What Made the 2012 Subaru Impreza so Bad?

If you want a compact car that has standard all-wheel drive, good fuel economy, and a roomy interior, the Subaru Impreza is a good choice. And if you want to save some money, you might be thinking about buying a secondhand one.

It’s a smart move. But one specific model year of the Impreza is so bad that you’ll want to give it a hard pass. Read on to learn why CarComplaints.com has named the 2012 Subaru Impreza as the worst model year overall.

A terrible year for the Subaru Impreza

The 2008 Subaru Impreza had the most problems as well as the most-reported problem of its windows seemingly having film on them. But the worst problems plagued the 2012 model year. These problems were more costly to repair, and they occurred at relatively low mileage.

Engine problems caused the most trouble for owners of the 2012 Impreza. This model year’s sudden unexpected acceleration was the No. 1 problem of all model years of the Impreza.

Owners described experiencing unusual surges of speed while driving slowly or when idling with the brake pedal depressed. Many told of coming too close to having accidents. A few actually crashed. One driver told of having two collisions with her Impreza due to the unexpected surge. 

This problem typically cost owners about $4,000 and happened on average at 40,500 miles. Car Complaints gave the problem a severity rating of “really awful.” Dealerships were unsure about what caused the problem, and a few even put the blame back on the drivers. 

Excessive engine oil consumption was a less severe but more frequent engine problem. It occurred on average at a little over 23,000 miles and cost owners typically $40. Dealerships recommended that owners monitor their oil levels more frequently. In a few cases, dealerships replaced the engine short block.

More unsafe engine problems found in this model year

Complaints submitted to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration revealed even scarier engine troubles for the 2012 Subaru Impreza. Owners reported that the car unexpectedly stalled or stopped while being driven at highway speeds. Sometimes the check engine light went on beforehand, but more often, it happened without warning. Many owners had to have their cars towed. 

Three crashes and two injuries were reported to NHTSA for the Impreza’s speed control problems. These engine problems received a severity rating of “really awful” and happened at a little over 49,000 miles on average.

One shocking owner account involved the Impreza bursting into flames at highway speed. While the driver and the passenger weren’t injured, the car was determined to be a total loss. When the insurance company investigated the fire, it discovered that a connecting rod punctured the engine block, causing the engine compartment to catch fire. 

Low oil levels that caused the Impreza to seize was another NHTSA complaint. In some cases, owners reported both low oil levels and engine stalling, which seems to be the worst possible combination of the Impreza’s engine issues.

NHTSA reported two crashes, one fire, and one injury for the 2012 Subaru Impreza‘s general engine problems that were unrelated to speed control. They occurred on average at just over 50,000 miles. These problems had a severity rating of “really awful.”

Did Subaru fix the Impreza’s issues in later models?

Subaru Impreza is displayed during the second press day at the 89th Geneva International Motor Show
The Subaru Impreza | Robert Hradil/Getty Images

It took the automaker until 2018 to issue a recall for the stalling problem, and it included not only the 2012 model year but the 2013- 2014 Impreza models as well. Other Subaru models such as the 2012-2013 Impreza Wagon plus the 2013 BRZ and the XV Crosstrek were also recalled.

The recall affected 165,534 vehicles. The problem was caused by broken engine valve springs, which can cause engine malfunction or stalling. Although this might have solved the issue for the 2012-2014 Imprezas, a few owners of model years 2015-2017 have reported similar problems to NHTSA.

Sudden unintended acceleration remained a problem for several Impreza owners of model years 2013-2017, as reported to NHTSA. Subaru did not issue a recall for this problem, with it occurring at mileage as low as 2,500 miles and causing crashes and injuries in a few cases.

Subaru seemed to have solved the less-serious problem of excessive oil consumption after the 2013 model year because there are no complaints about it in subsequent years.

The 2012 model year does indeed have the worst engine problems overall, but it seems like a red flag when they persist and show up five years later on the 2017 Impreza. You can still shop for a used Subaru Impreza, but it’s a good idea to stay clear of the 2012 model year and to be careful with those subsequent years as well.