I’ve long accused Subaru of trying to become Toyota. So much so that the Impreza, and by association the WRX of late, has started to look a bit like a Corolla to my eye. I suppose if you’re going to emulate someone, at least choose someone successful, right? Appealing to the masses has some drawbacks though, you are never considered “cool”. Ever since Subaru started building quirky all-wheel-drive cars decades ago, it has banked on being a little different, and special
But quirky doesn’t always sell, Toyota can attest to that. Am I right Scion? To ensure sales success, Subaru has taken its all-wheel-drive-all-the-time philosophy mainstream, along with its Boxer engines. The result is the fairly handsome Impreza Limited you see here.
Subaru hopes to sell a lot of these. So, the Impreza is an incredibly important car to Subaru and its success is its success. Getting this Impreza thing right is essential.
It’s going to be a battle, last year Subaru sold just over 100,000 Impreza models across North America. Compare that to the 423,836 Corollas that rolled out of Toyota dealerships here last year and you see what they are up against. In case you were wondering, cross-Japan rivals Honda sold even more Civics.
So, this is a Mt. Fuji sized battle that Subaru is engaged in for the future of economy car dominance. This is the first Impreza built in America at Subaru’s Lafayette, IN plant and marks the debut of the Subaru Global Platform architecture. All that to say, Subaru had better bring their A game.
My neighbors are onto the fact that I don’t have a normal job. We have a specific, assigned parking space, and when my 2002 IS300 isn’t parked in it, there is usually something random there. As I mentioned, it’s usually something expensive, maybe a bright orange Lexus RC-F, or an $80,000 Yukon Denali. This week it was a little Subaru, and I had more than one person say “hey, that’s pretty nice looking” with a tinge of surprise in their voice.
Unlike the more pedestrian sedan, the Impreza Hatchback in Limited trim is a pretty attractive car. Larger split 5-spoke wheels give a slightly uprated feeling, and let’s face it, the hatchback version is almost always prettier. Sure, that’s subjective, but it’s also fact. Deal with it. Subaru went with a fairly conventional look, and unlike some companies, didn’t overdo it. The usual trapezoidal grill, intersected by Subaru’s corporate swath of chrome, is about the right size and not too over styled. The bird-like, and steering-responsive LED headlights are a key feature of the Impreza’s face and sit above some fog-lights and a bit more chrome. Overall, it’s a nice look, I dig it.
Along the side, Subaru mercifully kept the character lines to a minimum, and for that, we thank you. The designer’s pen pulled upward slightly, arching towards the sky along the bottom of the car just before the rear wheel. It’s a compact design and, while still a bit pedestrian when compared to something like the WRX or STI, feels well orchestrated.
Outback (see what I did there?) things are what you would expect. There are some taillights, a wiper, a license plate, and, well, that’s about it. What did you expect, vortex generators and a rear diffuser? This isn’t a rally car Travis Pastrana, lower your expectations.
It’s What’s Inside That Counts
Anyone can make an attractive hatchback, but few come through with a good looking interior. Especially in an “entry level” car. This is where I was most impressed with this little Impreza. It’s a really nice place to spend some time. And remember, I say that as a jaded automotive journalist who spends his days eating manufacturer-provided shrimp while bathed in exotic dead cow-covered seats.
OK, only some of that is true, but I will admit to being a bit of a seat snob. The place you park your ass is one of the most important parts of a car. I’ve been in everything from super-expensive leather and alcantara covered Recaros to hard, bolster-less seats made from material you wouldn’t even buy from a thrift shop clearance rack. Subaru put some good seats in this car. Of course the side bolstering isn’t incredibly aggressive or rally-spec, but again we’re catering to the masses. They are comfortable, nicely adjustable and covered in some nice deceased cow material. The color is a nice contrast to the rest of the interior, but I’m not sure I would spec it that way, they look like they would get dirty quickly.
Elsewhere, there is a little bit of chaos from a materials standpoint, but no worse than most new cars I’ve been in. Simulated carbon fiber finds its way into the Limited, and mercifully it’s minimal. I get it, they are catering to a younger demographic who may have a kid, but still wish they were tackling yumps in a rally-cross. Just don’t overdo it Subaru, we’re watching. The switches and buttons have a nice tactile feel and are far from cheap looking, essential in an up-market entry-level car, and far better than Subaru of just a few years ago. It passed my “tap test” where I mercilessly beat on the interior with my finger, listening for that hollow “wow that sounds cheap” sound. The Impreza Limited passed, well done.
Oh and it’s a hatchback, so it’s practical. I didn’t haul anything, but I could have. It’s got a lot or room in the back, 20.8 cu.ft. with the seats up and 55.3 cu.ft. with the seats down.
Rolling In my Two Point Oh
I’ll say this up front, it’s not fast. Not that I expect entry level cars to be fast, they almost always are not. This is the same, but revised for 2017, 2.0L 4-cylinder Boxer previously found in the car. That’s because this motor, with 152 horsepower and 145 lb-ft of torque, is the only option you’re getting on your Impreza. That’s not a lot of power, but it’s on par with its rivals I mentioned earlier. It’s pretty light too, weighing in at just under 3200 pounds. In 2017 car weights, that’s damn near Miata-level. So the car will get out of its own way and I never felt like I was going to die merging onto the DC beltway.
I was expecting to completely hate the CVT transmission. I’ve never met one that I loved, or even liked, or would even consider hooking up with after a night of heavy drinking. That analogy got weird, sorry. In this car, however, it stayed in the background, never peeking it’s head up to piss me off with an odd shift point or “gear change”. It basically just kept the car moving along at an acceptable pace. There were even paddles on the wheel that I used once and then forgot about.
From a handling standpoint, it’s adequate to agile. The press material says that this “new platform increases rigidity of the unitized body structure by over 70 percent”. OK. It did feel quite planted, and the AWD scrambles through curvy bits with a decent level of skill. The 205/50 R17 all-season tires are the weak link if anything, protesting my on and off-ramp antics on a regular basis. But, this isn’t a performance car per-se, rally lineage be damned, and you get what you would expect from an economy car, if a bit more.
This is where things got weird. This much technology shouldn’t be in an entry level car. OK, they are allowed, but it continually surprised me. I guess that’s a good thing. When I started driving, entry level luxury cars like my IS300, the venerable 3-series, and Audi’s A4 all started just under $30,000. That set my benchmark as to what a luxury car was, how it was equipped, and how it was priced. Doc Brown your way back to the 1990s in this Impreza, toss a luxury brand badge on it, and it could easily pass as one of them. Although you may be burned as a witch for having such wild technology like:
“EyeSight® Driver Assist Technology includes Adaptive Cruise Control, Automatic Pre-Collision Braking, Lane Departure and Sway Warning, and Lane Keep Assist; also includes Blind Spot Detection with Lane Change Assist and Rear Cross Traffic Alert, and Reverse Automatic Braking”
Seriously, this car has all that crap.
And unlike some more expensive cars I’ve driven, it all seemed to work. I never had the thing panic brake, unlike the Buick Regal I tested, and generally speaking it was all rather unobtrusive. It wasn’t constantly beeping at me because I was too close to the line, it wasn’t yelling at me because I was following too close to the car in front of me. It all just sort of worked, the way technology should. Subaru is starting to take a page from Volvo’s book, focusing on the integration of safety and technology, and it shows.
Like other automakers however, the infotainment system still really pissed me off. How much of this is directly Subaru’s fault, I’m not sure. Apple CarPlay is infuriating. For each good element, it has three bad ones; particularly, what I am trying to use Waze. Here is a scenario that happened numerous times on day one.
I am listening to Sirius XM, rocking out to some 90s music. Waze is running in the background and it recalculates. The little chime plays over the speakers, and the system, assuming a new source priority, switches over to the home screen, as if to say “excuse me sir, your phone just said something and you need to see it”. I did not, and now to continue singing along to “You Can’t Touch This” I have to select the “audio” icon again. Only, there is no sound. My station is playing, but I have nothing. The beeps from the buttons work, so it’s not like the speakers are broken, it’s just that I can’t hear my song. Nothing fixed the situation until I had turned the car off, left, came back, and restarted.
As I mentioned, this isn’t necessarily Subaru’s fault. I recreated this exact issue in a Cadillac ATS with CarPlay the following week. It’s indicative of what we’re dealing with in new cars, technology can make your experience better. Or worse. In both vehicles, I left my phone plugged into the system for part of the first day, then decided that having my text messages read to me wasn’t worth the poor integration and never plugged back into the matrix. They also give you Android Auto, but I wasn’t going to buy a second phone just to test that, your results may vary.
But back to the point of this section, it’s chock full of tech, and for the most part, it works. Plus the fact that it exists at all in a car that cost $29,260 USD is great.
It’s Worth It
Which brings me to the conclusion, this is an incredibly solid entry-level car. Considering it starts at $24,595 is even more impressive. Our tester added the fancy EyeSight tech, a moonroof, navigation, and the Harmon Kardon audio for $3,845. Again, that’s a lot of crap and would run you at least three, perhaps four, times that much in a BMW.
The standard kit is just as impressive, opt for none of the above in the options list and you still get stuff like automatic climate control, high beam assist, the aforementioned turn-sensitive LEDs, heated front seats, heated exterior mirrors (and bonus windshield wiper de-icer), etc. Lots of crap, quite a bit of crap in fact.
So Subaru is taking a calculated run at the big boys, and as the current “22nd largest automaker’ they have a huge task ahead of them. They are doing it with a nice looking entry-level car with a shitload of features, at a great price. Oh and it’s got AWD standard, while most of the competition doesn’t even offer it at this level. If I were looking for non-boring, less run-of-the-mill, entry level car, I’d give Subaru some of my shopping time. You should too.
Photos by the author with a clutch edit by Andrew Fails who made them look a lot better.