Subaru has long been known to produce reliable, safe cars with the brand’s signature all-wheel drive capabilities and high value propositions. There’s a reason Subarus captured Motor Trend‘s SUV of the Year trophy in 2009 and 2014 with the Forester and in 2010 with the Outback.
But the compact Impreza lineup has been problematic. Excluding the WRX, which Subaru now treats as a completely separate program, there were always some things that wound up in the “reasons to consider another brand” column: dowdy driving dynamics and enjoyment, cut-rate interior feel or quality, and subpar infotainment options and navigation. Having fabulous AWD tech and good safety isn’t nearly enough.
The 2017 Subaru Impreza is the first model produced on the Subaru Global Architecture platform, which will be used for all future models. If other models, including the coming three-row Tribeca replacement, show this much improvement, then the Impreza may become one of the more coveted compact cars.
Making leaps forward in driving feel, handling, interior space, and infotainment capability, Subaru has learned that if an automaker wants to keep growing, it has to pay attention to the whole car.
Over the road, the Impreza feels really solid, and that’s not because it’s substantially heavier. Subaru says that despite all the added steel for safety and structural rigidity (it’s 70 percent more rigid than the 2016), it weighs within 100 pounds of the fourth-generation Impreza. It felt planted but more comfortable over ramplike freeway expansion joints and broken pavement than Motor Trend’s long-term 2016 Outback, which sometimes overly softens such imperfections.
That same added steel helps safety, too. Subaru says crash energy absorption is increased 40 percent versus the 2016 Impreza. The outgoing models were TSP+ picks when equipped with EyeSight.
The steering feel is a big improvement. The new 13:1 ratio (down from 16:1) combined with the Limited trim’s 17-inch wheels and some small adjustments aimed at reducing the delay between input and action results in a more responsive feel from the last-gen Impreza. Together with the control-arm suspension, which mounts a rear stabilizer bar directly to the body, it creates a car that responds quickly, tracks well, and gives a driver plenty of confidence on the mostly empty mountain roads east of San Diego and close to the border where Subaru took us to drive these Imprezas. Subaru says body roll is reduced by 50 percent.
Subaru’s benchmarking indicated the previous Impreza’s handling lagged badly behind the Audi A3, Ford Focus, Mazda3, and Honda Civic. By their estimation, it now surpasses the current models of those cars. We’ll have to wait for direct comparisons, but we can easily say that handling and comfort has been drastically improved.
Visibility is good, thanks to smaller pillars and side-view mirrors that are farther back on the door to allow better viewing out of the quarter-windows up front.
There will be some who will say that the 2017 Subaru Impreza‘s 2.0i four-cylinder boxer engine, which now has direct injection and gets a 3 percent bump in horsepower to 152 and 145 lb-ft of torque, is underpowered.
But this engine combined with this CVT seemed to be able to handle most situations we threw at it. It would have struggled trying to overtake cars uphill, which is a situation one doesn’t really run into that often. But in everyday driving, one would never consider this car to be frustratingly slow like a Crosstrek or a Honda HR-V. Throttle tip-in, sometimes an issue with Subaru, was gracefully linear and easy to control here.
In an everyday small car, the goal is to have a balance of power and efficiency. Decent numbers make up for whatever power could be considered as lacking. The sedan is rated at 28/38/32 mpg city/highway/combined with the CVT.
As soon as you sit in a $28,760 Limited, including $3,845 in options, you notice that it’s a step up from previous Imprezas. It has leather and soft-touch surfaces in lots of places. It was easy to find a good seating position with the power seat, but we’d wish for eight-way seats so we could adjust the thigh support/angle of the front of the seat separately.
The arrangement of the displays is logical and not overly fussy. Expected information such as speed and trip data resides in the display between the gauges. The color multifunction display shows the functioning of the EyeSight safety system and similar information, and the 8.0-inch touchscreen handles all the Infotainment controls and the Apple CarPlay setup.
And speaking of infotainment, it’s hard to overstate what a big leap forward this system is for Subaru. It was intuitive, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto make using the system as simple as using your smartphone. Those who looked at Subarus but shied away because of outdated, limited-capability systems compared to the Chevrolets and Hyundais of the world can no longer dismiss Impreza for that reason.
Noise is better isolated. The solid structure reduces road noise in all situations except extremely coarse pavement and concrete, which few cars handle very well. Wind noise only seemed to be much of an issue at very high freeway speeds. Even the HVAC system has tempered its jet-plane roar by 50 percent, due to different blowers and larger openings.
Who else will notice big improvements? Rear-seat passengers. Both the sedan and the hatchback are 1.6 inches longer and 1.5 inches wider, and boy, does it show. In the old sit-behind-myself test, I had close to 5 inches of extra knee room to luxuriate in. And the interior feels as solid as the overall car rides. Even the glove box closes with a solid thunk and not a plasticky click.
Anyone putting cargo in an Impreza will notice what a huge difference the split taillights make. The hatchback’s opening is wider by 5 inches; the sedan’s trunk lid opening is 4 inches wider. Both access a much more versatile cargo space with or without the rear seats folded.
We also drove a Premium-trim hatchback with EyeSight, moonroof, and steering-responsive foglights. It listed at $24,910. The hatchback gets a slightly lower fuel economy rating, coming in at 28/37/31 mpg city/highway/combined.
One misses the color multi-information display after having seen it. In its place is a pretty basic LCD unit. That said, the Premium hatch still offered a much-improved driving experience, with the exception of a noticeably lighter steering feel, which is perhaps owed in part to the 16-inch wheels covered in 205/55R16 tires. Damping over joints and small to moderate imperfections was still very good.
With the new Impreza, the automaker has attempted to simplify the trim lines into base 2.0i, Premium, Sport, and Limited. Yes, Premium should be the top level, but that’s marketing for you.
All Imprezas come standard with a 6.5-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Bluetooth, Android Auto, and Apple CarPlay connectivity—but it only has one USB connector hidden in the center storage cubby. (Pssst: We like it better when it faces the cockpit in the center stack storage area.) A tilting and telescoping steering wheel and 60/40 split fold-down rear seats are also standard.
The Premium model adds a seven-speed manual shift mode for the CVT, heated front seats, 16-inch alloy wheels, roof rails, Subaru’s Starlink connected services, Stablex dampers, and welcome lighting.
Here, the two higher models split. The Impreza Sport is more performance-focused, and it gets sport suspension tuning, brake-based active torque vectoring, active grille shutters, 18-inch wheels with 225/40R18 tires, LED daytime running lamps, a larger 8.0-inch touchscreen with color multifunction display above, push-button start, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, red stitching on the dash and other areas, simulated carbon-fiber inserts on the dash and doors, and spoilers on both the sedan and hatchback.
The Limited model adds leather seats, a six-way power driver’s seat, LED low- and high-beam headlights, steering-guided headlights and high-beam assist, voice-activated controls, satellite radio, and silver stitching on the dash.
Subaru’s lauded EyeSight system is optional on all trim levels and includes a long list of advanced safety and driver assistance features, including automatic high-beams, adaptive cruise control, precollision braking, lane departure warning, and blind-spot monitoring. It now includes reverse automatic braking, as well.
One nifty if small addition: All Imprezas now feature front window power that remains available for a few seconds after the car is turned off in case you forget to roll up the glass.
It’s thrilling to see that Subaru finally seems to be addressing the Impreza in 360 degrees. And we can’t wait for some more seat time and a chance to hand over the 2017 Subaru Impreza to our test crew—especially the Sport variant.
Read the Motor Trend 2016 Big Test comparison of compact sedans HERE.
For those keeping score on such things, this is the first Impreza built in the U.S. The plant in Lafayette, Indiana, has benefited from a $1.3 billion investment, will also build the coming three-row crossover.
Automotive journalists are often asked, “What car should I buy?” For folks looking for small cars, many of us have answered, “Look at Honda or Mazda, depending on your needs.” Now there’s a reason to add, “But before you whip out your checkbook, be sure to drive an Impreza.”