Pros: Great fuel economy; standard all-wheel drive; comfortable interior; versatile five-door wagon; Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) Top Safety Pick
Cons: Not terribly powerful; somewhat noisy drivetrain; lack of high-tech audio and infotainment features
What's New: The 2013 Subaru Impreza gains standard Bluetooth and iPod connectivity, while the 2.0 Premium with the 5-speed manual gains heated seats, side mirrors and windshield wiper de-icers (part of the All Weather Package). A rear vision camera is added to the available navigation system.
Last year's remake of the popular Impreza sedan and wagon appears to have been a success, as Subura reports it doubled sales over the previous model. The 2013 Subaru Impreza continues that streak, adding more features and colors as well as a new model, the XV CrossTrek (reviewed separately).
Beyond its roomy new interior and standard Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive, the big news for the Impreza is its impressive fuel economy figures. Rated a 27 mpg city and 36 mpg highway when equipped with the CVT automatic transmission, the Impreza is the most fuel efficient all-wheel-drive car in the US. The tradeoff for such figures, however, is a rather weak 148 horsepower engine that doesn't exactly launch the Impreza with any great urgency.
Available in a versatile hatchback wagon or conservatively styled sedan, the Impreza is dressed to impress, with a long list of standard and available features including navigation radios, rear vision camera and the all-important All-Weather Package that adds heated seats, side mirrors and windshield wiper de-icers.
Comfort & Utility
The Impreza offers the same interior dimensions as most of its small car competitors, save for the Hyundai Elantra, which has a Camry-sized backseat. Overall the Impreza's interior is a nice place to spend time, with firm and supportive seating, a number of standard features and a few upgrades such as leather seating, heated front seats and a navigation radio. While most of the really good stuff is reserved for the Limited trim, the base, Premium and Sport models have enough to keep most people happy. Fair warning though, if you're looking for cutting-edge high-powered audio or an infotainment system to stream apps and voice control your iPod, you'd be better off shopping something like the Ford Focus or Kia Rio.
As for utility, the 5-door hatchback has it over the sedan in spades, with flat folding rear seats that drop to create a rather roomy cargo hold. The driver and passenger enjoy generous legroom, with the driver also enjoying the added benefit of a height adjustable seat and a tilt/telescopic steering wheel. Standard equipment includes air conditioning, power operation of the windows, locks and mirrors, an AM/FM/CD stereo, Bluetooth connectivity, USB/iPod port and a rear window defroster. The Premium trim brings cruise control, 16-inch alloy wheels plus the All-Weather Package on manually equipped models. The Limited has all this plus leather seating, 17-in wheels, upgraded audio with six speakers, automatic climate control and auto on/off headlamps.
Optional on the Premium is a power moonroof and the All-Weather Package that adds heated front seats, mirrors and windshield wiper de-icers (standard on Limited and Premium with manual transmission). The Limited and Premium models with the automatic transmission offer a power moonroof and a navigation radio with rear vision camera. Subaru also offers a dizzying number of dealer installed options including remote start, a 100-watt subwoofer and premium Kicker speaker upgrade, 110-volt outlet and about three dozen different roof rack attachments to carry everything from luggage to kayaks.
The Impreza is big on capability but fairly modest when it comes to high-tech gadgetry. The base model features a 4-speaker AM/FM stereo with a MP3/WMA compatible CD player, Bluetooth hands-free phone connectivity and iPod integration accessible via the head unit or the steering wheel audio controls. The system also includes both USB and 3.5mm auxiliary input jacks.
The Limited trim features HD radio and 4.3-in LCD screen as standard. A navigation radio that includes a 6.1-in touchscreen, rear vision camera, voice activation and Bluetooth music streaming, SMS text messaging capabilities and XM satellite radio with NavTraffic updates is optional.
Performance & Fuel Economy
Last year's Impreza revamp brought an all-new 2.0-liter engine to the line. Rated at 148 horsepower and 145 lb-ft of torque, this new engine is less powerful than the old 2.5-liter engine. But what it lacks in muscle it more than makes up in fuel economy. With the standard 5-speed manual, the Impreza earns an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimated 25 mpg city and 34 mpg highway (33-mpg for the 5-door). Toss in the Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) automatic transmission, and those figures climb to 27 mpg city and 36 mpg highway.
Although it's not terribly fast, the Impreza with the CVT can run from zero to 60 in about nine seconds, which is more than acceptable for a 4-cylinder economy car.
Safety is a cornerstone of Subaru's commitment to its customers, which is why it should come as no surprise that, in addition to such requirements as anti-lock brakes, electronic traction and stability control and standard AWD, the Impreza also features front, front side-impact, front and rear side curtain and a driver's knee airbags. It should also not come as a surprise that the Impreza scores excellent marks in its crash tests, earning a Top Safety Pick from the IIHS. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gives the 2013 Impreza four out of five stars in its front and side impact crash tests, and five stars for its performance in the rollover roof strength test.
Okay, we will tell you right off the bat that the Impreza isn't a pocket rocket, nor does it take turns like a rollercoaster on rails. But that's not its mission. As a daily driver, the Impreza is really quite appealing, and when equipped with the CVT automatic, the Impreza is pretty spritely off the line. Once you get up to speeds over 40 mph, however, there isn't a lot of reserve power for passing slower traffic. There's also a rather harsh sound at full throttle, but that's pretty standard with most CVT transmissions as the engine revs to its maximum rpm and holds there until the throttle is let up. You can save about $1,000 and go with the standard manual transmission, but we found the shifter feels rubbery and disconnected; plus, it actually delivers worse fuel economy than the automatic. For this reason we'd go with the 6-speed CVT that not only maximizes fuel economy, but includes paddle shifters that allow you to step through pre-programmed gears. Actually, a CVT has no gears, but Subaru has designed theirs to imitate the way a standard geared transmission normally operates, which we think is pretty slick.
On the road, the Impreza is surprisingly responsive, with good feedback from its electric assist power steering and a predictable, controlled feel when rounding sharp corners. But the Impreza's real trump card is its permanently engaged Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive. Although the system adds an added measure of traction on both wet and dry pavement, its real advantage can be found when snow and ice replace asphalt and painted yellow lines.
Other Cars to Consider
Suzuki SX4: The SX4 costs less than the Impreza and its AWD can be switched off when not required. But the SX4 doesn't hold its value as well as the Impreza, nor does it score as well in its safety tests. Suzuki dealers are also not as plentiful as Subaru dealers.
Ford Focus: If you're the kind of person who has to be first in line at every new iPhone launch, the Ford Focus is probably the car for you. It's loaded with high-tech features such as SYNC infotainment and Sony audio, and it can even parallel park itself. But the Focus doesn't offer an AWD model, and its price tag can venture close to $30,000 fully loaded.
VW Golf TDI: The diesel version of VW's Golf offers better fuel economy and a sportier ride, plus a nicer interior and better audio options. But like the Focus, the Golf doesn't offer AWD and it costs significantly more than the Impreza.
The best bang for the buck is the Impreza 2.0i Premium model, which starts around $20,000 and with all the bells and whistles tops out around $23,000. Granted, the Premium's base price isn't far from the entry-level Legacy sedan's starting figure, but you get more goodies and better fuel economy with the Impreza, plus the added advantage of the 5-door model, our personal favorite.