By on October 18, 2018

Three hatchbacks from 2010 (we might call them crossovers today), all of them about to disappear for various reasons. All three promise utility for their owners, and all provide four driven wheels. Thinking with your 2010 hat, which one do you take home?

Subaru Impreza

Subaru’s third-generation Impreza went on sale for the 2008 model year sporting a revised design that was longer and wider, paired with a longer wheelbase than before. Impreza loyalists lost their wagon love in 2008, as the new cargo-carrying option was a truncated five-door hatchback design. Standard non-WRX versions utilized the naturally aspirated 2.5-liter flat four engine distributing 170 horsepower through all four wheels. Because we’re at TTAC, the selected transmission is the five-speed manual. A new generation of Impreza debuted for the 2012 model year after the styling on this third generation grew long in the tooth.

Pontiac Vibe

The original version of Pontiac’s practical Vibe debuted in 2003, built alongside the Toyota Matrix. Though the Pontiac brand was not long for the world by the time of its release, a brand new Vibe came to market for 2009. Coinciding with a new generation of Matrix, the Vibe was powered by either a 1.8- or 2.4-liter Toyota engine. Today’s trim is determined by our all-wheel drive requirement. The 2.4-liter inline-four produced 158 horsepower, married via all-wheel drive to the five-speed automatic. Production at the NUMMI plant ended in 2009, with 2010 Vibes on dealer lots representing Pontiac’s only offering that year.

Suzuki SX4

Suzuki partnered with Fiat to develop its SX4 hatchback and sedan, pairing the two companies’ engineering know-how with a shape penned by Italdesign Giugiaro. Though Suzuki intended the SX4 as a European offering, the company saw sales potential and instead offered it in most international markets. Available for the 2007 model year in North America, all American SX4 hatchbacks had all-wheel drive. Thrifty Canadians could opt for two driven wheels instead. Though labeled as all-wheel drive, the SX4 had an electronically controlled four-wheel drive system. Selectable modes included two-wheel drive, automatic all-wheel drive, and a 50:50 power distribution “Lock” mode for speeds up to 40 miles an hour. Visual updates to the front and rear ends freshened the appearance for 2010. In six-speed manual AWD trim, a 2.0-liter engine motivated the SX4 with 150 horsepower. The Suzuki brand was not long for the North American market, and sales of all models wrapped up in 2013. The SX4 lives on in other markets today, where its success has granted it a second generation.

Three utility hatchbacks, all on their last legs. Which one’s a Buy?

[Images: Subaru, Pontiac, Suzuki]

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39 Comments on “Buy/Drive/Burn: Economical All-purpose Hatchbacks From 2010...”


  • avatar
    Lie2me

    Buy- Subaru
    Do what ever you want with the others

  • avatar
    dividebytube

    Buy Subbie
    Drive Pontiac (aka Toyota)
    Burn the Suzuki

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    All 3 are decent to good vehicles. Yet only Subaru is left selling new cars in North America.

    Have a friend with the SX4 and he is quite enamoured of it. Larger on the inside. Fund to drive with a MT.

    The Vibe is a ‘best buy’ as a used vehicle. Yes, even the Pontiacs seem to demand a ‘premium price’. Although it is getting much more difficult to find a good used one in Canada. Our only issue was that the window sill was so high that my wife and one daughter did not feel comfortable driving one.

    The Imprezza may be the ‘worst value’ and least dependable of the group. Yet Subaru loyalists are seemingly everywhere.

    So just because of the rules:
    Buy: Vibe
    Drive: SX4
    Burn: Imprezza

  • avatar
    threeer

    Buy: Vibe (it’s a Toyota, more or less). Though I tend to like the styling of the first gen better.
    Drive: SX4. For some reason, I’m just taken a little by these wee-beasties. I’ve come close to pulling the trigger on a manual variant more than once as a daily driver.
    Burn: Imprezza, if for nothing else than attempting to follow the rules of the game…;)

  • avatar
    gtem

    Based mostly on reliability, I’d buy the Vibe, drive Subie, burn Suzuki.

    Burn: The Suzuki is much better on paper and in photos than in person. My brother’s friend bought a 5spd one as a used car a few years ago. It was wretchedly loud and unrefined on the highway (yes even compared to a cheap old Subaru), and the 2.0L was surprisingly thirsty even with a stick shift. It’s also just really small inside, there’s only so many packaging miracles you can pull off given tidy exterior dimensions, and the Suzuki is no Fit. So said friend was glad when he hit a deer and got an insurance check for the little Zook.

    Drive: Subie with a stick is always a good time, but longer term, having to budget for head gaskets for the EJ25, and the short lived wheel bearings (some kind of change in their metallurgy in the late 2000s apparently), and the usual CV boots and such are enough of a hassle for me to avoid them for long term ownership.

    Buy: I hate the ruined visibility of this gen Matrix and Vibe, the whole car looks dumpy. But it is very roomy for cargo with the seats folded, and the running gear is rock solid, just don’t use 0W-20 despite what the manual might say, easy 200k+ mile car with minimal fuss.

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      What’s wrong with running 0W-20?…asked the man who’s using it in his Toyota.

      • 0 avatar
        gtem

        Seems like the first few years of Toyota spec-ing it for a number of older motors that used to run thicker dino oil, they tend to burn it off at higher-than desired rates. But even the newer motors engineered to use the thin stuff seem use a bit more than some much older higher mile motors running good old 5W-30. My wife has a 2012 Camry 2.5L with 79k, and this summer it ended up a quart low at the end of a 7k mile interval. The earlier cars are worse about this (’08-’09s with the 2.4). A ton of manufacturers struggled with this shift to thin synthetics and low tension rings as everyone was pushing for every last crumb of fuel efficiency. Volvo turned their rock solid 3.2L I6 into an oil burner, some VAG 2.0Ts were burning up to a quart every 500 miles, Subaru’s FB25 everyone knows about (class action lawsuit), BMWs were having big problems too. Some other manufacturers were dealing with oil consumption for a different reason: cylinder shutoff systems suffering “reverse blow-by” where the deactivated cylinders without compression were having oil from the (slightly) pressurized crankcase blow back out.

  • avatar
    paxman356

    Having driven the SX4 and the Vibe, it’s hard to have an opinion on the Impreza either way.

    My SX4 (and recent Kizashi) experience is good. My 2003 Vibe experience was good, but a more recent example felt a lot less well put together.

    Buy: SX4
    Drive: Impreza
    Burn: Vibe

  • avatar
    mor2bz

    I drove an earlier version of the Vibe. Paint and door handles were terrible.
    Still, a decent drive. Maybe the Matrix made in Canada were painted better.

    The Vibe was from Ca. so EPA regs. may have hampered paint choice.

    I am very interest in the NUMMI story, and that was my basis for my interest in the Vibe.

    • 0 avatar
      slavuta

      I believe, Matrix and Vibe were made at the same plant in US

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        Yes they were both made at NUMMI in Fremont, CA.

        When my wife’s Vibe finally gave up it’s original battery after 10 plus years the case of the battery was stamped “Made For Toyota” – NUMMI Plant.

        GM was stupid enough to think that a joint venture with Toyota would somehow provide them with the “secret sauce” to make their vehicles the equal of the partner.

        • 0 avatar
          BoogerROTN

          NUMMI never produced the Matrix, they only built Vibes and Corollas. TMMC-Cambridge, ONT built the Matrix.

          There used to be a NUMMI employee that posted factory photos on the GenVibe website. It was interesting to see Vibes and Corollas on the same line.

    • 0 avatar
      Blackcloud_9

      Owned a 2003 Matrix. Mechanically – Rock solid. However, the paint and door handles were a sore point. The door handles worked just fine but the chrome readily peeled off the interior handles. Gave the car to my daughter in 2009 because she imploded the engine on her first car. The paint was getting a little thin by then and it definitely did not like the hot Fresno summers where she was going to school.

  • avatar
    ajla

    My mother has an ’09 Matrix XRS (FWD/2.4L/5A) with about 180K. It’s been decent and the 2.4L moves it better than most economy cars of that era. Transmission behavior and interior bits have held up well and dynamically it hasn’t lost much starch compared to most other things of this age/mileage. On the negative side the paint was too thin, the engine has required several repairs for oil leaks (and since about 100k has burned about 1qt/3000 miles), and two of the power windows regulators have broken. A few underhood sensors have needed replacement as well.

    So anyway:
    Buy: Vibe
    Drive: SX4 (the manual saves it here because the CVT and 4A were SLOW)
    Burn: Impreza

    • 0 avatar
      gtem

      Your mother’s 2nd gen Matrix experience (with the 2AZ) line up with my thought above precisely. I do wonder whether a slightly more viscous oil (at least in the summer) would cut that consumption, I’ve never looked into whether it was a combination of switching to thinner oil AND low tension rings that prompted this, or just the thinner oil. I’ll wait for APaGttH’s “LOL U R triggered!” comment now.

      Mid-late 2000s Toyota products can all basically be summed up as victims of cost cutting and some EPA/CAFE motivated changes (weak/thin water based paint and increased oil consumption, crapper interior materials and finish) but with basically sound and long-lived underlying mechanicals and well protected against corrosion.

      • 0 avatar
        gtem

        Top tip: best non-truck Toyota motor of the early-mid 2000s is (IMO) the 3.3L belt driven 3MZ. A refinement of the 1MZ with added oil cooling capacity that addressed the sludge problem. The 4bangers are alright (older 2AZ, Corolla 2ZZ), but unless MPG is an absolute obsession the sturdy V6 is the way to go. I’d almost pick it over the first few years of the then new 2GR. If we’re including larger stuff, the final years of the iron block 3.4L 5VZ in the Taco are absolute tanks, same for the iron block 2UZs (that’s the one that went a million miles in that hot-shot ’07 Tundra). First few years of the 4.0L 1GR occasionally have head gasket issues around the 120-150k mile range.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    Buy: Vibe-The Toyota platform and running gear are reliable plus it’s roomy and functional.

    Drive: SX4-Better than the low rent Reno which was the lowest price car then. Available manual.

    Burn: Impreza—A decent drive just not as robust as other generations as Subies.

  • avatar
    Nick_515

    Arthur Daley above got it right according to me.

    Buy the Vibe. A good friend ran one for 220k miles, commuting an hour each day in upstate NY. It wasn’t that reliable, but it was serviceable. I had a lot of respect for that car. It got totalled violently by someone running a red light on cold county roads.

    Drive the Suzuki. Excellent little run around with four wheel drive, a terrific green house, and pretty good reliability.

    Burn the Subie. I’ve never liked them, and I like them even less these days despite lack of rational justification. This gen of the Imprezza I like even less than the preceding and succeeding one.

    Oh, and I HAVE A 2010 HATCHBACK! It’s a FWD Audi A3 with DSG. No tank of gas gets less than 29 mpg combined, and it’s a pretty darn fast little wagon. My first turbocharged car – I totally get the turbo thing now.

  • avatar
    MBella

    I had this generation Impreza and it was a peice of crap. Quality went down very much since the generation before it. The suspension was too soft. The carpet was very thin and not even molded correctly. The A/C compressors like to seize. Mine did driving to Vancouver BC on a very humid and foggy day. Perfect timing. When I turned the lease in the dealer bought it out. They sent me a check for $350. A few weeks later I checked what they listed it for on their website. $14999. The MSRP was $18000. That’s crazy.

    Buy the Vibe, one of the more fun Toyota products at a discount.

    Drive the Suzuki. I haven’t driven one yet, but they seem to be decent based on what their owners say.

    Burn the Impreza. Overpriced as I said above.

    • 0 avatar

      I don’t like to see what happens to cars after I own them. They’re always overpriced or destroyed or both.

      • 0 avatar
        APaGttH

        …I don’t like to see what happens to cars after I own them. They’re always overpriced or destroyed or both…

        I’ve had the displeasure of seeing 3 of my trade-ins after the fact.

        My 1989 Ford Probe was a shell of its former self. It had clearly been stolen once, the center stack shattered to pieces the stereo gutted out, paint faded and peeling, rims replaced with steelies. I’m sure it had a long list of deferred maintenance. Just a horror.

        My 2002 Chevy Avalanche wasn’t as rough as the Ford but had body damage when I saw it about 18 months after I traded it in.

        My 2005 Pontiac Grand Prix was, interestingly, bought by the neighbor of my ex-wife, who started to wonder what my car was doing in her neighbor’s driveway. They knew the dealership owner, bought it on the cheap apparently. One day while picking up my kids I went over and gave them all the service records from day one, and maintenance logs. They were surprised. Turns out they later flipped the car for stoopid money. Ouch.

        I shudder to think what will happen to my Holdenized Pontiac G8 GT, and hope I never see it again.

    • 0 avatar
      gtem

      MBella my brother’s friend from the SX4 story above ended up buying a used ’09 Forester with 87k miles for $9k as I recall. Very similar impressions in terms of the precipitous drop in quality from earlier Subarus. Cheap nasty carpet, hollow plastics. A headgasket job, CV boots, 3 wheel bearings, a clutch, a water intrusion issue (factory drainage routing at fault), a few balljoints, and seized A/C compressor later at 120k miles and it’s been once pricey car to run (and a good earner for my brother). But I gotta say when you drive it, you “get it.” Fun dynamics, the stick makes it accelerate pretty decently, excellent sightlines. God mode on a slick winter road.

      • 0 avatar
        MBella

        The driving Dynamics were way superior in the previous model, comparably equipped. The only reason I had the 2011, was because of how much I loved the 2007. The suspension was softened up to land yacht levels with the later generation. On the 2007, the springs and shocks shared part numbers with the WRX. The WRX at the time only gave you the turbo motor. I would buy a 2007 new today if that existed.

        • 0 avatar
          gtem

          My family test drove some compact cars back in ’06 to find a replacement for our ’90 Civic Wagon. Among them were an ’06 Matrix (good utility, ropey shifter) and an ’07 Outback Sport with a stick. That Impreza was a real hoot on back roads, the boxer warble, the great visibility, strong motor (for the time).

    • 0 avatar
      APaGttH

      …I had this generation Impreza and it was a peice of crap…

      Yup. We have one from this era right now and starting around 80K miles it has just been one thing after another after another after another. Brakes, suspension, oil leaks, electronics. It’s paid off, the stepson is in college and using it as his sled.

      I’ve owned 3 Subbies either directly or by proxy from 3 decades (90s, 00s, and 10s) and none of them have lived up to their reputation.

      On thin carpet specifically, this also extended to the Forester of the same era. The carpet on my wife’s Forester driver side is worn down to the metal, even with floor mats. My wife is not a “heels” kind of woman.

  • avatar
    SixspeedSi

    Yeah, all three are decent hatchbacks. My brother’s good friend had a 5 speed SX-4 and it was a decent little runner. He beat the thing and it seems to take it well. I would:

    Buy: SX4 – Just a good basic runner. Decent horsepower and the 5 speed really helped liven the thing up.

    Drive: Vibe – Okay styling, decent underpinnings. Really would choose to drive this over the Subie because of the 2.5 issues.

    Burn: Subie – It’s fine. I drove my friend’s sedan which we did a few rallies in. The suspension is a bit too soft and I don’t have great faith in the 2.5, thus it is torched.

  • avatar
    slavuta

    “Vibe” is straight from Kia lexicon.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    This is hard for me.

    Buy the Pontiac – the first generation was Pontiacs best selling vehicle a few of the model years it was on sale (try pointing that out to a Pontiac loyalist if you want to pi$$ them off.) I always teased my wife about her 1st gen Vibe being a “Toyota wearing arrowheads”

    Drive the SX4 but only if you can swing the coin for this https://www.rocky-road.com/sx4-lift-kit.html

    Burn the Subie by default.

  • avatar
    slavuta

    I am just happy that many of you burning Subarus. Keep up the good work

  • avatar
    tonyola

    Buy – the Pontiac because it has Toyota DNA which should help it in the long term.

    Drive – the Suzuki because it has 4WD, fine view out, and interesting looks. None too common these days.

    Burn – the Subaru because it’s quirky and not necessarily in a good way.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    Buy the Vibe – Toyota internals and for the era, the perfect hatchback – could seat 4 with great utility. With Pontiac in bankruptcy good deals to be had. The only downside is Toyota throttle recall repairs were a nightmare to source

    Drive the Subbie – no way I would buy. This era 2.5 is notorious for oil leaks from any imaginable seal possible, parts are a premium for regular service – I’ll drive it, someone else can deal with the service

    Burn the Suzuki – an orphaned brand with no dealer or warranty network

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Buy – Pontiac, the Toyota in disguise
    Drive – Suzuki
    Burn the Subaru. There are too many of these goddamned things in Colorado anyway.

  • avatar
    Blackcloud_9

    Initially I was going to say Buy the Subie…but after reading “Subie’s are crap” comments, it made re-think my choices. So…
    Buy the SX4 – The 6-speed manual saves it.
    Drive the Vibe – Mechanically it’s the best but the automatic and the added weight of AWD make a not-so-fast car even slower
    Burn the Impreza – The few people I know who have owned one were less than imprezzed (pun, get it?) with their supposed reliability

  • avatar
    rpn453

    I don’t know anything about the AWD on the other vehicles, but the Subaru has the sort of fully mechanical drivetrain that I want. So . . .

    Buy the Subaru.
    Drive the Suzuki, out of curiosity.
    Burn the Vibe. It’s ugly and automatic anyway.

  • avatar
    IBx1

    Definitely buy the Vibe; I like how they look and they’re a cockroach-reliable Toyota Matrix.

    Toss-up between the other two, but I think I’d drive the Suzuki since it’s different.

    Burn the Subaru and save yourself from all the weird problems they develop.

  • avatar
    TNJed

    Buy: Suzuki, just because its weird and rare.
    Drive: Subaru, see below.
    Burn: Vibe, the trashy cousin of the Matrix.
    Full disclosure: I own a 2011 Impreza 2.5i hatch with a 5 speed that I bought new. No idea what the reliability complaints are about – mine hasn’t needed anything other than routine maintenance (fluids, filters, etc.). The ride is a little soft and the carpet is cheap and the dash squeaks in cold weather but its 8 years old. Lots of utility with the seats down, excellent visibility, boxer growl with plenty of torque, handles well. I read somewhere that the 2010-11 Impreza got the quicker steering rack from the WRX unlike the 2008-09 models.

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