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Among our group of seven compact cars, one of them was clearly not like the others. That would be the Subaru Impreza, for a couple of reasons. Most obvious is the fact that it's a 5-door hatchback, whereas 4-door sedans comprised the rest of the group. But don't fret, sedan lovers; if what follows regarding the Subaru makes it sound like the car for you, know that it's also available as a sedan. (Conversely, its Ford Focus and Mazda3 rivals here are also available as 5-door hatchbacks.)

The other characteristic that makes the Subaru stand out is one well-known to fans of the brand: all-wheel drive (AWD). The Impreza was the only car in our group to come with this traction-enhancing trait, and it is the only mainstream compact car to include it as standard equipment. The only other competitor in this segment to even offer it is the aging Mitsubishi Lancer. This fact alone will make the Subie the de facto choice for small-car buyers who seek surefootedness on snowy roads, aspire to be the next great rally driver, or both.

Our test model was the Impreza 2.0i Sport Limited, the model range's top trim. As tested, it arrived with a $26,885 price tag, nearly $7,400 above a base Impreza hatchback and almost $7,900 beyond a base Impreza sedan. That price made it the most expensive by a few hundred dollars but brought much for the money, and given Subaru's top-shelf residuals the Impreza is predicted to hold its value very well. In addition to niceties like leather seating, automatic climate control, navigation and a power moonroof, our loaded Impreza also boasted Subaru's EyeSight Driver-Assist System. The camera-based EyeSight system includes adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning and pre-collision emergency braking - features you'd be hard-pressed to find elsewhere at this price level. The standard engine -- and the only one available -- is a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder. At 148 horsepower, the engine was hardly the strongest in our group, but with a rating of up to 37 mpg on the highway it was one of the thriftiest with fuel, especially commendable considering it was driving twice as many wheels.

2015 Subaru Impreza at a Glance

2015 Subaru Impreza Compact Car Graph

Our testers lauded the Impreza's overall interior appeal and versatility, especially its rear-seat room and cargo utility, which was especially apparent in this model thanks to its hatchback design and flat-folding rear seats. The Impreza's optional touch-screen navigation/infotainment system drew mixed reviews, but controls for audio and climate settings were easy to see and use. Others, such as switches for heating the front seats and the USB inputs, were awkward to reach.

On the road, our editors found the Impreza's overall manners middling. Its continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) did a good job mimicking a conventional automatic, but several testers were turned off by the Subie's raspy engine and cabin noise overall. And though the Impreza's suspension adeptly soaked up road imperfections, it was among the least spirited in hard cornering when the road turned twisty.

Here's how the 2015 Subaru Impreza stacks up against the others:

Subaru Impreza vs. Dodge Dart

From a pure driving perspective, these two felt closer than maybe expected, at least on dry roads where Subaru's all-wheel drive wasn't necessarily needed. Though the Dart's engine is more powerful, it needed some flogging on steep hills, similar to the Subaru. Its suspension was also compliant, but the Dodge's steering felt more numb in the corners. The Dart's interior, especially the rear seat, felt more cramped, but its fronts seats were better bolstered. The Dodge's well-respected Uconnect infotainment system is still among the best in the segment, but Subaru's new Starlink system makes its own strong case.

Subaru Impreza vs. Ford Focus

The Focus offered a better blend of sporty manners and compliant ride -- surprisingly so, in fact. Like the Dart, it also offered a plusher, well-bolstered driver's seat with power operation, a feature not even available in a top-line Impreza. On the other hand, the Focus' cargo versatility took a hit due to a rear seat with a high fold angle and a narrower trunk opening. This Ford test model also had a comically small LCD infotainment screen that looked the size of a first-gen iPhone. Still, it's hard to argue with the Focus' sub-$22,000 as-tested price.

Subaru Impreza vs. Honda Civic

Like the Impreza, Honda's venerable compact car now uses a CVT automatic transmission, but Honda's is better. It just feels more like a traditional automatic. The Honda's throttle response is also superior, without the tip-in issues that the Subaru has not completely rectified. For drivers petrified of changing lanes, Honda's LaneWatch camera system is a boon, whereas blind-spot monitoring is not available in this Subaru. Overall, the Honda is simply more refined in its driving manners and noise isolation. But Honda's touch-screen infotainment system takes a back seat to the Subaru's, and we were disappointed to find the Honda's visors didn't extend to keep the sun out of our eyes.

Subaru Impreza vs. Mazda Mazda3

As with the Jetta, the Mazda3 proved to be far more athletic compared to the Impreza. Beyond begging to be thrown into corners, the Mazda's suspension felt more compliant on the highway. The Mazda's engine is peppier, yet thanks to its SkyActiv magic it offers the best EPA highway fuel economy rating of up to 41 mpg. We also can't resist mentioning the Mazda's excellent looks, which are even more apparent when parked next to the more utilitarian Subaru. On the flip side, the Mazda's swept design interferes with rear sight lines compared to the Impreza.

Subaru Impreza vs. Toyota Corolla

The Subaru and Toyota match up well on the road. Each uses a CVT automatic, neither of which is the best in the segment. In power and drivability, both offer just adequate power and polite but unexciting manners. Where the Toyota excelled was in its rear-seat legroom; it's among the few compact sedans that can comfortably carry taller adults in back. The Toyota also bested the Subaru in fuel economy.

Subaru Impreza vs. Volkswagen Jetta

With its turbocharged 1.8-liter engine and German suspension work, the Volkswagen Jetta feels far more athletic than the Impreza. Whether you're tearing up a canyon or eating up the miles on a highway, the Jetta is more satisfying to drive. The Jetta was also quieter, and a big trunk adds practicality, too. But when it comes to infotainment, the Subaru takes the cake over the Jetta's small, low-resolution screen and dated functionality.

More Compact Cars

Build and price your own 2015 Subaru Impreza, read our full review or check out our Compact Car Buyer's Guide to see more options in the segment.

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