2012 Subaru Impreza: Road Trip to the Biggest Little City
September 4, 2012
A milestone birthday in the family called for a road trip north to Reno. Anyone who's driven up U.S. 395 from southern California knows the parking lot shown above: Erick Schat's Bakkery in Bishop -- maybe the most decadent Dutch carb-fest in the Western states. Cookies, donuts, pastries, candies, biscotti, and more than a dozen different breads, with not a low-fat, gluten-free, soy milk ingredient in sight (I made up the gluten-free part; I think Schat's is hip to that particular digestive sensitivity, but it just read better to disclaim it). They also serve a righteous BBQ turkey sandwich.
A 1000-mile round-trip on mostly highway road, but with slopes, grades, elevation changes and frantic bursts of passing, would be a good test of the Impreza's fuel economy claims.
Schat's is about six hours from Orange County. Reno and Lake Tahoe are still another three hours north. Once you've made it this far, you should know if you're gonna like a car for the duration. The Impreza didn't surprise. It was as comfortable and competent as we've come to know it from long highway commutes. After six hours in the saddle, no complaints with the seats.
The CVT is this Impreza's single biggest weakness, although that's largely a personal complaint. Your tolerance may vary. Only once, while trying to pass a small train of slower traffic on a long uphill, did the CVT and Impreza's modest horsepower reach its limits. Foot to the floor, in the lowest simulated gear the CVT would allow and the engine shouting itself hoarse, I couldn't manage a full pass and had to tuck in behind the lead car as the lane ran out. I was THAT guy, and a little embarrassed.
But that was the car's biggest failing. For nearly the entire drive, the CVT worked well enough. Passing on flatter terrain develops more buzz from the engine bay than you'd like, but you shrug and remind yourself that it's a four-cylinder. The paddle shifters also allow for stealthy moments of engine braking, good for when approaching small towns and the speed limit drops from 65 mph to 25 mph in the space of a quarter-mile.
Nothing subtle about these speed traps, but the paddles help you slow up gradually and avoid the tell-tale nosedive braking that draws the attention of the highway patrolman and local sheriff parked behind a stand of cypress trees.
But the true test of the CVT's competence is how much fuel it saves us. The EPA rates our Impreza at 36 mpg highway and 30 mpg combined. Results in a future post.
Dan Frio, Automotive Editor