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Motoring: 2012 Subaru Impreza makes an impression

Nauman Farooq | Interrobang | Sports | February 6th, 2012

I have always liked the Subaru Impreza, mainly because it was a very unique offering in its category. For the longest time, it was the only all-wheel drive offering in its class, and it is the only one to offer all-wheel as standard.

However, with each generation, the Impreza is looking more and more mainstream. That is obviously to attract a larger audience, but has Subaru diluted their formula too much to appeal to the Subaru purists?

To find out, I was invited by Subaru Canada to test their latest offering at an event, and a few weeks later I got to spend a week with one to see what it's all about.

What I discovered is this; the styling is much cleaner than before, so it won't make people cringe when they see it (some past Subaru designs have been a bit ugly). However, it now looks like it could be any car from any manufacturer. So when you see the new Impreza, in either the sedan or hatchback form, it won't jump out at you as a Subaru. Is it bland to look at? Yes, maybe just a little bit.

The interior is better than it used to be. It's still very much made from plastic, but the quality of the material now used at least looks nicer than it used to. I also find all the placement of switches and gadgets to be at a better spot than before, and the seats are very comfortable — something the Impreza was always good at.

If there is a complaint about this interior, it is regarding wind and tire noise. The culprit for the extra wind noise is the humongous door mirrors, which allow you to see around you better, but create more drag. The tire noise issue is not too bad, and perhaps Subaru should have used more sound-deadening materials to dampen the noise. But trust me, spend a few days with one, and you'll get used to this.

What you (or at least I) will never get used to is the new CVT automatic gearbox. Why, Subaru? Why did you junk a perfectly good five-speed automatic gearbox in exchange for a lousy CVT?

Subaru will tell you they did it in the quest to improve fuel economy, but honestly, the difference is too small to validate the sacrifice. I noted 9.8 litres/100km on a city and highway run, which, while not bad, is not great, either.

Thankfully, however, you can still buy one with a five-speed manual gearbox. This is the gearbox I had on my tester, and is the much better option to pick. With the manual, you can use the new 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, boxer engine much better, and utilize all its 148 hp and 145 lb/ft of torque.

The CVT can come with paddle shifters, but I find they are useless. If you're buying an Impreza, buy the manual. If you don't know how to drive a manual, then learn how to.

Use the manual well and you'll be rewarded with a car that is not only decently quick, but one that also sounds good. These boxer engines do have an appealing snorty, growling characteristic that would appeal to those who like cars and understand mechanical engineering.

Everyone will appreciate its all wheel drive system. During the week I had the car, there was a fair bit of snow on the ground. Did that upset the Impreza? Not one bit. On a slushy, slippery, cold day, this car behaved better than some cars do on a dry summer's day. If you value traction, you'll like the Impreza.

As for handling, the new car seems a bit softer than the outgoing model, but it is still enjoyable on a twisty road. It's a more entertaining car than most of its competitors, and that is why most people bought the Impreza in the past in the first place.

Now you can get into an Impreza for less than you used to; the base model sedan starts at just $19,995. The five-door hatchback is $900 more.

If you're looking to buy a compact- segment car, the new Impreza might not be as unique as it once was, but it's still better than some of its competitors, and thus should be placed very high on your shopping list.
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