The trick in buying a car is choosing one that feels as though it’s worth $5,000 more than its purchase price.
Rarely does it happen. The possibility becomes especially unlikely when fuel-efficiency is a purchase priority. Candidates for this Eco Drive series typically are built for low base prices, then heavily optioned to render them more profitable for the manufacturers.
A Fiat 500 had me completely smitten with its character and style – but on reflection, its $24,425 price seemed $5,000 over what it should have been. Fiat sales would not be falling so far short of Chrysler’s projections, to be sure, if the $15,995 base price included all of the bangles that so inflated our car’s bottom line.
Which brings us to the 2012 Subaru Impreza. Base price for the hatchback version, $20,895; $24,795 for the first Impreza we sampled with the Sport Package; and $28,095 for the second week’s kitted out as the Limited with automatic transmission.
Like all the manufacturers, Subuaru plays the game of providing press cars equipped far beyond a base model.
Still and all, at some point in the first week, the strangest thought came to mind: this car is unbelievable value for less than $25,000. In fact, it would be reasonably priced at $30,000.
The Impreza Sport rode so smoothly, held the road so securely, cornered with such ease and included impressive safety features, that it’s competitive with the most directly comparable vehicle in the marketplace, the $34,100 Audi A3.
Not every driver will agree. The interior Subaru describes as upgraded with “richer materials” isn’t all that rich. Some will find the car underpowered; to attain the best fuel efficiency ratings of any gasoline-powered all-wheel-drive vehicle sold in North American, Subaru reduced the engine’s size from that of the previous Impreza and as a consequence acceleration falls short of even the likes of Ford Focus or Hyundai Elantra.
And what of the fuel efficiency? We averaged 9.8 litres/100 km with the manual transmission, and 11.0 with the automatic in our suburban driving. That’s impressive in our testing experience, comparable to such front-drive cars as Chevrolet Cruze or Volkswagen Golf. And unlike pricier cars, Impreza uses regular gasoline, not premium.
Colleague Bob English suspects I’m off my meds with my flaming enthusiasm. He found his test Impreza to be noisy at highway speeds as well as slower than its 2011 counterpart, and in fact was unusually crabby as we compared notes.
Thing is, his test car was equipped with a manual transmission – and I don’t like the manual either with its significantly higher rpm at cruising speeds and long throws between gears. It’s with the automatic ($1,300) that the Impreza steps up in class, as highway speeds become hushed and throttle response more satisfying, as a direct result of the continuously variable transmission.
The all-wheel-drive system that distinguishes Subaru from competitors also functions more effectively with the automatic, varying the power delivered to the road between the front and rear wheels between 60 and 40 per cent. The split is 50-50 with the manual.
Is all-wheel-drive significantly safer than front drive? Yes, because skids are less likely to occur in cornering or even on straight sections with uneven traction from side to side. What’s more, pulling away from a stop is accomplished without the wheel spin on slippery surfaces commonly experienced in front- or rear-drive vehicles.
The Impreza feels more slotted into the road than most AWD SUVs or crossovers because of its low centre of gravity. As Subaru never tires of reminding us in its advertising, that is credit to its low-mounted flat engine with the pistons moving side to side rather than up and down
The electrically powered steering requires little effort yet affords good feel. Completing the positive driving experience, the ride is unexpectedly soft, cushioning Toronto craters while anti-roll bars front and rear inhibit lean in sudden changes of direction.
Seating is handy if not particularly handsome. The rear backs fold nearly flat without having to fold the bottoms forward, creating 1,485 litres of cargo space. The seats themselves are firmly comfortable and room is adequate for four adults; the increased wheelbase affords more rear legroom than in earlier Imprezas.
The driver’s seat is height-adjustable and the steering wheel tilt-adjustable and telescoping. Large side windows are to my taste, and I like the absence of blind spots through the full 360 degrees of vision.
The Impreza Limited provides leather, black or ivory, in place of cloth that’s only available in dark grey. Dual-zone air-conditioning and a Pioneer stereo with touch-screen controls are the top-of-the-line model’s other major upgrades over the Sport model. Loved the Pioneer sound, preferred the simpler controls of the Sport’s audio and climate control.
Returning to value, the $20,895 base Impreza (or $19,995 as a four-door sedan) is well-equipped with air-conditioning, four-wheel-disc brakes, whiplash-reducing front-seat head rests and four-speaker stereo. For heated seats, iPod integration and Bluetooth, windshield wiper de-icer and 16-inch alloy wheels, it’s necessary to move up to the Touring package, $22,595.
Whatever the trim level, with the exception of the Limited model, the Impreza feels to this driver $5,000 underpriced. Honestly. Competing manufacturers should take note.
2012 Subaru Impreza
Type: Four-door hatchback
Base price: $20,895; as tested, with Sport package, manual transmission, $24,795; Limited, automatic transmission, $28,095 (Delivery fee/prep, $1,695)
Engine: 2.0-litre, horizontal four-cylinder
Horsepower/torque: 148 hp/145 lb-ft
Transmission: Five-speed manual/continuously variable automatic
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 7.5 city/5.5 highway (automatic); 8.3 city/5.9 highway (manual). In our suburban driving, 9.8 manual, 11.0 automatic; regular gasoline
Alternatives: Audi A3, Toyota Matrix, Honda CR-V, Mercedes-Benz B200, Kia Rondo
Globe rating for the 2012 Subaru ImprezaOur ratings guide
You feel connected to the road in every sense except for bumps, which are magically erased by the cushy suspension.
Trend follower rather than trend setter. Neat new grille, though, is distinctive and should appear on other Subarus.
Functional for four adults, rear seat flips nearly flat to open up and gives spaces for 1,485 litres of Ikea madness. Useful hooks for shopping bags.
All-wheel-drive is as effective in far more expensive sedans plus Impreza boasts stability control and top marks in crash ratings.
Impreza boasts the best ratings among AWD vehicles, but its new engine needs to be made thriftier still. At least it runs on regular.
(out of 10 / Not an average)
The numerical ratings are assigned by The Globe and Mail’s car reviewers on a scale out of ten. Each car is assigned a separate rating in five key categories - plus an overall satisfaction rating that is calculated separately, and is not an average of the five category ratings.
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