After dropping over $1 billion on overhauling 95% of the Impreza platform, Subaru cashed in big time, as it recently took home the prestigious award for Japan Car of the Year. With all eyes focused on the millennial buyer like never before, it looks like Japan’s symmetrical all-wheel drive specialist is set for one hell of a home run if it continues by garnering awards stateside as well, and hits the marketing game hard.
There’s a whole lot of ingenuity going into this latest generation of the Impreza, and you can tell that Subaru has been listening to both critic and consumer complaints attentively as it attempts to go toe-to-toe in an increasingly cutthroat segment. Since the Impreza remains one of the only all-wheel drive entry-level options on the market, it does have an advantage, and as things like safety and brand loyalty continue to be synonymous with the Subaru badge, things are already looking good for this chassis.
After driving both a Premium-grade sedan and a Sport version of the hatchback five-door, we were able form our own opinion of what the 2017 Impreza is all about and what that means for the global platform it embodies. Subaru is banking big time on both the mechanical underpinnings and global design language that this vehicle epitomizes, and we are confident that it will continue to crush as its fan base grows among millennials.
Over 54% of all projected sales are supposedly going to be focused here in America, and in order to accommodate this, Subaru has tagged its zero-landfill plant in Indiana for production purposes. This is the same plant that we toured last year, which is famous for being designated as a Backyard Wildlife Habitat by the National Wildlife Federation, and goes as far as combusting its own dust to lower carbon footprints. Nerdy behind-the-scenes notes aside, it is important to note that for as good as it is the new Impreza may not be for everyone, and in order to outline who will and won’t want one we have concocted this cheat sheet for potential buyers.
1. Safety snobs will smile, loaded luxury lovers should steer clear
The outgoing version of the Impreza was named an IIHS Top Safety Pick+ option when equipped with the available EyeSight suite of active protection features. This latest generation takes all that safety goodness and turns it up a notch via a new unitized body structure that is over 70% stiffer and features a crash energy absorption rate that is 40% greater than the old model. Adding Subaru’s EyeSight setup tacks on features like adaptive cruise control, automatic pre-collision braking, both lane departure and sway warnings, as well as optional blind spot detection with lane keep assist and rear cross traffic alerts.
Night drivers will also appreciate Subaru’s new Steering Responsive Headlights and High Beam Assist, which automatically adjust depending on where the wheel is pointed and what driving conditions are predicted. Additional semi-autonomous technologies include Reverse Automatic Braking, displayed steering lines ingrained within the standard rearview camera, a new tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS), and a re-calibrated brake setup for increased stopping power.
On the downside, for anyone craving things like ventilated leather seats, a heated steering wheel, power-folding mirrors with key-sensing puddle lights, power adjustments at every angle, and 360-degree camera views had better look elsewhere. While the Sport model in particular offers an attractive cabin, complete with a leather-wrapped steering wheel, heated seats, accent stitching, performance pedals, and plenty of piano black touches, it is still not as loaded as an equally priced Kia Forte5 SX or a Honda Civic Touring. It’s a great cabin, and we thought everything felt well put together, but if snazzy amenities are your thing, know that the Impreza might not hit on all cylinders.
2. Highway handlers hit the jackpot, power junkies go bust
The Impreza 2.0i Sport comes in both Sedan and hatchback trims, and delivers what Subaru likes to call “a more fun-to-drive performance feel.” We tend to agree: This generation receives BRZ-tuned steering calibrations, unique suspension tweaks, 18-inch alloy wheels with all-season Continental performance tires, and Active Torque Vectoring for added directness in corners. This car also receives a frame-mounted rear sway bar, which is expensive to manufacture, but ultimately brings a 50% improvement in body roll. While the Sport hatch we tested offered solid torque vectoring gains and remained very flat in the corners, Subaru says that it was the larger 18-inch wheel option and stickier tire compound that made a surprising difference during both wet and dry slalom testing.
The revised version of the FB four-banger engine tucked behind the front bumper of the Impreza gets an impressive 38 mile per gallon average on the highway in sedan trim, and 35 with the five-door hatch. This 2.0-liter boxer gets most of its gains from direct-injection, a 26 pound weight reduction, a 12.5:1 compression ratio (versus the old 10.5:1), thus landing it 152 horsepower and 148 foot-pounds of torque.
While it may be able to compete with the majority of the efficient front-wheel drive competition on the market today, this powertrain leaves a lot to be desired if swift acceleration speeds and rev-happy hooning are a priority. Things like torque vectoring and all-wheel drive won’t sway many sport-focused buyers when they pit the Impreza against something like the zippy turbo Civic Sport hatch, giving even further cause for shoppers to look elsewhere or spend $27,000 on a base WRX.
3. MPG and tech lovers unite, while gearbox aficionados groan
Standard tech features on the base Impreza include a 6.5-inch infotainment touchscreen, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, power windows with auto up/down up front, a multi-function display, and a security system with an engine immobilizer to name a few. Premium trim adds Subaru’s STARLINK Safety and Security features, an All-Weather Package with heated front seats, windshield, and exterior mirrors, as well as things like automatic headlights and the ability to add driver assist systems. Limited models receive all this plus keyless entry push-button start and an 8-inch color touchscreen, which features cloud apps like iHeart Radio, Stitcher, a calendar, weather info, and news, plus a music player.
Tech fans will also enjoy things like Pandora and Aha apps, Bluetooth controls, voice activated controls, and SiriusXM All Access Radio with Travel Link on a free four-month subscription. There are also a ton of nifty vehicle diagnostic tools both in the upper display screen and within the gauge cluster, giving drivers stats on descent grades, wheel angles, adaptive cruise control tracking, and much more. But the big news today is that after years of waiting, Subaru has finally scored a premium sound system supplier! That simple Harman/Kardon upgrade alone gives us just as much of a reason to celebrate as all the TomTom maps and tech combined.
Unfortunately, even though upper trims receive a Lineartronic CVT transmission with a seven-speed manual mode that can be controlled via steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters, it will do little to sway CVT haters. It’s not a bad setup, it just doesn’t make the car feel any sportier, and since the paddles are made from a mid-grade plastic, we don’t foresee a lot of driving enthusiasts getting inspired when they click them up and down. While word has it that the forthcoming manual version of the Sport model will come equipped with an STI short-shifter, we’re skeptical as to how much it will improve the old five-speed gearbox, which isn’t terrible, but is quite droll when compared to the WRX’s six-speed.