2012 Subaru Impreza First Look

2012 Subaru Impreza First Look

2011 New York Auto Show

2011 New York Auto Show

Talk about good timing. Just as gas prices are creeping perilously close to the psychological breaking point of five bucks per gallon, the all-new 2012 Subaru Impreza is heading to dealers this fall with an emphasis on fuel efficiency. Subaru is attempting to catapult the 2012 Impreza into mainstream relevancy without abandoning its enthusiastic core.

As such, the company's all-new C-segment midsizer twists the lens heavily in the direction of efficiency and user-friendliness. At a recent poke-and-prod session with the new car, we were given an overview and allowed to stink up the cabin but not drive the things. Here's what you need to know.

Wagon and Sedan
This fall, the 2012 Subaru Impreza sedan and wagon will debut, while the existing WRX and STI models will carry over as-is.

Both body styles will be available with a five-speed manual gearbox or an optional continuously variable transmission (CVT). The new Impreza is larger on the inside, while the external dimensions are the same size as the outgoing Impreza, a rare win-win situation when it comes to an all-new model.

Fear not, Subaru loyalists (or is that "Loyale-ists"?) — all-wheel drive and boxer engines continue as standard equipment. Refreshingly, curb weight has dropped some 160 pounds compared to the outgoing car despite a 25 percent increase in bending stiffness. Credit goes to the increased use of higher-strength steels in the new body-in-white.

Flat-4 Fuel Economy
An all-new 2.0-liter "FB"-series flat-4 engine churns out 148 horsepower at 6,200 rpm and 145 pound-feet of torque at 4,200 rpm, some 22 hp and 25 lb-ft less than the base 2.5-liter EJ25 in the outgoing Impreza. It's a safe guess that the 2.5-liter FB currently in the Forester will eventually find its way into the new Impreza, but at launch the 2.0-liter will be the only engine available.

Adopting a much more undersquare (its stroke is larger than the cylinder bore diameter) layout, the new boxer is heavily slanted toward fuel economy, although acceleration is said to improve slightly, too. In Subaru's testing, the 2012 sedan with CVT reaches 60 mph in 9.8 seconds, an improvement of 0.3 second to the outgoing car equipped with the automatic.

Fuel economy was further enhanced through the adoption of electrically assisted steering plus a revised CVT, which replaces the archaic four-speed automatic once and for all. Provisional fuel economy for CVT-equipped Imprezas is 27/36 city/highway mpg, dropping to 25/33 with the five-speed manual.

These are big efficiency gains vis-à-vis the old car, which wasn't the most miserly car in its class. Still, Subaru reckons that when the CVT-equipped 2012 Impreza goes on sale it will have the highest fuel economy of any vehicle equipped with all-wheel drive (including the hybrid Lexus RX 450h), while besting much of its two-wheel-drive competition.

Speaking the New Design Language
A more creased, more slippery body is draped over the all-new underpinnings. Its squared-off grille and furrowed headlights are confident, if reminiscent of the Chevy Cruze and Hyundai Elantra, while pronounced fender arches — previously absent from the base Impreza's flanks — have trickled down from the WRX. The result is a harder-edged Impreza, particularly forward of the A-pillars, though the various geometric styling elements lack cohesion. It's not an unattractive car, but it's probably safe to say that nobody will be buying the 2012 Suburu Impreza for its looks alone.

Chief among the visual changes are a much more steeply raked windshield, the base of which has been moved forward a whopping 7.9 inches to cut drag and present a sleeker profile. This, in conjunction with an inch-longer wheelbase, has resulted in a cabin that is substantially larger. Ingress is further aided by sills that are a bit lower and front doors almost 5 inches longer, while the rear door apertures grow 6 inches, too. So there's more space, and more access to said space.

Inside the New Cabin
The view from the driver seat is impressive. Visibility has been markedly improved, a result of a lower dashboard and a window line that slopes down to a fixed corner window at the base of the A-pillar. The side mirrors are positively huge and the steering wheel adjusts for both reach and rake. Soft-touch materials have been added all around, too, raising the cabin's perceived quality.

The sedan's trunk measures 16.2 cubic feet, enough to hold four golf bags compared to the 2011 model's three. For the five-door, cargo volume with the rear seat folded grows by 5.3 cubic feet to 49.7. The hatchback's aperture was intentionally crafted to accept a dog crate, and two mountain bikes will fit back there without the need to remove their rear wheels.

Gone is the hump in the old Impreza's trunk, owing to a smaller fuel tank and rejiggered evaporative emissions equipment. Despite the reduced fuel capacity, efficiency improvements have increased its range from 456 to 524 miles, or far longer than anyone's bladder has a right to challenge.

The Driving Part Is Yet To Come
Naturally, we're told the new Impreza is a sharper drive than the current car. This remark gains some credibility when we're told the benchmark for the new Impreza's driving dynamics was the Mazda 3, a car that in its class is at the pointy end of the fun-to-drive spectrum.

The Impreza's basic layout remains intact — the front end is supported by MacPherson struts and the rear by double-wishbones, though the geometries are new. For sharper responses, engineers added rebound springs to the front struts to limit body roll, and replaced several rubber bushings with reduced-compliance spherical bearing attachments. The steering rack is more solidly mounted, too, which ought to add some precision to the helm.

We'll have a better idea of how these efforts have coalesced once we drive the 2012 Subaru Impreza in a few months. Stay tuned.

Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.

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