The all-new 2012 Subaru Impreza carries the small, quirky Japanese company further into competition with mainstream makers of compact sedans and hatchbacks. But true to its roots, Subaru does things a little differently.
The goal for this latest iteration of its smallest model line was to make the 2012 Impreza sedan and hatchback a closer match to what buyers want. The styling is crisper and less polarizing, and the fuel economy is up to 30 percent better than last year's model.
Pricing remains competitive, and there's the brand's legendary reliability: 95 percent of the Subarus sold over the last 10 years are still on the road. But Subaru offers a standard feature you'll find on precious few other compacts, even as an option: all-wheel drive on every model.
The competition for the new Impreza isn't really the high-volume, blander end of the compact range--Honda Civic, Chevy Cruze, Ford Focus, Hyundai Elantra, Toyota Corolla. Instead, Impreza buyers have more likely looked at the Volkswagen Jetta and Golf, or the Mazda Mazda3, which are more individual and appealing choices than the functional beige compacts younger buyers and empty nesters find boring.
The 2012 Subaru Impreza gets a combined EPA rating of 30 mpg when fitted with the new continuously variable transmission (CVT). While that's far from the best in the compact segment, it's the highest fuel efficiency rating for any all-wheel drive vehicle sold this year. It's also better than the combined figures for the Mazda2 subcompact and the Fiat 500 minicar fitted with an automatic. If you opt for the five-speed manual transmission, the combined average falls slightly to 28 mpg.
The improvement is due to lighter weight (up to 110 pounds less) and an all-new 2.0-liter flat-four engine, only Subaru's third entirely new engine in several decades. The result is a cruising range of more than 500 miles--or long enough to require a pit stop before a gas stop. And that's despite a smaller gas tank--which let Subaru redesign the rear of the car and provide a completely flat load floor for the first time, once the rear seat has been folded down.
While exterior styling is a matter of taste, most reviewers feel the new lines are an improvement. Inside, Subaru has added soft-touch materials and matte silver trim, along with a profusion of storage cubbies, trays, cup holders, and bins. It's not the quietest car in the world, but the seats are comfortable for four adults, and the rear door opening is larger, as is the tailgate of the hatchback model.
One additional green note: The 2012 Subaru Impreza is sold as a Partial Zero-Emission Vehicle (PZEV) in all 50 states at no extra cost. It comes complete with a "PZEV" badge, which may confuse onlookers until you explain that it simply means the car is extra-clean, as indicated by the green leaf in the logo.
While the performance oriented WRX and STi models will continue with the earlier Impreza design for 2012 and 2013, according to company officials, the 2012 sedan and hatchback are simply the most fuel-efficient all-wheel drive car you can buy. That means that you'll likely soon see even more Subarus on the roads of the Northeast and mountainous states like Colorado than you do already.
For more details, see the full review of the 2012 Subaru Impreza on our sister site, TheCarConnection.