“Comfy, reliable, and surefooted, Subaru's Impreza remains a jack of all trades.”
- Nimble handling
- Comfortable and spacious interior
- Thoughtful tech integration
- Better looking than before
- All-wheel drive traction
- Lackluster powertrain
- Questionable interior design choices
- Styling still doesn’t make a strong impression
Since 1993, the Impreza has been Subaru’s rival to popular compact cars like the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla. While it’s never sold in anywhere near the numbers of those segment leaders, the Impreza’s offbeat character and all-wheel drive have made it a hit in certain regions like the Northeast, where we grabbed the keys to a 2017 Impreza 2.0i Sport model.
The 2017 model marks the first full redesign of the Impreza in five years, and it’s a very important model for Subaru. It debuts the new Subaru Global Platform, which will eventually form the basis for most of the company’s models. The Impreza itself will spawn a new WRX performance model, and in the meantime Subaru has tried to make it appeal to a wider audience than ever before.
So can the new Impreza spread the Subaru gospel will still keeping the faithful happy? Read on to find out.
The 2017 Subaru Impreza is completely new from the pavement up. It’s based on the new Subaru Global Platform, which brings a host of improvements including increased structural rigidity, and changes to the suspension setup.
The new Impreza is 1.6 inches longer than its predecessor, and 1.5 inches wider, with a 1.0-inch wheelbase stretch. Everything you see, from the exterior styling to the layout of the dashboard, is new, and numerous changes were made to equipment and feature content.
Trim levels and features
The Impreza is available in four trim levels: 2.0i, 2.0i Premium, 2.0i Sport, and 2.0i Limited. You can get all of them with a five-door hatchback body style, or a four-door sedan, like our test car.
The base 2.0i model comes equipped with the basics, like a rearview camera, Subaru Starlink infotainment system with 6.5-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability, and 60/40 split-folding rear seat. This being a Subaru, all-wheel drive is standard as well, along with a five-speed manual transmission. All of that comes at a base price of $19,215 (including destination) for the sedan. An automatic continuously variable transmission (CVT) is an $800 option.
The Impreza is handsome, but its styling element doesn’t create a unique visual identity.
Starting at $22,015, the 2.0i Premium is available only with the CVT, and adds niceties like 16-inch alloy wheels, heated seats and exterior mirrors, automatic headlights and a six-speaker audio system in place of the base model’s four-speaker system. The Limited model includes features like leather upholstery, a power driver’s seat, pushbutton start, and an upgraded Starlink system with an 8.0-inch screen at a base price of $24,915. Like the Premium, it’s available only with the CVT.
Our Sport test car slots between the Premium and Limited in the Impreza model hierarchy. It starts at $22,815 with the manual transmission, but ours had the CVT, which brought the price to $23,615. The Sport model includes the 8.0-inch Starlink system and pushbutton start, plus “sport-tuned” suspension, a torque-vectoring feature for the all-wheel drive system, and some sporty styling touches like 18-inch wheels, a rear spoiler, and red-and-black interior.
Overall, the Impreza comes fairly well equipped for a car in its price range, and its standard all-wheel drive system is something competitors don’t offer at any price.
Visually, the Impreza is a major improvement over its predecessor but still doesn’t have much presence. The new version looks much sleeker thanks to a more streamlined roofline, and massaging of the bodywork to make the car look like its’ leaning forward. The new Impreza also rides a bit lower than the old model, which is always a good thing. Redesigned headlights and taillights emphasize horizontal lines, giving the Impreza a hunkered-down look.
That being said, the Impreza doesn’t exactly stand out from other compact cars. It’s handsome, but its styling element doesn’t create a unique visual identity. If not for our sport test car’s rear spoiler, 18-inch wheels, and Lithium Red Pearl paint, it would look just another compact sedan.
The Impreza 2.0i Sport’s 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system keeps things basic, and it functions well. Apple CarPlay/Android Auto compatibility, Bluetooth, Pandora integration, and an Aha-based app suite are standard on all Impreza models. Navigation is only available on the top Limited trim level.
The touchscreen is positioned well for quick and easy taps and swipes. It’s also very responsive and features a sensible and intuitive layout with large virtual “buttons.” This is a good thing, as the minimal amount of analog buttons and knobs means you’ll be relying primarily on the screen for audio and phone functions. Meanwhile, three chunky knobs at the bottom of the center stack make adjusting climate settings a breeze.
The Impreza proves that all you really need is Android Auto. Syncing a phone was a breeze, and all of the relevant Google graphics scaled up nicely to the Impreza’s touchscreen. The only issue is maintaining cell coverage, something we were reminded of while driving through areas of spotty coverage in New York’s Hudson Valley in search of some nice twisty backroads.
The central touchscreen is supplemented by an information display wedged between the speedometer and tachometer, and another located at the base of the windshield. The latter—which shows things like fuel economy and headlight position—has nice graphics, but seems a bit redundant given that some of the same information can be shown on the gauge-cluster display. The Impreza’s three-spoke steering wheel is festooned with an array of backup controls that are difficult to get the hang of.
Opting for the Sport model nets a six-speaker audio system, which sounds pretty good for a non-premium audio system in an economy car. A higher-end Harman Kardon eight-speaker system is available as an option.
Interior fit and finish
Subaru may have only stretched the Impreza’s wheelbase by 1.0 inch, but the new car feels much more spacious than its predecessor—and that’s with a lower, sleeker roofline. However, like the previous version—and many other current compact cars—the seating position puts the driver pretty far away from the windshield. It makes for the odd sensation of sitting in the middle of the car, rather than at the front.
The driver’s seat itself is very comfortable, but also firm and supportive. It had enough side bolstering to keep us from sliding around in the kind of hard cornering one would expect to do in a model named “Sport.” The rear seats offer plenty of room as well.
The basic Impreza interior is pretty well, basic, but functional. Most of what you see and touch is black plastic, but it feels higher quality than the materials in the previous-generation, and looks like it will stand up well to hard use. The only aesthetic fault is the dashboard, which has more peaks and ridges than a mountain range.
On top of that fairly solid foundation, the 2.0i Sport model adds some stereotypical boy racer touches, including aluminum pedals, red accent stitching, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob. Some buyers might find all of that a bit immature, but we dig it. The floor mats emblazoned with the word “Sport” are a bit silly, though.
Driving performance and MPG
Does the Impreza 2.0i Sport live up to the last part of its name? Kind of. In a week spent bombing along backroads and cruising down stretches of highway, we found the 2017 Impreza to be a nice car to drive overall, but it’s still not a full-on sport compact. For that, you’ll have to look to Subaru’s WRX.
Subaru did a particularly good job with the chassis setup. It claims the new Impreza body shell is 70 percent stiffer than the previous one, and we believe it. From behind the wheel, it feels solid. The suspension kept body roll in check and, even with the Sport model’s firmer setup, kept the driver’s spine intact over pockmarked stretches of highway.
In addition to its model-specific suspension, the Sport’s all-wheel drive system incorporates torque vectoring, which shunts power side to side to help turn the car into corners. The result is fairly neutral handling, accompanied by steering that is utterly devoid of feel, but still responsive enough not to ruin the party.
Unfortunately, the powertrain isn’t as charismatic as the chassis. The Impreza continues to use a 2.0-liter boxer-four engine but, with 152 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of torque, it’s got 4 more horses and 3 more pound-feet of torque than the last Impreza motor. Yet acceleration is still leisurely, and the engine itself is devoid of charm or character. It performs adequately, but doesn’t offer much in the way of fun.
Subaru has made significant progress in this area over the years, but the CVT is still a buzzkill.
Some of this is likely down to the CVT our test car was equipped with. CVTs are often criticized for their lack of responsiveness, and it’s the same story here. Even when engaging seven “virtual” gears with the paddle shifters behind the steering wheel, the transmission just never seems to be on the same page as the engine. Subaru has made significant progress in this area over the years, but the CVT is still a buzzkill.
One reason Subaru sticks with CVTs is their ability to improve fuel economy. With the CVT, the Impreza 2.0i Sport is rated by the EPA at 30 mpg combined (27 mpg city, 36 mpg highway), while other Impreza sedan models are rated at 32 mpg combined (28 mpg city, 38 mpg highway). With the five-speed manual, the Sport’s EPA ratings drop to 26 mpg combined (23 mpg city, 31 mpg highway).
The Impreza’s standard complement of safety equipment is pretty typical for a mainstream car, encompassing anti-lock brakes, stability and traction controls, a rearview camera, and an array of airbags. It also features brake override, a holdover from the days of Toyota unintended-acceleration paranoia that prevents the car from accelerating while the brake pedal is depressed.
The Impreza is also available with Subaru’s EyeSight driver-assist system. It uses a forward-facing camera mounted at the top of the windshield to enable an array of features, including adaptive cruise control, autonomous emergency braking, lane departure and sway warning, and lane keep assist. For 2017, rear autonomous emergency braking is also available for the first time on the Impreza, along with Subaru’s Steering Responsive Headlights, which adjust their beams to follow curves.
The 2017 Subaru Impreza received top scores in all Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) crash tests, making it an IIHS Top Safety Pick, as well as a Top Safety Pick+ when equipped with EyeSight.
How DT would outfit this car
Like many compact cars today, the Impreza can be a basic economy car, or borderline luxurious, depending on how much money you want to spend. We think the Impreza has enough basic goodness that it’s worth keeping things simple.
Instead of the top-of-the-line Limited, we’d go for a Sport. Its torque-vectoring all-wheel drive system enlivens the driving experience, and it’s available with a manual transmission, an option you should definitely choose over the dreadful CVT. The Sport adds certain useful features—like heated exterior mirrors and seats—that aren’t available on the base 2.0i, and the Premium model that sits between them isn’t available with a manual.
Either way, we might actually get the hatchback instead of the sedan for its added versatility. Thanks to the Impreza’s standard all-wheel drive, it’s a pretty good argument against SUVs.
There isn’t much to be gained from adding options. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto work well enough that it’s not strictly necessary to opt for a standalone navigation system, and there aren’t any other notable tech options on the Impreza menu. As a compact car with good outward visibility, the Impreza is also pretty easy to drive, so EyeSight is really only a necessity for the particularly safety-conscious.
While many other compact cars get lots of aftermarket support, the Impreza has always been in the shadow of its WRX sibling. If you want to modify your car, you’d be better off starting with one of those.
The 2017 Subaru Impreza is a significant improvement over its predecessor, and a good all-around compact sedan. As with previous generations of Impreza, the 2017 model is distinguished more by its standard all-wheel drive than by styling or convenience features.
Is there a better alternative?
Compact car buyers have plenty of choices, and the Impreza performs well enough not to get lost in the crowd. Still, it loses out to certain rivals in some specific areas. It doesn’t have the driving dynamics of the Mazda 3, an available WiFi hotspot like the Chevrolet Cruze, and, unlike a Volkswagen Golf, you won’t think its interior came from a more expensive car.
However, the Impreza is still nicer to drive than a compact car strictly needs to be, its styling is fairly handsome, if a bit unassuming, and it’s available with a decent array of tech features. All-wheel drive should also put the Impreza at the top of the list for anyone living in a snowy climate, or anyone shopping for a small SUV, for that matter.
How long will it last?
Subaru has a good reputation for reliability, so expect the Impreza to stand up to years of wear and tear. Since Subaru just redesigned it, the current-generation Impreza won’t get a major update for some time. This version will remain fresh for awhile. Subaru offers a 3-year/36,000-mile new-car limited warranty, and a 5-year/60,000-mile powertrain limited warranty.
Should you buy it?
Yes. While it could do better in some areas, the Impreza does everything well. Add in Subaru’s reputation for reliability and all-wheel drive, and you get a solid compact car choice.