It’s been an especially good 12-plus months for Subaru. Not only did calendar year 2016 result in the Japanese brand’s best-ever sales, but last year it took home trophies for the Crosstrek and Legacy in Vincentric’s “Best Value in America Awards” and “Lowest Cost to Own in America” (plus the Outback for the latter), as well as another overall brand honor in ALG’s Residual Value Awards.
Subaru won that last one the year before too, while the Impreza stole the show in this year’s “Compact Car” category. Other Subaru winners included the Legacy in the “Midsize Car” segment, the WRX in the “Sports Car” class (while the BRZ took third), the Crosstrek in the “Subcompact Utility Vehicle” category (even though technically it’s a compact), the Forester in the “Compact Utility Vehicle” class, and the Outback in the “Midsize Utility Vehicle” segment. Subaru’s competitors must be glad the brand doesn’t have a minivan or pickup truck in its lineup, or it might have been a clean sweep.
Helping strengthen Subaru’s compact offering is an entirely new 2017 Impreza that arrived last fall, and believe me it’s a game changer. For starters it’s arguably the most attractive Impreza ever, this aided by a longer, wider and lower stance. Second, it’s the first Subaru compact produced in North America, and lastly it rides on a new 70-percent-stiffer global platform architecture that Subaru says “significantly enhances safety, riding comfort and agility.”
I can attest to all three claims now that I’ve spent some time behind the wheel, the first point especially due to my Sport 5-Door tester being upgraded with Subaru’s suite of Eyesight active driver assist technologies that come as part of a $2,945 option package that also includes a powered moonroof, 432-watt eight-speaker Harman/Kardon premium audio, and blindspot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert; Eyesight specifically including auto high beams, adaptive cruise control, autonomous pre-collision braking, pre-collision brake assist, pre-collision throttle management, lane departure warning, lane sway warning, lead vehicle start alert, and reverse vehicle braking, this package helping Impreza earn an IIHS Top Safety Pick Plus rating in both sedan and hatchback body styles, which included best possible “Good” scores in all crash tests, top marks for headlamps, child seat anchors, and advanced safety features. Of note it’s the only small car that aces all categories. Additionally, the new Impreza should do just as well with the NHTSA that gave last year’s model five out of five stars.
Sport trim, mentioned a moment ago, features a sportier black trademark Subaru wing insert within the grille (instead of chrome), unique aerodynamic side ground effects, LED turn signals integrated within the side mirror caps, machine-finished 10-spoke 18-inch alloys with black painted pockets on 225/40R18 all-seasons, chromed door shoulder moldings, a trunk mounted rear wing (sedan only), larger 11.6-by-1.0-inch (294×24 mm) front brake rotors (base front discs are 10.9 inches/277 mm), a sport-tuned suspension, liquid-filled rubber engine mounts and a hood insulator to improve NVH levels (CVT-equipped models only), active torque vectoring for greater poise when pushed through corners, not to mention inherently better accident avoidance, plus red illuminated needles within the primary gauge cluster, proximity-sensing keyless access with pushbutton ignition, a tilt and telescopic multifunction leather-wrapped steering wheel, a leather-wrapped shifter knob, aluminum pedals, silver and high-gloss carbon finish inlays and accents, silver and red contrast stitching in key areas around the cabin, a really impressive 6.3-inch color multi-function display atop the dash featuring fuel data, an eco-guide, a vehicle dynamics monitor, a clock, exterior temperature gauge, maintenance reminder, customizable settings and more controlled by steering wheel-mounted switchgear, new 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment (the base model gets a 6.5-inch display with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Subaru’s Starlink smartphone integration and Aha radio), and more. Sport-tech also makes unique Lithium Red Pearl paint available. It’s not top of the line, Limited still the way to go if you want the full luxe treatment, while other trim lines include the base no-name 2.0i, and Premium.
Some features pulled up to Sport from lesser trims include auto on/off headlights, heatable powered side mirrors, a 4.2-inch color trip computer, plus heatable front seats, Bluetooth, dual USB ports, an aux input, and much more.
Another feature pulled up from lesser trims is Subaru’s horizontally opposed 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that’s actually standard across the entire Impreza line. At 152-horsepower the new version is four ponies more potent than before yet puts out an identical 145 lb-ft of torque, while Subaru’s Lineartronic CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission) is optional with Sport trim, a five-speed manual appropriately standard with Sport trim alone.
I’ve driven many Impreza’s with the manual and can attest to its nice notchy feel, easy clutch engagement, and overall drivability, while the CVT is as smooth and effortless as transmissions get. Subaru includes a set of paddles for those moments when you want to extract the most from the drivetrain, and they work well for this type of gearless box thanks to seven stepped intervals that mimic a more conventional automatic surprisingly well, reminding that a version of this transmission is also used for the mighty WRX and therefore deserves respect. The engine pulls strongly from all over the rev range, although peak twist arrives at 4,000 rpm and max power at 6,000. Still, it gets up and goes quickly from standstill, is plenty lively around town, isn’t shy about passing at highway speeds, and more than holds its own on a curvy back road, the little boxer not holding any punches.
While quick for its compact class, the Impreza Sport displays even fancier footwork. Again I’m reminded of its WRX kin, and while I won’t go so far as to compare the two at the limit, this less purposefully sporting sibling is still a whole barrel of fun on a circuitous mountain two-laner. Its grip is adhesive, some thanks paid to the Sport’s upgraded 18s, sport suspension, and active torque vectoring, while its bigger front binders make for shorter stopping and less fade after repeated stomps. And while it sounds as if the Sport is all about performance, let me assure you it’s thoroughly comfortable too, it’s suspension capable of soaking up the most abusive inner-city bumps and ruts, its NVH levels hushed thanks to those aforementioned engine mounts as well as more sound insulation than its predecessor, and its seats sublime.
They’re heavily bolstered and inherently well designed, wrapping around the body for excellent support everywhere, yet Subaru has nevertheless included ample adjustment so as to find that oftentimes-illusive ideal seating position. As noted earlier, gray and red stitching complement key areas throughout the cabin, the meaty leather-clad sport steering wheel particularly notable for the latter thread, although I must admit my need for finery had me gawking open-mouth at the beautiful gray-stitched detailing that edged the leather-like soft-touch dash top and instrument panel.
Each generation of every Subaru model grows in interior refinement, this Impreza a wholly more hospitable place for driver and passengers front to back, with respect to materials quality, design, and electronics. Along with that dash top and IP the door uppers get the same soft synthetic treatment, stylish gloss carbon-fiber like inlays wrap all the way around all occupants, satin-silver/gray accents highlight other key elements, as do tasteful applications of chrome, whereas all of the switchgear is superb, especially the tight fitting, well made buttons and toggles on the steering wheel. Really, the only thing missing from this otherwise brilliantly executed interior is a cubby in the overhead console to store sunglasses.
The attractive primary gauge cluster is comprised of two dials with red backlit graphics and a color trip computer in between. The full multi-info system is actually up on top of the dash and its own separate screen as noted earlier, its crisp detail and high-quality graphics unsurpassed in the class. Then again my tester’s top-line infotainment display is the real attention-getter, its resolution as sharp as anything else in this segment, its contrast deep, colors rich and graphics stimulating, while Starlink has come a long way since first introduced. As noted Apple CarPlay and Android Auto come standard, my Samsung phone linking up to the latter easily, while Subaru also supplies an app for communicating with your car remotely. Slot the gearbox in reverse and a bright, clear backup camera shows dynamic guidelines for reversing into tight parking spots.
Lastly, the upgraded Harman/Kardon audio system is totally worth the additional outlay, as it has great sound that rivals those in premium brands. Just below is a nicely laid out HVAC system that kept temperatures just right for my partner and I, while the two-way seat heaters warmed quickly and became quite toasty when fully cranked.
The rear seats were nearly as comfortable with good lower back support, and there was no shortage of room back there too. I had about six inches in front of my knees when the driver’s seat was set to my five-foot-eight frame, plus three or so inches over my head, while I even had room enough to move from side to side. Likewise for foot space, which was actually better than average with lots of room for big winter boots underneath the seat. The center armrest flips down at just the right height for adult comfort, and is filled with dual cupholders rimmed with rubber grips to securely hold drinks. Subaru doesn’t finish the rear door panels quite as nicely as those up front, with hard plastic on top and no gloss for the carbon-like trim, plus no metallic accenting either. At least the inserts are nicely padded and the contrast-stitched armrests still appear like leather.
The Impreza 5-Door has always been capable of gobbling up gear, and with 20.8 cubic feet of volume in the cargo compartment and 55.3 when its 60/40-split second-row seatbacks are folded flat the new one is even better than previous iterations. OK, let me be clear. Its max stowage is a full 2.8 cubic feet greater than the 5-Door Touring I reviewed last year, but its dedicated luggage area is down 1.7 cubic feet, that lower roofline probably encroaching somewhat. I certainly wouldn’t have noticed unless I read it, and honestly was preoccupied removing the retractable cargo cover’s brushed metal cross-member.
It’s a solid feeling, nicely made bit of kit, just like the rest of the car, the Impreza having totally won me over after time well spent enjoying its wonderful blend of premium-like quality and dutiful practicality. I’ve always appreciated Subaru for the latter, the Japanese brand making reliable workhorses that seem to thrive on subservient service no matter how harsh the master, but memories of these utilitarian predecessors quickly vanish from the mind’s eye after a few minutes with the new 2017 Impreza, a car that immediately makes Subaru a must-shop brand in the compact class.
Truly, this new Impreza meets the majority of my elitist objectives when it comes to exterior styling, interior design and quality, connectivity, driving dynamics, and even fuel economy with a claimed rating of 27 mpg city, 36 highway, and 30 combined for the Sport sedan with the CVT or 27, 35 and 30 for this Sport 5-Door CVT, not to mention meeting feel-good Partial Zero Emission Vehicle (PZEV) standards. On top of all this it’s large enough for all my ski gear and equipped with one of the best all-wheel drive systems available on any car, capable of getting my clan and me up the mountain anytime of the year, all for just $22,495 plus freight, fees and options as-tested, or a mere $18,395 in base trim. Add to that its superb resale value and… Enough said. Where do I sign?
Story credits: Trevor Hofmann, American Auto Press Photo credits: Karen Tuggay, American Auto Press Copyright: American Auto Press