Same Name, Smaller Engine

The Subaru Impreza dates back to 1993 when it replaced the Loyale model. Since then, the Impreza has been redesigned and reborn several times, but has always remained a staple of the compact sedan market. The 2012 Impreza ushers in an all-new fourth generation with a significantly different feel.

The fourth generation Impreza is essentially the same size as the previous version but lighter and less powerful. Even on paper, the 2012 Impreza stands out from the crowd - and for good reason. Virtually every car in the last decade has become bigger, heavier and more powerful in each successive generation. Subaru fans probably won't be surprised that Subaru has gone against the grain to produce a lighter Impreza with a smaller engine. Subaru has always done things a bit differently.

Subaru?s biggest distinction is found under the hood of its cars. Unlike most other automakers, Subaru fits their cars with flat ?boxer? engines. Most gasoline engines have pistons that move vertically up and down inline with one another. Subaru engines have pistons that are oriented horizontally and in matched sets. Looking at a cutaway of a Subaru 4-cylinder engine, one would see two sets of two pistons moving back and forth toward one another. This is what gives them the ?boxer? name, as they look like two boxers punching at one other.

What?s more, while over the years other automakers have shied away from wagons and manual transmission, Subaru embraced them. The name Subaru has become synonymous with wagons. Unique, too, all Subaru vehicles come standard with symmetrical all-wheel drive.

If any other automaker were to make a less powerful, lighter version of one of it?s most popular cars, it might be a shock to the automotive system. But with Subaru, it just makes sense. Luckily for Subaru, this otherwise daring choice has paid off.

A Smaller Legacy?

The exterior of the Impreza looks much more striking than the last model. This isn?t to say the 2012 Impreza is the best-looking compact sedan in its class. It?s not. The new Impreza looks very much like a smaller version of the larger Subaru Legacy sedan. That's fine, but not very exciting. In the past, Imprezas stood out and made a styling statement. You only need to look back at the bug-eyed Imprezas from the early 2000s for a prime example.

The 2012 Impreza design certainly looks more grown up. In the past, the Impreza's styling seemed fitting of its place at the bottom of the Subaru lineup. It looked like a cheap, entry-level car, when in actuality it was far better than that. The 2012 model, however, features a carefully sculpted and well thought-out design.

Hard-Hitting, Soft Touch Interior

Though the exterior dimensions remained the same from the third to the fourth generation, the wheelbase increased by 1.1 inches. That might not sound like much, but together with Subaru?s extensive interior space-creating designs, it adds up to two extra inches of rear seat legroom.

Historically, Subaru models have tended to have utilitarian interiors. Things worked and were fairly sturdy, but they weren?t necessarily high quality or good looking. The 2012 Impreza couldn?t be further from that lackluster heritage. From the soft touch dash, to the well-formed steering wheel, to the comfortable seats, the interior of the 2012 Impreza is simply outstanding.

Probably the best part of the 2012 Impreza interior is something most people will never notice: the silence. Many compact sedans suffer from loud road noise. The Impreza doesn?t. No matter the speed or the road surface, the passengers will find the Impreza quiet and comfortable.

Peppy and Fuel-Efficient

One of the biggest changes in the 2012 Impreza is that Subaru replaced the old model's 170-horsepower 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine with a new 148-horsepower 2.0-liter engine. One benefit to this downsized engine is better fuel economy. Achieving 27 mpg in the city and 36 mpg on the highway, the 2012 Impreza is the most fuel-efficient all-wheel drive vehicle on the market and 30 percent more efficient than the outgoing model.

Don?t think that just because the 2012 Impreza has a smaller, less powerful motor that it isn?t quick. In fact, the 2012 Impreza is 0.3 seconds quicker from 0-60 mph than the last model. So that makes the 2012 Impreza quicker and kinder to your wallet at the pump.

Nearly Perfect

When we heard that the new Impreza had a smaller, less powerful engine, we were skeptical. We were wrong.

In fact, it only took a couple minutes behind the wheel before we were hooked. Our test model was fitted with the CVT automatic transmission. We found it a bit slow below 30 mph, but above that the Impreza became a little rocket ship.

A new, stronger body frame and suspension give the Impreza a great ride. The suspension is smooth over bumps and through smaller corners. In bigger, high-speed corners, the suspension allows the body to roll a bit more than we would have liked but overall, it was impressive.

The new 4-cylinder boxer engine is peppy. The body and suspension are taut. The symmetrical all-wheel-drive system is flawless. Even the CVT is delightfully smooth. None is perfect on its own, but working together as whole, they come close.

We mean that very seriously. We weren?t ready to like the 2012 Impreza but we did.

Affordable Fun

Our test vehicle was the ?Premium? version and had an asking price of $22,914, which, given the quality of the vehicle, is surprisingly cheap. For that price, the 2012 Impreza is fitted with almost everything a modern driver could want (including 17-inch alloy rims, an arsenal of airbags, heated seats, a moonroof, a five year powertrain warranty and - of course - the legendary Subaru all-wheel drive system.

In conclusion, the 2012 Impreza is cheap, reliable, good looking, spacious, all-weather capable, fuel efficient and fun to drive.

author photo

Nick Chambers is a "next generation" car enthusiast, recognized for his green automotive coverage in Gas 2.0, The New York Times, Popular Mechanics, HybridCars.com and PluginCars.com. In addition, he's been syndicated in Matter Network, AP and Reuters.

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