For the 2012 model year, Subaru’s Impreza received top marks from Consumer Reports in their annual “best” survey. And for good reason, as the Impreza is an incredibly safe, extremely reliable automobile. With Subaru’s “Symetrical” all-wheel drive system standard, it’ll go just about anywhere Mom Nature suggests you shouldn’t.
But steady as she goes is not good enough in 2012. Chevy and Ford have strong offerings. Mazda, Honda, Nissan and Toyota continue to build great cars. But the real threat comes from South Korea, with Hyundai and Kia taking names and kicking major tail as they continue their march towards the top. The Impreza, at just over $24,000 tested, does not offer enough in the comfort and convenience departments to justify buying one over a Kia Optima or Hyundai Sonata.
The Kia and Hyundai platforms are front-wheel drive, so they, too, offer a good measure of foul weather traction. Both offer top safety just like the Subaru. Where the Korean pair separates themselves from the crowd is in the “wow” department. Both are styled like they cost much more than their mid twenty grand prices. These cars are swoopy and just gorgeous. Inside, the list of standards belies the MSRP, with Bluetooth, iPod connectivity, dual zone climate control, heated seats, leather trim, keyless start, and much, much more as standard gear. For about $1500 more than the Impreza, you can have a Sonata with sunroof and navigation. Couple that with a 10 year/100,000 mile warranties and it’s a deal that’s hard to beat.
Step inside the Impreza, and you better have a large cup of Joe if you want to stay awake. The interior is just boring. To its credit, Subaru is making small steps towards making their cars more stylish and luxurious. There is less hard plastic inside, replaced by softer surfaces on the dash. But there are still what seems like acres of plastic of varying shades and textures, mostly of average quality. The premium audio system sounds okay, but the touchscreen itself and the virtual buttons you use to control it are too small to use effectively. You must take your eyes off the road for way too long just to figure out what you want to press.
The center console contains several open storage areas up front, but two are too small to use for anything but a pen. The rear center console storage feels like it’ll break if you open with a heavy hand. The heated seat switches are small and oddly placed at the rear of the center console, and the overall feeling inside is 1980s General Motors. It screams “I am average.”
Weak interior aside, the Impreza is quite competent on the road. The transmission on my tester did not like cold weather, and was a bit balky in the early morning shift from reverse to drive as I exited my driveway. Once warmed, no issues. Ride quality is very good, and the AWD system certainly adds confidence to your road experience no matter the weather. The “boxer” engine (horizontally opposed) has a much lower profile since it essentially lies flat, which lowers the center of gravity, decreasing roll and enhancing performance.
Fuel economy is also good, with the 2.0 liter engine returning 27 mpg city and 36 mpg highway, outstanding numbers for an AWD vehicle. And the boxer engine sounds sweet under full acceleration. It’s as if the cylinders are punching a heavy bag, hence the boxer moniker.
On the safety front, well, it’s a Subaru. I mean that as a positive as Subaru has been ahead of the safety curve for years for Japanese automakers. Think of the brand as the Volvo of Japan. A safety pedal system and driver’s knee airbag are among numerous safety standards.
My test Impreza was outfitted with the optional power moonroof and navigation system, and all weather mats. With destination, the tally was $24,714.
Subaru builds reliable, very safe automobiles, and for that they should be lauded. Here’s hoping they will add a measure of style and comfort to their future offerings.