It's easy to overlook the Subaru Impreza. It competes in a small car segment that includes big-time players from Toyota, Honda, Ford, Chevrolet and plenty of others. It's tough to get noticed when everyone else is shouting too.
But, despite the challenges, the Impreza's profile has been steadily rising. It's the only car in its segment that comes with standard all-wheel drive; its unique flat-four engines give it a mechanical character and flair that's missing from many of the alternatives; the pricing is competitive and Subaru itself has earned increasing prominence. Subaru may not be the first brand that comes to mind in much of the country, but in many of the colder and snowier parts there are many buyers who would never settle for anything else.
The current generation Impreza was introduced for 2017 and the name goes back to the first generation that appeared in 1993. But the Impreza's heritage really predates the name with a direct lineage stretching to the first front-wheel-drive Subaru, the 1000, that was introduced to Japan in 1966.
The Impreza is also the basis for the WRX line of higher performance, turbocharged machines. But Subaru now markets the WRX as its own separate series without referencing the Impreza. The Impreza doesn't try to be a subcompact for everyone. But for the right buyer, nothing else will be a reasonable substitute.
Current Subaru Impreza
There are eight versions of the current, fifth-generation Impreza that was redesigned for the 2017 model year. That's four trim levels of the sedan and four equivalent five-door wagons. All eight are powered by Subaru's 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. Rated at 152 horsepower, the Subaru 2.0-liter is competitive with base powerplants in competitive vehicles, but there is no upgrade option available without moving into the performance-oriented WRX model.
Base models of the Impreza are available with a manual transmission, but it only has five forward gears while most of the competition has moved on to at least six. A continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) is optional on the base vehicles and standard with all the other trims.
Both the sedan and wagon are available in base, Premium, Sport and Limited trim. Even the base models include the Starlink multimedia system, which facilitates cellphone integration with the car's entertainment components, and a rearview camera. The EyeSight package of driver assist technologies and a power sunroof are offered on the three higher trim levels as an option. All wagons are equipped with standard roof rails for cargo carrying. Base models run standard 16-inch steel wheels, the Premium gets alloy 16s, the Limited models get 17-inch alloy wheels, and the Sport versions are on 18s.
Heated front seats are offered on all but the base cars, but only the Limited gets leather seating surfaces. Instrumentation ranges from the base cars' minimalism through color multifunction displays at the top of the line. A remote starting system is also available on higher-end models, which can be beneficial for owners who operate their Imprezas in extremely cold environments. The Limited models also feature LED headlamps that track with steering inputs.
While previous generation Imprezas can be described as dowdy, the latest one is sleek with styling that swoops with elegant flourishes. The 105.1-inch wheelbase on all models helps with rear legroom, while the 182.1-inch overall length of the sedan is an inch longer than the fourth-generation car.
With the unique voice of its boxer engine, engaging steering and supple chassis, any Impreza is a fun car to drive. But it's when the going gets tough — the roads are slushy or muddy or otherwise slippery — that the Impreza shines most brightly. Yes, Subaru's Symmetrical all-wheel-drive system is that good.
Used Subaru Impreza Models
Fourth-generation Imprezas make attractive used cars for buyers who need their all-wheel-drive ability and security. As with the current Impreza, the Impreza built from 2012 to 2016 came as either four-door sedans or five-door wagons. Trim levels for both include the 2.0i, 2.0i Premium and 2.0i Limited, while the hatchback can also be had in 2.0i Sport Premium and 2.0i Sport Limited trims.
These Imprezas are powered by a 2.0-liter horizontally opposed four-cylinder engine rated at 148 horsepower. A five-speed manual transmission was standard and a CVT was optional. Either way, all-wheel drive came standard. With the CVT, the 0-60 mph dash took 9.6 seconds, a bit slow compared to some speedier rivals, though they didn't have the Subie's all-wheel drive.
Standard features included full power accessories, air-conditioning, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, Bluetooth phone/audio, and a four-speaker audio system with a CD player, iPod connectivity and auxiliary audio input. The Premium added alloy wheels, cruise control and upgraded audio. Stepping up to the 2.0i Limited added automatic headlights, automatic climate control, heated seats and leather upholstery. The Sport versions further added bigger (17-inch) wheels, roof rails and available two-tone paint. Option highlights included a sunroof and a navigation system with a rearview camera.
In reviews, the Impreza 2.0i proved to be a well-rounded small car, with a compliant ride, composed handling, well-weighted steering and confident brakes. Though the acceleration wasn't exactly zippy, the improved fuel economy was certainly welcome, as was the advantage of all-wheel drive for snowbelt dwellers.
The previous, third-generation Subaru Impreza was mostly offered from 2008 through 2011. This Impreza was also offered as a sedan and hatchback in a blizzard of trim levels including WRX and Outback Sport variations. The 2.5i and Outback Sport models had a horizontally opposed 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine with 170 hp matched to either a five-speed manual or a four-speed automatic. All-wheel drive was standard across the line, and the Outback Sport had a raised suspension for better ground clearance.
The Subaru Impreza made a rather meek American debut in 1993. The first-generation model was available as a sedan or wagon and came equipped with a 1.8-liter flat-four good for just 110 hp. All-wheel drive was optional, not standard. There were three trim levels: base, L and LS. The LS (later renamed LX) came with more equipment, including a standard four-speed automatic transmission and antilock brakes.