Transmission Turmoil Taints Otherwise Nimble Impreza

Transmission Turmoil Taints Otherwise Nimble Impreza

Subaru Impreza 1

2012 Subaru Impreza Review:

I like the looks, ride and handling of the restyled 2012 Subaru Impreza.

The small sedan’s chiseled nose and flattened wheel flares give it a much more exciting appearance than its predecessor. But the variable speed five-speed transmission is a stumbling block. The continuously variable transmission makes the car’s acceleration less than stellar and combines with the engine to create a whine and groan that make the car sound as if it’s working awfully hard to get up to normal driving speeds.

[![2012 Subaru Impreza]( "2012 Subaru Impreza")]( to enlarge.
Several carmakers have moved to the continuously variable transmission to coax better gas mileage from their vehicles. Generally, CVT-equipped vehicles get 1 mpg or so more than a car with an automatic. But many of today’s new six-speed automatic transmissions now get 1 or 2 more mpg.

According to the trip computer, I got an impressive 29.1 mpg in about 70% highway driving. The EPA rates the Impreza at 27 mpg city and 36 highway, so you’d think the CVT really was helping. Yet, I got only a disappointing 23.5 mpg when I filled the tank.

That number disappoints because the Subaru isn’t packing a big motor. Imprezas, including the tested 2.0i Limited model, feature a 2.0-liter Boxer four-cylinder engine with 148 horsepower. The car also weighs just 3,053 pounds.

The engine provides adequate power when pulling away from a stoplight, but it isn’t quick. Push the pedal hard, and you’ll get a little more oomph, but a lot of engine/transmission groan. You’ll also notice what feels like engine braking when you back off the accelerator and let the car coast. That’s the CVT slowing the car more quickly than you’d feel with a standard transmission.

I believe Subaru would have been better served with a six-speed manual transmission to put that power to better use.

Too bad the CVT spoils a rather strong effort from the rest of the car’s redesign.

Riding on a 104.1-inch wheelbase, Impreza features good ride quality for a smaller sedan. Handling is good, not sporty, but responsive. Steering effort is pleasantly light while feeling well balanced, but there is a little body lean in tight turns. The AWD system will help in sloppy weather.

[![Subaru Impreza 2]( "Subaru Impreza 2")]( like the looks, ride and handling of the restyled 2012 Subaru Impreza. (Sedan and Wagon shown above)
Braking is good from four wheel discs equipped with ABS and stability control. The car rides on 17-inch tires.

Inside the tested “Marine Blue” test car, the Impreza Limited featured black leather seating with gray stitching, a textured black dash, and leather steering wheel and shift knob.

Seats are flat and firm, with the seat backs mildly contoured. Despite the lack of contouring on the seat bottoms, they were comfortable. Everything is manually adjusted and includes a pump handle to raise the driver’s seat height. Amazing at this price level, the seats include two-speed heating.

Head and legroom are fine front and rear, so that four adults fit comfortably. Taller riders might feel a bit cramped for headroom in back, though.

Impreza’s rear seats split and fold to enlarge the deep 12-cubic-foot trunk. The Subaru comes with a manual tilt/telescope steering wheel with paddle shifters, key start (but keyless entry), and the usual power mirrors, windows and door locks.

The dash is clean and easy to understand, but has a few issues.

The two main gauges feature white numbers you can see fine in the daytime, but at night the entire gauge pods feature dim red lighting so you can barely read the speedometer or odometer. If you adjust the light level of those gauges to be brighter, the remaining white dash gauges are distractingly bright.

[![Subaru Impreza 4]( "Subaru Impreza 4")]( dash is clean and easy to understand, but has a few issues.
The navigation/radio screen is tiny, with even smaller touch-screen buttons. Audio and navigation buttons around the screen also are minuscule, and the radio volume knob is small.

The good news? There are redundant controls on the steering wheel hub that you will find much more useful. Also, the climate controls are three big round knobs, so they’re easy to use.

The test car added a power sunroof, part of a $2,000 option package that also adds the navigation system and screen.

The Impreza Limited, with its leather interior and heated seats, starts at $21,895 plus a $750 delivery fee. So the test car hit just $24,714. Remember, the average cost of a new vehicle these days is about $31,000.

Want an AWD vehicle, but have a little less cash to spend?

The base 2.0i sedan starts at $17,495 and features the same engine. A five-door (or hatchback) begins at $17,995. There are several other levels in sedan and hatchback versions, topping out with the Sport Limited with a base price of $22,595.

Mark Savage welcomes your questions and comments regarding new vehicles at

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