Thinking differently constitutes just another day at the office at Subaru
The nimble automaker doesn't seem to mind much that (for the time being at least) it's a few sales short of qualifying as Japan's largest automaker (that accolade goes to Toyota); what Subaru
does possess is a survivor's mentality worthy of a network reality TV program. During the industry's dark days of 2009 and 2010, the company's relatively compact, agile structure enabled it to report bottom-line end-of-year profits while most larger rivals were restructuring on-the-fly and/or bathing uneasily in financial red ink.
Enjoy all-wheel drive benefits? All Subaru
models sport Symmetrical all-wheel drive standard. All-wheel-drive all the time; a terrific and easy-to-recall marketing mantra. All this with pricing skewed towards the lower end of the pocket-book affordability spectrum.
news in 2012 involves the Impreza compact sedan and five-door wagon, both of which undergo next-generation redesigns, representing fourth-generation efforts. Impreza debuted in 1992. While maybe not as recognizable as the mid-size Outback or larger Tribeca sport utility vehicles, Impreza provides an entry port for the niche automaker. Sedan trim levels include Base, Premium and new-for-2012 Limited editions. Wagon versions add Sports Premium and Sports Limited trims. An Impreza Outback Sport trim has been retired for 2012.
Want an added boost? High-performance, turbo-charged WRX and STI Impreza variants are available to entice the tuner crowd.
Both body structures reposition the base of the newly slimmed A-pillar forward nearly eight inches, moving the windshield fore leading to a smaller hood and roomier interior. Driver visibility is improved. The wheelbase (distance between front and rear axle) is stretched an inch while overall dimensions remain unchanged from Gen Three thanks to shorter front and rear overhangs.
Impreza features Subaru
's longitudinally-mounted Boxer engine. Different from conventional V-shaped designs, pistons are laid flat at 180 degrees (instead of the conventional 90 degrees) and rides shallower in the engine compartment, lowering the center of gravity for better agility. A 2.0-liter, 148-horsepower engine is the sole powertrain in all trims.
Think of Boxer's shape not as a 'tall' box containing say a desk lamp, but a shorter, wider box storing an old-school VCR or DVR. Subaru
's engine layout is inspired by the design of airplane engines needing enhanced aerodynamic-tivity for weight and balance issues. Boxer engines are turned so as to face the same direction as the vehicle's long, central horizontal driveshaft. Side-to-side symmetry optimizes balance.
Power gets fed directly from the engine through the transmission to the driveshaft and then to each wheel in the shortest, most direct route possible. This direct route (Symmetrical) requires less hardware resulting in less weight.
The 2.0-liter Boxer isn't the quietest of the lot, but to a majority of constituents, not a deal breaker. In fact, the engine growl provides a meaningful reminder of the ongoing four-stroke ballet. Acceleration remains average while handling gets an extra assist from double wishbone rear suspension.
Our Sport Wagon Premium tester started at a modest $20,595 with a $21,414 bottom line including $69 worth of dealer delivered floor mats and $750 destination charge. Entry Base trims include such creature comforts as air conditioning, four-speaker CD player, cruise control, power windows/locks, side-curtain air bags and notable upgrades including driver's knee airbags, vehicle dynamic control (a mix of traction and stability control) and height-adjustable driver's seat. A base Impreza wagon checks in at an attainable $17,995, base sedan at $17,495.
All trims sans base include iPod and Bluetooth connectivity. Premium, Limited and Sports Limited offer an optional sunroof and in-dash navigation with satellite radio.
With our tester's five-speed manual transmission, fuel mileage checked in at 25 mpg city and 33 mpg highway, very respectable considering fuel-intensive all-wheel drive. In fact, Impreza now rates as the most fuel-efficient all-wheel-drive sold in America thanks to a 100-pound weight reduction. Overall mileage improves by 30 percent from the past generation. New electronic power steering also aids the cause. The fuel tank holds a relatively small 14.5 gallons of regular unleaded fuel.
Five-speed manual transmission comes standard in both body styles and features Subaru
's well tested and very practical 'incline start assist' preventing Impreza from creeping backward for approximately four seconds when drivers move their right foot from brake to accelerator pedal if stopped at an incline. Continuously Variable Transmission, optional in all trims, increases fuel economy by two miles per gallon city and three highway. This second-generation CVT technology offers an infinite range for forward gear ratios for smooth acceleration in place of five or six forward gears. A six-speed manual transmission is available in high-performance STI trims.
The instrument panel's dual circular white-face analog gauges flank a rectangular digital message center including fuel and odometer readouts. A black hue encompasses 98 percent of the interior save for a small stretch of brushed aluminum along the front. At night, bright red backlighting takes hold. The ventilation system smartly incorporates three dials for monitoring single-zone air comfort. The easy-to interpret rectangular stereo system includes an array of small pre-set buttons. The dash's top center includes shaded digital readouts of time, outside temperature and other factoids.
With rear seats up, Impreza offers up 22.5 cubic feet of room, a bit below the segment average. A temporary spare tire situates under the flat floor. Standard soft cloth seats include white stitching. Leather seating surfaces are now optional in some trims. The release lever unlocking the fuel tank is floor-mounted left of the driver's seat. Improved soft-touch materials add posh, but the redo is a step or two behind the likes of Chevrolet's smartly crafted all-new compact front-drive Cruze.
The five-door wagon body style continues as a good option for those seeking cargo hauling versatility within a diminutive frame while pursuing something other than a compact sport utility platform. Impreza now bears family resemblance to the larger Legacy sedan. Five-door Imprezas enjoy a flat cargo-floor design thanks to a slightly smaller, redesigned fuel tank. The rear hatch door now opens and closes with less effort.
Strap-like door handles are body colored. Arrow-head-shaped side-view mirrors are girthy for a compact. The hatch, with standard wiper, opens high enough for decent head clearance. From Japanese, Subaru
translates to 'unite.' The six cosmic stars within the front oval logo form a united image within the front grille's honeycomb structure. Subaru
's roots extend into the Midwest with its sole U.S. assembly facility two-and-a-half hours southeast of Chicago in Lafayette Indiana. The facility celebrates 25 years of assembly know-how in 2012. While Impreza assemblage takes place in Ota Gunma, Japan, Tribeca, Outback and Legacy models enjoy Hoosier assembly hospitality. Nationwide, 95 percent of Subaru
vehicles sold in the last 10 years are still on the road, a nod towards vehicle dependability. Brand loyalty is one of the industry's highest. Subaru
is the automotive arm of Fuji Heavy Industries formed in 1953.
Price as tested: $21,414
Length: 173.8 inches
Width: 68.5 inches
Wheelbase: 104.1 inches
Engine: 2.0-liter,Boxer engine
Curb weight: 3,075 pounds
City/Highway economy: 25 mpg city/33 mpg highway
Powertrain warranty: Five years/60,000 miles