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2012 Subaru Impreza
30% better on gas and it's still an all-wheel-drive! How'd they do that?

The 2012 Impreza kicks up the styling with some clearly defined body creases and fender arches. The styling is not necessarily shared with the rally-inspired WRX model, which has been past practice.

By Malcolm Gunn

What? An all-wheel-drive vehicle that's easy on gas? Quite right. Subaru's least expensive model has been treated to a major makeover and will emerge this fall as a genuine fuel-sipping compact.

Through good economic times and bad, the Japan-based automaker's sales chart consistently points upward as more buyers become convinced that all-wheel-drive is the way to go. For Subaru, this method of propulsion is quite literally the only way to go since it's standard on every vehicle the company sells.

But there's no time for laurel-resting here. Sure, the sales figures don't lie, but the fact is that while Subaru's Legacy sedan and its Outback and Forester wagons have been flying off the shelves, the Impreza's popularity has not been quite so dramatic. The problems are two-fold: the car's underwhelming styling combined with a powerplant that burns through more gasoline than most compact car shoppers are prepared to accept.

All that is about to change once the 2012 Impreza hits the streets. To be clear, the brand new sheetmetal that has been sculpted for both sedan and wagon models does not extend to the Impreza-based (and rally-inspired) WRX/STI lineup, which were updated separately for the 2011 model year. That being said, base Imprezas now feature the kind of bolder, broad-shouldered flared-fender styling that's similar to that of the WRX. As well, the front and rear clip and sedan roofline are reminiscent of the larger Legacy. Meanwhile, the wagon's nose has much in common with the Outback, but the rest of sheetmetal has more in common with the WRX.

Other changes include a more steeply raked windshield and a front roof pillar that has been moved forward by 20 centimetres, allowing for a much wider front door opening.The distance between the front and rear wheels has also been extended by about 2.5 centimetres, while the Impreza's overall length and width remain unchanged.

On the inside, the redesigned instrument panel is now flatter for improved forward visibility. Both it and the door panels and floor console have been coated in richer-looking soft-touch materials and the wagon's rear seat now folds to create a completely (not partially) flat load floor.

Fuel economy in the 2012 Subaru Impreza might be up by a projected 30%, but that comes at the expense of power. The new 2.0-litre four-cylinder makes 148 horsepower, while the outgoing 2.5 made 170. However, that seems like a more-than-fair trade off.The Impreza's new look and features should prove more attention-grabbing, but what is likely to move buyers is the new standard powerplant that's part of Subaru's new family of four-cylinder engines.

Already installed in the 2011 Forester, the engine displaces 2.0 litres and generates 148 horsepower. Compare that with the previous model's 170-horsepower 2.5-litre four-cylinder. Despite the engine's obvious drop in power, Subaru claims that the 2.0 will still provide lively performance due to reduced vehicle weight, but there's no word yet as to how much heft has been shed.

The biggest improvement, though, is the anticipated 30% improvement in overall fuel economy, estimated to be 8.7 l/100 km in the city and 6.5 on the highway. This is competitive with the class leaders, despite the fact that the Impreza is all-wheel-drive. The best the 2011 Impreza can muster is 10.4/7.7. Gains are partly derived from a continuously variable transmission (CVT) that will be optional. A five-speed manual gearbox is standard. In up-level Imprezas, the CVT will come with a six-speed manual mode that employs steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters.

Subaru will likely introduce no fewer than four distinct trim levels and bulk up the base version with air conditioning, tilt/telescoping steering wheel, remote keyless entry plus the usual power-operated controls. From there the sky's the limit, topping out with the Limited wagon model with leather seats, unique 17-inch alloy wheels and a premium audio package, to name just a few of the potential highlights.

With the rejuvenated Impreza at a best-guess base price in the $22,000-range, Subaru appears bent on carving out a larger slice of the burgeoning compact-car market currently controlled by the Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic, Chevrolet Cruze plus others. Certainly the new look, pump-passing fuel economy plus the advantage of all-wheel-drive should give the Impreza a shot of newfound popularity.

What you should know: 2012 Subaru Impreza

Type: Four-door, all-wheel-drive compact sedan and wagon

Engine (hp): 2.0-litre DOHC H4 (148)

Transmissions: Five-speed manual; continuously variable (opt.)

Market position: Subaru resolutely stands alone in equipping its entire North American vehicle lineup with all-wheel-drive. It's a position that has helped the automaker maintain steady sales growth.

Points: Redesigned sedan and wagon shed previous bland and benign look; Smaller four-cylinder powerplant plus CVT turns Impreza into a bona fide fuel miser; Larger door openings a boon to larger front passengers; Base models arrive well equipped; Look for Impreza sales to climb significantly once word gets out on vehicle's many improvements.

Safety: Front airbags; side-impact airbags; side-curtain airbags; driver's knee airbag; anti-lock brakes; traction control; stability control.
L/100 km (city/hwy): 8.7/6.5 (est., CVT)

Base price (incl. destination): $22,000 (est.)

By comparison

Ford Focus
Base price: $17,600
All-new sedan and hatchback bring Euro styling to North American buyers.

Honda Civic
Base price: $16,400
2012 coupe, sedan and hybrid models are now even more fuel-efficient.

Toyota Corolla
Base price: $17,000
Solidly built model also has a reputation for excellent resale value.

Malcolm Gunn is an automotive writer based in Moncton, NB, and a regular contributor to CarTest!

Posted Aug. 18, 2011. © TM


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