2012 Subaru Impreza
2012 Subaru Impreza Review:
In the automotive world, persistence usually is regarded as a virtue; stubbornness not so much.
But sometimes it pays off, as Japan’s Subaru demonstrates with its all-new 2012 Subaru Impreza.
From its inception in the U.S. back in the late 1960s, Subaru has been persistent, even stubborn, in its dedication to the horizontally-opposed engine, sometimes called a boxer or a flat engine.
In that configuration, the cylinders lie horizontally, feet to feet, on both sides of the crankshaft, instead of leaning to the side or standing upright as in V or in-line engines. It makes for good balance, a low center of gravity and less complicated connections for all-wheel drive.The layout was most familiar in the original Volkswagen Beetle, which had its four-cylinder air-cooled boxer engines mounted in the rear. VW discontinued the Beetle—and the engines—in the mid-1970s. Today, only Subaru and Germany’s Porsche use boxers, now liquid cooled, and Subaru uses them exclusively.
The rap on horizontally-opposed engines has been inferior fuel economy compared to comparable conventional power plants. That has not posed a problem for Porsche, which emphasizes high performance. But it has been a negative for Subaru.
That now seems to have been overcome in the 2012 Impreza, which is powered by a new flat-four that delivers 27/36 miles to the gallon on the EPA’s city/highway fuel economy cycle. Subaru claims a 30% fuel economy improvement over the previous Impreza’s 2.5-liter engine.
Another persistent characteristic at Subaru has been its dedication to all-wheel drive in all of its vehicles. As a result, it now can claim that the new Impreza is the most fuel-efficient gasoline-engine all-wheel drive car on the US market.
The new motor delivers 148 horsepower from 2.0 liters of displacement. It sends its power through either a five-speed manual gearbox or a new continuously-variable automatic. The latter, referred to by its CVT initials, uses belts and pulleys to infinitely vary the transmission ratios.
No shift points interrupt the power flow, although the Subaru CVT can also be shifted manually with paddles on the steering wheel.The transmission contributes substantially to the new Impreza’s fuel economy. Its 27/36 miles to the gallon beats the 25/34 rating for the version with the manual gearbox.
The 2012 Impreza is available as either a four-door sedan or a four-door hatchback, in five trim levels: Base, Premium, Sport Premium, Limited and Sport Limited.
Tested for this review was a Limited sedan, which featured such amenities as leather upholstery, the CVT, Bluetooth and iPod connectivity, automatic climate control, alloy wheels and fog lights in addition to full safety equipment of antilock brakes, stability and traction control, and even a knee air bag for the driver.
It also had an option package that included both a navigation system and a motorized glass sunroof. That bumped its starting price of $22,345 up to $24,345.
The new sedan design makes Subaru’s entry-level Impreza look sleek and grown up, especially in the test car’s “obsidian black pearl” paint job. Its passenger and trunk space put it at the top of the compact class, on the cusp between compact and mid-size. A longer wheelbase—the distance between the front and rear axles—contributes to better back seat room.
But the sedan’s utility falls short of its stubby hatchback sibling, which qualifies as a mid-size despite the fact that it is nearly six inches shorter than the sedan. Its passenger/cargo space of 98/23 cubic feet compares to the sedan’s 97/12 cubic feet.
On the road, the tested Impreza came across as more than the sum of its parts. The surprise was how the CVT made the most of the engine’s 148 horses. It’s geared to provide a quick jump off the line, referred to by aficionados as rapid throttle tip-in.
Moreover, unlike some CVTs, which sound and feel as if they’re slipping when they spool up, the Impreza’s felt tight, to the point where mashing the throttle underway seemed as if the transmission kicked down a gear or two—though there are no actual individual gear ratios. There was some engine roar but not much more than with a conventional manual or automatic transmission.Manually shifting the CVT with the steering-wheel paddles gave the impression of distinct gears and shift points. But they were virtually programmed into the onboard computer. With its low center of gravity and stout suspension system, the Impreza handled capably around corners.
Inside, the front seats delivered support and comfort, though with little lateral bolstering. Instruments, with black on white markings, were easily comprehended. The center console cover slid forward to provide a center armrest. However, the sun visors did not slide on their support rods to block sun from the side, and the audio/navigation display had tiny touch-screen controls and adjustments.
In back, the outboard seats were not as comfortable as those up front. But there was enough knee and headroom for anyone up to about six feet tall. As with most cars, the center-rear seat was negated by a hard cushion, big floor hump and an intrusive front console. The trunk was nicely shaped and finished, and included C-hinges shielded so they would not damage luggage.
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