When the Subaru folks sat down to redesign their bread-and-butter Impreza compact, they knew they didn't have to worry about the Northeast or Northwest markets. As the locals will confirm, you can't have a coffee in Seattle or an ice cream in Burlington without hearing multiple Imprezas rumble by. No, the challenge for Subaru was to broaden the Impreza's appeal without losing the plot. They couldn't keep conceding warm-weather sales to Civics, Corollas and Cruzes, but they also needed to keep the Impreza's sterling snow-belt rep intact.

Well, we've driven the all-new 2012 Subaru Impreza, and we can report that its crossover appeal goes well beyond the realm of slush and salt. More than just Subaru loyalists will lust after it; indeed, we think the reinvented Impreza is a fine choice no matter where you live or which brands you like. Here are our top five reasons why the 2012 Impreza should be on every economy car shopper's test-drive agenda.

1. Competitive Fuel Economy

If there's one thing that's kept the Impreza in the shadows over the years, it's fuel economy. Check this out: for the 2011 model year, the outgoing Impreza was rated at a frankly pathetic 22 miles per gallon combined. Now, if you care about all-weather versatility and that sort of thing, maybe 22 mpg is a small price to pay. But most compact cars these days are at least in the high 20s for combined mpg, with some cracking into the low 30s. That's why Subaru got serious about sipping fuel with the reinvented 2012 Impreza. There's a new 2.0-liter "boxer" flat-four under the hood, replacing the old 2.5-liter boxer, and it returns a healthy 28 mpg combined with the manual transmission and 30 mpg with the new continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). Not class-leading, exactly, but certainly frugal enough to get the Impreza's foot in the door with fuel-conscious consumers.

2. Standard All-Wheel Drive

What makes the Impreza's newfound fuel-efficiency particularly remarkable is that all-wheel drive is still standard across the board. Until this Subie came along, it was pretty much unheard of for an all-wheel-drive car to get up to 30 mpg combined. Incredibly, this utilitarian upstart actually gets better fuel economy than the base 1.8-liter Chevrolet Cruze, which checks in at 27-29 mpg combined despite having the advantage of front-wheel drive. So, to recap, the new Impreza still gives you the tenacious four-wheel traction for which Subarus are renowned, but you no longer have to pay a de facto AWD tax at the pump. Now that's something that the Portlands and Phoenix alike can get down with.

3. Serious Passenger Space

If you're lanky, the first thing you'll notice about the 2012 Impreza's driver seat is that you totally fit. Our taller staffers expect cramps whenever an economy car rolls through, but this Impreza is a pleasant surprise, delivering copious legroom, ample headroom, and a tilt-telescopic steering column that can satisfy practically any physique. We also like that the cowl and beltline aren't as high in the Impreza as they are in many modern cars, which means we can genuinely see out of the thing-an increasingly rare compliment these days. The good news continues in the backseat, where the new Impreza subjectively seems to match some family sedans in both dimensions and comfort (good riddance to the previous Impreza's cramped, distinctly economical backseat). All in all, the Impreza's spaciousness makes it feel like a midsize car in a compact wrapper.

4. Nice Cabin

Alright, let's not get carried away-the Impreza is still an economy car with a sub-$20k starting price. Still, Subaru has gone to great lengths to make the latest Impreza's interior a more pleasant place. The textured material on top of the dashboard is the kind of soft stuff generally reserved for the midsize segment on up. The control layout, too, mimics those of more expensive cars; Subaru is taking a page out of the Ford Focus/Mazda3 playbook here. There's little in the Impreza's cabin that screams "cheap," and that's saying something in this segment.

5. You Choose: Hatchback or Sedan

Let's go down the bestseller list and see which model is offered as a hatchback. Corolla? Nope. Civic? Not for years. Cruze? Please. So it clearly pays to be conservative in this class; but just as clearly, more and more Americans are turning to hatchbacks as replacements for their handy yet thirsty SUVs. Happily, Subaru will continue to offer the all-new Impreza as either a sedan or a hatchback, with the latter providing over 50 cubic feet of maximum cargo space, a truly impressive number for a compact hatch. What's more, the "five-door" Impreza gives you the same fuel economy as the less practical sedan-all the more reason to stop by the Subaru dealer in addition to the usual suspects.

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Josh Sadlier is an automotive journalist based in Los Angeles and has contributed to such publications as Edmunds.com and DriverSide.com. He holds arguably the most unexpected degree in his profession: a master's in Theological Studies.

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