The new 2017 Subaru Impreza isn’t just a completely re-engineered compact-class car; it is a messenger of change for this Japanese carmaker. And a lot rides on its global platform architecture, which will support gasoline, plug-in hybrid and electric variants.
The new model, in sedan and five-door hatchback body styles, is built in a new $1.3 billion factory in Lafayette, Indiana. The Impreza, now starting its fifth generation in North America, will be the first generation built in the U.S.
The Impreza also introduces a more expressive design language that includes a more raked angle to the windshield, a lower rear roofline, wheel arches and sculpted sides. The rear looks wider and lower with repositioned taillights, which also allow for a 4-inch wider trunk opening on the sedan and a 5-inch wider opening on the hatchback.
Both body styles are slightly larger for a roomier cabin, which had been smaller than most of its competition, including the Toyota Corolla, Mazda3, Nissan Sentra, Hyundai Elantra, Honda Civic and Chevy Cruze.
The Impreza’s overall length grew by 1.6 inches, and the width grew by 1.5 inches. The wheelbase is 1 inch longer, now 105.1 inches total. The overall height was trimmed by 0.4 inch for aerodynamics and a lower coefficient of drag. The new platform is far stiffer and assembled with more ultra- and high-strength steels, all of which help for collision protection, sporty handling and a quieter ride.
The interior has more premium materials and plastics, more soundproofing (including thicker side glass and windshield) and a quieter fan and air conditioning system. It also has the first new door handles in 17 years. There is more front headroom (39.8 inches), more back seat legroom and enough trunk space for three golf bags. Infotainment and connectivity features include 4G internet, Apple CarPlay and Tom Tom navigation. There are three audio units with 6.5- to 9-inch display screens, including an upgrade for a Harman Kardon Green Edge system.
Performance is now at the highest level in the history of Subaru — “near sports car level,” the marketers say, making the Impreza faster than the sporty BRZ coupe. A revised 2.0-liter four-cylinder Boxer engine adds direct fuel injection and other enhancements, raising horsepower to 152 from 148. Fuel economy is up by about 1 mpg for the entry-level sedan with CVT ratings of 28 mpg city, 38 highway and 32 combined, on 87 octane. The Hatchback Sport is rated 27/35/30 mpg.
In highline models, the Lineartronic continuously variable transmission, or CVT, has a seven-speed manual mode with steering wheel paddle shifters. The steering response is quicker and more fluid with active torque vectoring to help keep the front end pointed on the driver’s intended path. Four-wheel disc braking has a more responsive pedal feel.
Safety was a priority in the redesign. Features include seven air bags, a rearview camera and a suite of advanced technologies for driver-assistance systems. The optional EyeSight package includes adaptive cruise control, automatic pre-collision braking, lane-departure warning and sway warning. Blind-spot detection with lane-keep assist and rear cross-traffic alert are available. Also new are (optional) turning headlights and automatic high-beam assist. Rear automatic braking detects large objects and reacts from 1 to 9 mph.
Both body styles are sold in four trim levels. Sedan starting prices range from $19,215 with five-speed manual transmission to $24,915 for the top-line Limited with CVT. Hatchback starting prices range from $19,715-$24,515; pricing includes the $820 freight charge.
I tested a base Sport sedan with CVT that seemed a good value at $23,615 and a Sport hatchback with CVT and Eyesight driver-assist package that also was value-priced at $27,060.
Subaru seems to have injected the good DNA from its WRX model to punch up the Sport model. It is a rowdy runabout in either body style, although I prefer the hatchback for its faster styling and backpack functionality. The suspension is sporty without being rough, and the steering gives immediate input with no top-center vagueness. Acceleration is sporty enough, but long uphills tax the engine, and patience is needed when anticipating a passing zone. Dive into a fun road and second gear in the CVT manual mode can rev to 70 mph before upshifting. The suspension gives fluid transitions of weight with flat handling. The braking feels Euro-capable in its straight-line stopping power without tail lift.
I’ve urged friends in the market to just test-drive the new Impreza. But I get two predictable pushbacks: fuel economy (not as much as others) and all-wheel drive (unnecessary to them). When I ask what mileage their current car is providing, it is typically less than the Impreza (I was averaging at or more than the EPA’s 30 mpg combined rating). And my response to all-wheel drive is that it is unfelt in daily driving and an always-on safety feature.
The new Impreza is a solid value that pushes limits, raises expectations and pulls away from old ideas.
Mark Maynard is online at email@example.com. Find photo galleries and more news at Facebook.com/MaynardsGarage