Test Drive: 2017 Subaru Impreza

Updated talent and understated charm yield an unexpectedly good ride

If you didn’t know any better, you might think the Subaru Impreza is simply another five-passenger sedan, with a five-door hatch variant that slots into the crowded, entry-level segment of the compact class. But, if you’ve awaited the all-new fifth-generation model, you’ll know this quiet charmer comes from extraordinary genes, is affordably priced starting at just over $18K, has standard all-wheel drive, and gets up to 38 mpg fuel economy. You might also know the newest Impreza debuts Subaru’s Global Platform; its architecture is designed to imbue significantly higher levels of driving maneuverability, crash protection and ride comfort. As much as you might expect of the 2017 Subaru Impreza, you may be even more impressed when you drive it.

The redesigned Impreza should appeal to buyers who want a flexible, multi-purpose car that is an easy-to-park, commute-to-work-mobile. That said, it’s also suitable for a night on the town, and has the gear-carrying and traction capabilities to ferry a kayak to the boat launch or mountain bike to a jumping-off point to explore where the pavement ends. It can also hold three sets of golf clubs, but who would know that in a nod to being built in Layfette, Indiana, it was evaluated for its “corn-toting” prowess. Subaru packed 827 ears into the hatch with the backseat up and, when folded, stuffed in 2,472 ears. Just think of what you can carry, even if corn isn’t on the menu.

It’s not, however, sublime and sexy, laden with luxury trims, or an effective utility vehicle. That said, the new Impreza is not only well designed inside and out—and it’s not without some heat. Impreza’s DNA began with parent company Fuji Heavy Industries, which started out as The Aircraft Research Laboratory in 1915 and evolved into an aircraft manufacturer: hence Subaru’s boxer engine. Manufactured since 1992, various Impreza models have been driven by police forces in the U.S., Japan, Australia, France, Singapore and in the UK. Plus, the Impreza’s chassis has been more successful in rallying, with the high-performance WRX and STI upgrades onboard, than the automaker’s previous models; since 1993, it has carried Subaru’s World Rally Team to numerous victories in World Rally Championship racing.

Now built in the U.S. for the first time, Impreza rides on a slightly larger 105.1-in. wheelbase—it’s up 1.0″ over the outgoing model. Both the sedan and five-door are 1.6″ longer and 1.5″ wider making a roomier cabin, while a 0.4″ lower height improves aerodynamics. Engineers crafted the advanced passenger cockpit with a lower center of gravity, increased rigidity (by over 70 percent), and revised the suspension to significantly enhance straight-line stability, agility, and safety. At the same time, this reduces noise, vibration and harshness to a level of “class-leading” in its segment, according to Subaru. The 2017 Impreza is offered in four trims: 2.0i (base), 2.0i Premium, 2.0i Sport and 2.0i limited. It is priced starting at $100 over the previous generation at $18,395 for the Sedan with 5-speed manual transmission (available early 2017) and $19,395 when equipped with the CVT, manual mode and paddle shifters.

Subaru debuts the brand’s new design language incorporating its signature hexagonal grille and hawk-eye headlights onto a more sculpted body; flowing lines, accented by prominent wheel arches, give Impreza a more distinctive look. The base 2.0i runs on 16-inch steel wheels and features a 6.5-inch multimedia touchscreen; Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility, power windows with auto up/down; 60/40-split fold-down rear seat; power door locks and side mirrors; multi-function display with fuel economy information; tilt and telescoping steering column; security system with engine immobilizer; carpeted floor mats; and other amenities. Premium adds Subaru Starlink Safety and Security, 16-inch alloy wheels, an All-Weather Package with heated front seats, windshield wiper de-icer, heated exterior mirrors and automatic headlights. The Premium 5-door adds standard roof rails and offers an available power moonroof plus driver assist technology systems.

The new Sport model has 18-inch wheels, sport suspension and Active Torque Vectoring plus exclusive exterior styling with black body accents and a rear spoiler. Upgraded cabin appointments feature black cloth upholstery with red stitching, a Subaru Starlink 8.0-inch touchscreen multimedia system, Keyless Access & Push-Button Start, aluminum pedals, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift handle and a CVT shift boot.

Multimedia features include standard Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and standard Near Field Communication connectivity plus Harman/Kardon premium audio— available in Impreza for the first time. Also of note are eight new cloud-based apps to the STARLINK multimedia system: Magellan NAVI, eBird, Best Parking, Yelp, Glympse, RightTrack, Tweddle Quick Reference Guide, and “eventseeker” by Wcities.

Onboard is a laudable array of safety features, including 7 standard airbags and available EyeSight driver assist technology that includes Adaptive Cruise Control, Automatic Pre-Collision Braking and Lane Departure and Sway Warning, plus a Lane Keep Assist function. Blind Spot Detection and Rear Cross Traffic Alert are also optional or on board, according to trim level. Other safety features include Reverse Automatic Braking that can apply the vehicle’s brakes if an obstacle is detected while in reverse; Steering Responsive Headlights and Fog Lights that illuminate curves as the vehicle steers into them; a High Beam Assist that automatically adjusts the high beam headlamps based on driving conditions and a new 4-way Tire Pressure Monitoring System to detect pressure drops at individual wheels.

A revised version of Subaru’s 2.0-liter 4-cylinder Boxer engine adds direct fuel injection and other enhancements to boost output to 152 horsepower and 145 lb.-ft. of torque. When equipped with the Lineartronic CVT (continuously variable transmission), it sports a 7-speed manual mode function with steering wheel paddle shifters. Subaru’s laudable AWD moves traction from front to rear, and can send almost all the torque to a single wheel, when needed.

We drove both Sport and Limited models. Sport takes advantage of Subaru’s new stiffer platform and more powerful engine to boost performance with exclusive suspension tuning. Its drive is nimble and slightly spunky; takeaways were the feeling of more elbow room and quietness as well as great cornering stability. It comes with 18-inch machine-finish alloy wheels and Active Torque Vectoring. Other distinctions include LED daytime running lights (DRL), black-finish front grille, body-color rocker panels, turn signal side mirrors and gloss black rear gate trim, as well as exclusive Sport gauges, and a Multi-Function Display in the instrument panel.

The top-of-the-line Limited has a sprinkling of premium features and starts at $24,095. Its drive shows off the longer, lower and wider chassis with a settled and competent ride, while its looks are more upscale with LED headlights and distinctive LED daytime running lights (DRL), along with standard 17-inch machine finished alloy wheels and lots of chrome trim. Leather seating with contrast stitching is comfortable; leather also accents the door armrests, instrument panel; and the steering wheel and shifter. The 6-way power driver’s seat is a first for Impreza. Added are an automatic climate control system, Keyless Access & Push-Button Start, and unique white cluster gauges on the instrument panel. Models equipped with EyeSight also include High Beam Assist and the navigation system features and maps provided by TomTom.

Sport logo and dash images courtesy of Subaru, all other images by Sue Mead