In my seven-plus years as an auto critic, I’ve driven my fair share of Subarus. I have been behind the wheel of the Impreza, WRX, Legacy, Outback, Forester, and Tribeca—in different trim levels with different features—in the city, on the highway, and even on the racetrack. To be completely honest, I’ve never been a big fan. None of the vehicles were ever “bad,” but they never really lit my fire—not even the ultra-high-performance Impreza WRX STi. Until now.
A little background is in order. As you may know, Subaru redesigned the Impreza for the 2012 model year. Along with the expected styling updates, the company made a number of drivetrain modifications, allowing some models to earn the distinction of being the most efficient cars with standard all-wheel drive. EPA-estimated fuel economy for the 2012 Impreza ranges from 25 to 27 mpg in the city and a whopping 33 to 36 mpg on the highway. My old 2000 Saturn SL2 would garner only a 22 city/32 highway rating today.
At the very end of calendar 2011, I put a top-of-the-line Impreza 2.0i Limited sedan through its paces. With its optional navigation system and sunroof, this loaded test example stickered for $24,345, which is right in the ballpark with other similarly equipped compact cars. It was a good-looking little sedan, and the improvements to the interior design and materials quality were a huge leap beyond the previous-generation Impreza. Less impressive was its rather noisy engine and lackluster continuously variable transmission (CVT). Like every other Subaru, I wasn’t overwhelmed.
Fast forward a couple months, and this time I had a turn behind the wheel of an Impreza hatchback. This time it was the more reasonably priced Sport trim level, which came equipped with the standard 5-speed manual transmission and sported a sticker price of just $21,414. What a difference a clutch pedal and $3,000 makes.
I enjoyed the heck out of this car. The manual is fun to shift, and its standard hill-holder clutch takes the worry out of driving on sloping streets. The interior has the same, quality feel about it and comes with some unexpected conveniences, such as heated cloth seats and a Bluetooth cell-phone link that’s a snap to set up and use. One detail I especially appreciated was the car’s cargo cover. Subaru rightly eschews a felt-on-paperboard attached to the tailgate setup in favor of a pull-out vinyl sheet that deploys from right behind the rear seat backs. It is what you’d expect to find in a much costlier SUV.
My critique of an overly loud engine remains unchanged. I also wish there was an extra gear; despite that, though, I still averaged more than 27 mpg with a slightly highway bias. That’s not bad for a car that puts power down to all four wheels.
I might not be sold on any other Subaru, but the Impreza Sport hatchback is changing my perception of the brand for the better. I questioned our bestowing of a Recommended award to this car, but no longer. Well done, Subaru.