Wednesday, November 13, 2019

The Pacific Northwest Answer Machine

Living in the Northwest, with our more than ample amount of annual rainfall and occasional winter snow storms, all-wheel drive (AWD) vehicles always made sense to me. Crossover SUVs of all sizes have flooded our streets and highways, and most of them in these parts are equipped with AWD.  But what if you want four-wheel traction when needed that won’t deplete your bank account, but you don’t want what everyone else is driving?

The Impreza in its natural habitat–the rain

Subaru has the answer–the compact 2018 Impreza. It’s offered in either a four-door sedan or five-door hatchback with all-wheel drive standard. The really good part is the price for the 2018 Subaru Impreza base 2.0i sedan starts at $19,215 (including $720 destination charge), with hatchbacks priced $500 higher; a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) adds $1,000. That’s a number that undercuts front-drive entry-level models of the Honda Civic, the Mazda3 and the Toyota Corolla.  It’s like getting all-wheel drive for free.

Subaru has simplified the Impreza lineup. Beyond the base model is the Premium trim with a starting price of $22,015, which includes the CVT as standard. This is followed by the 2.0i Sport Sedan that has a sticker price of $22,815. At the top of the food chain sits the Limited Sedan, which starts at $25,415.

A Boxer Under the Hood

For years, the automaker’s horizontally opposed “boxer” engines offered up only so-so fuel economy, but sold quite well because of standard AWD. Today, fuel mileage is no longer an embarrassment. Equipped with a CVT, the 2018 Impreza has an EPA rating of 28 mpg city/38 highway/32-combined. That places the car high into Smarticd’s AWD 30 MPG Club. Even the base model with a manual shifter, which drops to 31 mpg highway, is a member.

If you checked out an Impreza in the past and disregarded it because of so-so styling, a cheap interior and less than average fuel economy, you are in for a surprise. Now in its sophomore year, the Impreza was the debut vehicle last year for Subaru’s Global Platform, a vehicle architecture that will be used for all future models. The 2018 Subaru is longer, wider and slightly lower than its predecessor , it’s blessed with an interior that is far more stylish than any Impreza I’ve ever driven.


Styling isn’t a major departure from the 2016 model, but its shape is more fluid, with some added accent lines and what Subaru calls a more “sculptural” design for the body. The nose is lower and features Subaru’s latest version of its hexagonal grille. Headlights are slightly oversized and are more sweptback.

Something new for Subaru–style

An accent line along each side of the body rises over the wheel wells and dips slightly along the doors in between. The window line also sweeps up slightly at the rear, and the overall effect makes the latest Impreza slightly sleeker, less upright and chunky, than its straightforward predecessor.

Inside, the Impreza’s interior is more expressive that the last version’s resolutely plain and straighforward dash, console and materials. The logically laid out instrument panel is far and away the nicest ever fitted to the Impreza, with stitched-look trim on the dash and doors and premium feeling soft-touch materials everywhere. Large, easy-to-read speedometer and tachometer gauges sit front and center, and the driver information display nestled between the gauges displays the speed in large, white digital numerals. Thanks Impreza designers for the audio system’s volume and tuning knobs.

The new seats are exceptionally comfortable and are heated on higher-end models. Remarkably roomy rear seats are easy to get into and out of. Once inside, there’s lots of legroom, foot space and headroom. Buyers with wee ones will appreciate the large and well-marked LATCH tether points that make it easy to securely mount child seats. The sedan’s trunk lid opening is four inches wider than the previous generation, providing easier access to the 12.3 cubic feet of cargo space.


Subaru’s latest touchscreen infotainment system, with either a six- or eight-inch display screen, depending on trim level, thankfully comes standard with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. While the system isn’t at the top of infotainment technology, the 2018 Impreza’s is the best I’ve seen from the automaker.

Apple CarPlay & Android Auto land in Subaru

A delight is Subaru’s EyeSight safety system, which is optional on all trim levels. It features an arm’s length list of advanced safety and driver assistance features including adaptive cruise control, precollision braking, lane departure warning, blind-spot monitoring and automatic high-beams. It now includes reverse automatic braking, as well.

Driving the 2018 Subaru Impreza Sedan

Our test driver was a 2.0i Sport model with a Crystal Black paint job, a color that made the Impreza stand out in a crowd. It included the $800 optional CVT, and a $2,945 package that bundled the EyeSight safety system, a moonroof and a Harmon-Kardon audio system. The sticker price was $26,560 including destination charges. Of course, AWD was standard.

After adjusting the seat and steering wheel, but before cranking the engine, the first thing I noticed from the driver’s seat was how easy it was to see out of the 2018 Impreza thanks to small pillars. The cabin felt airy and larger than a typical compact car.

A boxer under the hood

Under the hood was an extensively updated version of Subaru’s familiar 2.0-liter boxer four-cylinder engine that powered the previous Impreza. Eighty percent of the parts are new, including a direct-injection system that allows the engine to operate more efficiently and cleanly. The new powerplant produces 152 horsepower, just four horsepower more than the outgoing engine, and torque is unchanged at 145 pounds-feet.

Husband, and Smarticd editor-at-large, Larry, thinks the new four is underpowered—a not uncommon comment from him. But my take was this engine was able to handle most anything that I threw at it. I suppose it would have struggled to overtake a car uphill, but that was a situation I didn’t encounter. In everyday driving on city streets and the freeway, the Imperza was never frustratingly slow.


Like many drivers, I am not a big fan of CVTs, but this one did not feel like it had a slipping manual transmission clutch, and the engine revs didn’t sound like they were outpacing the speed.  It did indeed mimic a standard automatic transmission.

As the name implies, the Sport trim level caters to those who want a car that is fun to drive, not one that is just competent in traveling from A to B. To that end, they gave the car a sport-tuned suspension and a torque vectoring system that gently brakes the inboard front wheel as it’s steered into a corner, helping the car to turn in more sharply. Driving on our favorite twisty, curvy back roads, the Impreza easily swept around off-camber curves with steering that responded quickly, tracked well and gave me confidence on the mostly empty road. Braking performance was a strong point, with solid pedal feel and plenty of reserve power in normal driving situations.

With the exception of driving at high freeway speeds, wind noise was never an issue, and surprisingly, the blower noise from the climate control system has been reduced by a least 50 percent. As for the ride, the suspension did a commendable job of easing over rough pavement and a few pot holes.

More luxury in the interior

During our week with the Impreza Sport, we clocked 288 miles, which is pretty much our average miles traveled. The miles per-gallon readout showed 33.9 mpg, a number slightly higher than the EPA’s estimate.

Bottom Line

In the past, the Subaru Impreza wasn’t high on my list of cars that I liked to drive. It was a noisy ride, felt cramped inside and the interior was something to avoid. The 2018 version has changed my opinion. It’s a car I would like to see in our garage. That said, I would most likely join the 60 percent of buyers that choose the five-door hatchback rather than the sedan.

There’s a load of compact car offerings to choose from, but none offer all-wheel drive at any price. For that reason, I would put it at the top of my car shopping list.

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Smarticd is loaned free test vehicles from automakers to evaluate, typically for a week at a time. Our road tests are based on this one-week drive of a new vehicle. Because of this we don’t address issues such as long-term reliability or total cost of ownership. In addition we are often invited to manufacturer events highlighting new vehicles or technology. As part of these events we may be offered free transportation, lodging or meals. We do our best to present our unvarnished evaluations of vehicles and news irrespective of these inducements.

Our focus is on vehicles that offer the best fuel economy in their class, which leads us to emphasize electric cars, plug-in hybrids, hybrids and diesels. We also feature those efficient gas-powered vehicles that are among the top mpg vehicles in their class. In addition, we aim to offer reviews and news on advanced technology and the alternative fuel vehicle market. We welcome any feedback from vehicle owners and are dedicated to providing a forum for alternative viewpoints. Please let us know your views at [email protected].

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