Review: 2012 Subaru Impreza Premium 5-door

By Kevin Miller

Over the years, Subaru has carved an interesting niche for itself in the new-car marketplace.  Its vehicles all come with standard all wheel drive (aside from the upcoming BRZ sport coupe codeveloped with Toyota).  They also tend to cater more to the function-over-form school of design.  Subarus aren’t typically noted for the beauty of their designs, but many of the company’s models have a “small on the outside, big on the inside” feel.  Aside from subjective design issues, the knock against many Subarus has been that their all wheel drive hardware makes them somewhat thirsty, and their interior materials are a bit polymer-heavy.  I was anxious to try out the all-new Impreza, which promises to address some of those issues, and hopefully – for Subaru – broaden its appeal beyond its traditionally strong markets in the Pacific Northwest and cold-weather states.

Unique styling cues have somehow always been a feature of Subaru vehicles, and it’s safe to say that the new Impreza has its share of those, including exaggerated fender shapes (though they’re much better integrated here than in the Legacy) and oddly-shaped tail lamp assemblies. Like the outgoing model, the new Impreza is available as a sedan or five-door, though the five-door is a bit more wagon-like than before. Still, I thought the car overall looks pretty good (even sporty from some angles), though it took seeing the car in person before I reached that conclusion.

Another unique trait that has always been a predominant feature in Subaru vehicles is the thrum of the horizontally-opposed engine and the nearly agricultural noise of the manual transmission, and I am able to report that those audible cues as to “what makes a Subaru a Subaru” have not been engineered out of the latest generation Impreza. Gear whine is especially apparent when the long-throw shifter is slotted into second gear.

The only engine available this year is a new 2.0 liter horizontally-opposed four, paired to either a CVT (continuously variable transmission) or a five-speed manual box with long throws and fifth gear located farther to the right than expected. The new 2.0 mill offers 148 HP, which is adequate though not impressive from the driver’s seat.

Fortunately, the modest power has less car to move around, as the Impreza has been lightened for 2012. The doors and tailgate feel lightweight, though not insubstantial. On the road, the chassis feels well-balanced and communicative. With only five forward gears in a field where six gears is rapidly becoming the norm, the Impreza’s horizontally-opposed four turns around 2500 RPM at 60 MPH, 3000 RPM at 71 MPH, and about 3200 at 75 MPH, whch is higher than in some of the car’s competition. Cruising at 75 MPH, the subdued thrum of the exhaust note is a pleasant but constant companion.

The clutch engagement point is much like an on/off switch and is near the top of pedal travel, making it hard to launch the Impreza smoothly even after a week with the car. With just 148 HP on tap, you’ll get plenty of use from the long-throw shifter, rowing the gears when you want anything more than leisurely travel. Fortunately, clutch effort is fairly light, and even in fifty minutes of suburban Vancouver’s monumental traffic jams surrounding the Port Mann bridge construction project, repeated clutching and declutching didn’t become tiresome. The Impreza is equipped with “Incline Start Assist” to prevent the car from rolling backward when starting off on an incline; it took me a bit of practice to get accustomed to it, as the sensation of the car beginning to roll back (and then momentarily becoming stationary as I accelerate) helps me know I’m at the clutch’s engagement point.

Inside, the dashboard is covered in a soft-touch, grained black plastic, with a trip computer located above a small shelf at the top of the dash. Similar-looking plastic decorates the doors, center stack and console, though that plastic is hard. A conventional audio head unit and manual, single-zone climate controls are present. I noticed that the climate control fan is noisy at both low speeds where you audibly hear the motor) and high speeds (where you hear the rush of air through the system). There is a generously-sized storage bin at the base of the center stack and two cupholders in the console, as well as bottle holders and bins in each front door.

Instruments consist of large tachometer and speedometer with red needles, an analog fuel economy indicator, and a digital monochrome LCD display (not unlike a 1980s digital watch) which shows the odometer, trip odometer, cruise control status, and fuel level. No temperature gauge is provided; instead there are temperature “idiot lights,” with a blue icon illuminated when the engine is cold and a red one presumably illuminating if the vehicle overheats. The speedometer and tach are legible in the daytime, though their red nighttime illumination is a bit tough on the eyes, especially contrasted with the LCD display and the white digital readouts on the stereo face and the trip computer.

The driver’s seat has height adjustment as well as backrest rake and fore/aft travel, and the steering wheel is adjustable for rake and reach. Seat upholstery in the Impreza Premium I tested was grippy black cloth, and had heating as a part of the cold weather package. The steering wheel features audio and Bluetooth phone controls on the left spoke and cruise control buttons on the right spoke. There’s a thinly-padded center armrest with fore/aft adjustment, which hinges open to reveal a storage compartment with iPod and AUX connectors. The driver’s door has a thinly padded armrest at the same height. Seat heating controls employ a pair of narrow, awkwardly placed rocker switches on the center console immediately in front of the armrest, behind the parking brake.

The back seat features seating for three people, though at 6’ 4” tall, I couldn’t comfortably “sit behind myself.” The seatbelt for the middle passenger comes at an odd angle from the right rear trunk interior trim, which is an improvement over previous Subaru models where that seatbelt came from the ceiling of the cargo area. Installing a forward facing car seat using LATCH/ISOFIX points was a snap. The seatback is split-folding to the cargo area, and doesn’t offer an armrest. Outboard back seat passengers will find bottle holders molded into the back doors.

Despite the fact that the Impreza five-door looks a lot like a wagon, its cargo area could best be described as average in size. A retractable shade keeps valuables out of sight, and there are small bins around the spare tire under the trunk floor to stow a few items Hooks are present on each side that can be used to keep grocery bags from sliding around the cargo area.

In a welcome contrast to many new vehicles, the Impreza offers good visibility through large windows with a low belt line, though the large exterior mirrors catch the protruding, illuminated tail lamp lenses in their viewable area. The five-door’s D-pillar was thick enough to reduce visibility while reversing, though when moving forward large windows and mirrors obviate that problem.

The Impreza has an EPA rating of 27/36 MPG when equipped with CVT, and 25/34 (sedan) or 25/33 (five-door). My five-door returned 32.7 MPG on a 283 mile round trip from Seattle to Vancouver, BC, which included about fifty minutes of pretty heavy stop-and-go traffic due to a construction project. Over the course of 448 miles in the Impreza five-door, I saw an average of 30.6 MPG (with speed average of 42 MPH) according to the car’s trip computer; I felt that was a great showing for the AWD wagon.

The 2012 Impreza is available in base, Premium and Limited trims, with the Premium and Limited trims available as Impreza Sport, which includes contrasting bumper/fender paint, roof racks, and special 17” wheels. The Impreza Limited is available only with CVT, and all Imprezas have standard all-wheel drive. The base car starts at $17,495, and the most expensive Impreza Sport Limited is priced from $22,595.

The Impreza Premium five door I tested has a base price of $19,595, which included standard features such as 16 inch alloy wheels (which look surprisingly good, and not undersized thanks to the car’s small size), steering-wheel-mounted audio control switches, Bluetooth hands-free phone connectivity, and a USB port which facilitates iPod connectivity. The car was equipped with the optional Cold Weather Package for $500 (heated front seats, heated exterior mirrors, windshield wiper de-icer) and All-Weather floor mats for $69. Including the $750 destination fee, the MSRP was an incredibly reasonable $20,914.

I liked the Impreza more than I had expected to. It had a functional simplicity that was a combination of adequate space and features, reasonably comfortable seats, and generous space in the hatch. The car felt light on its feet, and did a good job communicating with the driver. The fact that it was a manual-transmission wagon, truly a rare breed in North America, was another selling point for me.  The Impreza 5-Door is also a very solid value, both at the time of purchase at in terms of its all wheel drive fuel economy, and worthy of consideration, particularly in areas that receive a lot of wintertime precipitation.

Subaru provided the vehicle, insurance, and a tank of gas for this review.

Author: Kevin Miller

As Autosavant’s resident Swedophile, Kevin has an acute affinity for Saabs, with a mild case of Volvo-itis as well. Aside from covering most Saab-related news for Autosavant, Kevin also reviews cars and covers industry news. His “Great Drive” series, with maps and directions included, is a reader favorite.

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  1. If Subaru is really serious about expanding its popularity outside the Pacific Northwest, Vermont, and here in the Rockies, I don’t see how this new Impreza accomplishes that goal. Sure, it’s a perfectly decent small car, but the landscape is littered with good small cars. The styling doesn’t set it apart, it doesn’t have class-leading MPG figures, it isn’t overly sporty to drive, and it isn’t laden with new tech features. Sure, its a good value, but so are the Koreans. About the only substantive thing going for it is the AWD system, but that will really only appeal to people in certain markets…the Pacific Northwest, Vermont, and the Rockies.

  2. @Luke

    Agreed, you said it all.

  3. The car is built very well, strong soled fell for a small car
    All wheel drive one of the every best in market..
    A more then average safety factor under all bad road conditions.

    A good proven resale over the S Korean autos

    More room then most cars in this size range

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