspension, JDM STI front seats, etc …
    Can’t say the car is “fast”, but on twisty cottage country roads, it’s excellent in all conditions.
    And yes, I belong to the “manual diesel wagon” wannabe community.

    • 0 avatar

      I just replaced my 04 RS 5MT with a 2012 Impreza Sport CVT after totaling the RS. The driving experience and handling of the new car are nowhere near my RS. Not even close. The new car is competent but not at all sporty. Even compared to the ’04 transmission, the 5MT in the new car was horrible.

      That being said: the ride, comfort and fit/finish were like going from a covered wagon to a Rolls Royce. Just words away.

      I like the new model on a day to day basis, but often miss the old car.

      • 0 avatar

        I can’t speak for the new car but I liked my ’06 way more than the ’11 I have now. I thought the interior quality on the old car was better. The carpet is very thin and it isn’t formed very well to follow the passenger footwell. It kind of sticks up. I also like the pillarless doors, no visible antenna, and standard alloy wheels on the ’06. It felt faster too, even though the ’11 has variable valve timing and the same power figures. It must be the weight. The ’06 handled better too because it had the same suspension as the WRX except the sway bars.

      • 0 avatar

        I had a manual Pacifica Blue ’04 2.5RS. It was my first (and so far, only) new car. It got me to the mountains for snowboarding and to and from my first job. I miss it too, even though I’ve owned “better” cars since then. It has a bit more soul than the newer Impreza my gf has.

        It is to me what the Dacia Sandero is to James May.

    • 0 avatar

      Glad you folks posted. I had been toying with the idea of trading up to pretty much this car, but, it sounds like my 04 TS Sportwagon manual is safe for yet another model generation.
      (No, I don’t want a diesel, but as a rare automotive forum dweller who puts my money where my mouth is, I have two Subaru wagons in my driveway.. best I don’t get started on the garage.)

  • avatar

    If you want to know where the model “bloat” came from, then read this article:

    As for fuel economy, my Subaru insider tells me that the break in period on the ’12 Impreza is 10,000 miles. I’ve already seen other people who live in more temperate climes that have seen close to the EPA advertised 30 mpg average.

  • avatar
    30-mile fetch

    Mixed feelings on this car. The visibility is absolutely fantastic; low cowl, thin A-pillars, low sills, tall glass. Interior is a nice step up from the disaster in the previous car & current Forester, and the backseat is large enough that I wouldn’t see the need for a midsize sedan. But both transmissions sound unappealing and acceleration is on par with a 1.5L subcompact. Contrary to Derek, I thought the front seats were overly squashy and soft.

    If the fuel economy estimates are attainable in the real world and it isn’t too loud on the freeway, I would take a long hard look at the 5dr. Couldn’t say that about the previous model.

  • avatar

    Don´t compare this car to Alfa Romeo Alfasud. Alfasud could be the car with the worst build quality in history.
    The interior disintegrated like wet cardboard. The exterior disappeared before you could say “Alfa Romeo Alfasud is a rustbucket”

    • 0 avatar

      The Alfasud was a great car. Handled, sounded and drove fantastically.

      One of my favourite car-related experiences was launching an Alfasud over a small motercross ramp. The car didn’t survive, but as you say, it was never built to be a ‘survivalist’.

  • avatar

    The only thing I want to know is when the WRX is going to be announced. The new Impreza adds the right stuff, so my hopes are high.

  • avatar

    “All that driving yielded 24 mpg in mixed driving – poorer than Michael’s CVT equipped sedan got, but understandable given the chunky Bridgestone Blizzaks (10 percent poorer fuel economy right off the bat) . . .”

    Sounds a little high. The Blizzak WS-70 only reduced fuel economy by 1.8% compared to the Nokian Hakka R in NAF testing. The Hakka R is a tire that, according to Nokian, “has the lowest rolling resistance of any tire in Nokian Tyres product line”, including their low rolling resistance all-season tire, the eNTYRE. Tires do roll more easily as the tread mass is reduced though, so I suppose it’s not impossible that a fresh set of Blizzaks could cause fuel economy to be 10% worse than a completely worn-out set of the most traction-challenged LRR tires on the market.

    Between the OE Goodyear RS-A, Michelin Pilot Sport A/S, and studded Cooper Weathermaster ST2 tires I’ve had on my Mazda3, the Cooper winter tires seem to use the least fuel. They were on there for my top two tanks in terms of fuel economy. Those happened during warm spring weather highway driving.

  • avatar

    Blizzaks have (AFAIK) a pretty “sticky” tread compound, and a fresh set would have all of those little grooves that ensure a lot of surface contact (another contributor to high rolling resistance).
    Also, the rougher ride described in the review could be attributed to the colder temperatures, when the shocks and bushings are stiffer (at least in the first few miles or so).

  • avatar

    Alfasud was a truly GREAT car…. and for the time (and and against their market place rivals) they were plenty fast and handled sublimely. Not in a grippy cock it’s inside rear wheel like a GTi way… just beautifully engineered suspension.

    Alfasud sprint was genuinely pretty too. like a baby GTV.

    Best exhaust noise:$$$ of any car I ever owned.

    Current Subaru range is an utter disaster. How on earth they ended up in this state after the wonderful last generation Legacy/Outback is quite beyond me.

    • 0 avatar

      I love the 05-09 Outback/Legacy range. I looked for a long time for a Legacy GT Wagon but couldn’t find any in my budget anywhere near my area. I did find an ’09, mint condition Outback XT with the 2.5 turbo, but the dealer wanted way too much for it. I did test drive it though, on a snowy day and it was fantastic. Powerful, smooth, rock-solid, and quiet on the highway. I drove a new one (2.5 CVT) and it wasn’t as fun, but it was a heck of a lot better than most of the smallish crossovers that it competes with, which is probably why it’s selling well. The CVT wasn’t bad either; the paddle shifters work really well.

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