2012 Subaru Impreza has improved fuel economy, handling

Impreza performs capably
The 2012 Subaru Impreza returns better economy than past models because of a smaller engine.

The 2012 Subaru Impreza five door is a pleasant looking, versatile and smart handling car whose standard all-wheel drive makes it unusual among small cars that typically are front-wheel drive only.


Better yet, the Impreza comes at a competitive retail price starting at $19,045. This base Impreza price is on par with some competing front-wheel drive cars.

Meanwhile, the Impreza’s top fuel economy rating of 27 miles per gallon in city driving and 36 mpg on the highway from the federal government confirms the all-wheel drive is not a drag on gasoline mileage.

In fact, the 2012 Hyundai Elantra GT five-door hatchback, which doesn’t offer all-wheel drive, has the same fuel economy rating as the all-wheel-drive Impreza.

Also worth noting: The 2012 Impreza is a recommended buy of Consumer Reports, where its predicted reliability is better than average.

The manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $19,045 is for a base, 2012 Impreza 2.0i five-door hatchback with manual transmission and 148-horsepower four cylinder.

A 2012 Impreza hatchback with continuously variable transmission that a driver operates like an automatic has a starting retail price of $20,045. The 2012 Impreza is not offered with an automatic transmission.

The 2012 Impreza offers a wheelbase that is an inch longer and has updated exterior styling, a richer-looking interior, increased passenger and cargo space and smaller displacement than its predecessor. The four-cylinder engine with CVT is also new.

The styling is attractive but not as expressive as a Ford Focus.

The passenger compartment looks ritzier than before and the top of the dashboard even has soft-touch materials. Gauges and controls are easy to read and well placed.

The engine change is especially noteworthy because automakers are loath to make an engine smaller and reduce horsepower in a new model.

Subaru soundly met its goal of improving fuel economy in this new, fourth-generation Impreza. The 170-horsepower, 2.5-liter four-cylinder is gone from this “regular” Impreza, replaced by a 148-horsepower, 2-liter four-cylinder.

The performance versions of Impreza – the WRX and STi – continue in 2012 with the 2.5-liter engine. The new, smaller engine still is a horizontally opposed, “boxer” design that has become a Subaru hallmark.

Besides a five-speed manual, the engine now can be mated to a continuously variable transmission, which maximizes fuel mileage because it doesn’t have fixed gears. Instead, it allows infinitely variable gearing to get the most out of the fuel.

The new model can travel an estimated 55 additional miles on a fill-up than a comparable 2011 Impreza, even though the fuel tank holds 2.4 fewer gallons.

The tester with CVT had the incessant droning during acceleration that characterized early CVTs and turned off many potential buyers.

Subaru does include in uplevel Impreza trim levels a six-speed manual mode so a driver can select from six electronically controlled, pre-set gear ratios for a more normal transmission sensation. This seems to contradict the idea of having a CVT, and the improved government fuel mileage rating was achieved without a driver electronically selecting pre-set CVT ratios.

The car took to curves with confidence and managed turns securely.

The all-wheel drive on CVT models uses an electronically managed, continuously variable hydraulic transfer clutch and operates without input from the driver. It worked seamlessly on wet pavement, where the tester tracked confidently.

The ride was mostly smooth and better than in previous years. Rear suspension is a double wishbone.

Rear seats split 60/40 in the hatchback and fold down, boosting cargo space from 22.5 cubic feet to 52.4 cubic feet.

Some amenities that are options or require uplevel trim on the Impreza five door are standard on rivals. Examples: Cruise control, Bluetooth phone connectivity and audio controls on the steering wheel.

The 2012 Impreza was the subject of one recall, involving a brake master cylinder that could change the brake pedal travel needed to stop.


THE VEHICLE: 2012 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Sport Premium, an all-wheel-drive, four-door, five-passenger, compact hatchback

BASE PRICE: $20,595
for 2.0i Sport Premium with manual; $21,595 for CVT model



ENGINE: 2-liter, double overhead cam, horizontally opposed four-cylinder producing 148 horsepower

TRANSMISSION: Continuously variable

EPA MILEAGE: 27 mpg city, 36 mpg highway

LENGTH: 173.8 inches

WHEELBASE: 104.1 inches

CURB WEIGHT: 3,009 pounds


OPTIONS: Floor mats, $69

KEY RIVALS: Ford Focus, Hyundai Elantra GT, Jeep Patriot