2017 Subaru Impreza First Review

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When introducing the new 2017 Subaru Impreza, Todd Hill, line manager for the new car, pointed out that the interior door handles are new.  This is not the kind of detail normally highlighted at new car introductions, but there was a larger point: The new Subaru Impreza features 95 percent new parts, so much so that even the interior door handles have been redesigned for the first time in 15 years.

That's a lot of change for a car that in its current form is a sales-doubling success for Subaru and rivals vehicles like the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Hyundai Elantra, Chevy Cruze and Ford Focus. These changes are necessary for Subaru to continue offering a competitive vehicle into the future, and the 2017 Impreza incorporates elements that we'll be seeing in future Subaru models for some time. For example, the architecture will be able to accommodate hybrid and EV versions, although Subaru was tight lipped about when and where those variants might appear. The 2017 Impreza is also the first time the Impreza will be built in the United States, at Subaru's Indiana assembly plant.

Longer, lower, wider

Beyond all that, the new Impreza is longer, lower and wider, but with a grille and headlight treatment still recognizable as Subaru. Thanks to new construction techniques and materials, the new car doesn't weigh much more than its predecessor despite being bigger. The new structure is roomier, stiffer for better handling, and safer to the point that Subaru anticipates it will ace not just present but future crash test standards. It's available in sedan and 5-door hatchback body styles, and Subaru anticipates the latter will make up about 60 percent of sales. It's also much quieter on the road. Under the hood is a 2.0-liter flat-4 engine that puts out marginally more horsepower than before, mated to a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) most of the time, although a 5-speed manual will be available on some models.

Out on the road, it was clear that the 2017 Subaru Impreza is better in every way compared to its predecessor. We started in a sedan version of the mid-level Impreza 2.0i Premium, a trim level Subaru predicts will make up the majority of sales. The new structure and attention to sound deadening pays off, as the Impreza is much quieter than before. The steering feels sharper and more responsive thanks to a revised and quicker ratio. On the highways around San Diego, the Impreza maintained a comfortable firmness that paid off with very good poise on the twisting roads of the Cleveland National Forest. The flat cornering is due in part to the way Subaru mounts the anti-roll bar to the chassis instead of the subframe, which helps improve stability in corners without making the ride too harsh. Later, we drove an Impreza Sport hatchback, with a more aggressive suspension and lower-profile tires. It definitely felt sharper, and the Sport's grip advantage over the Premium was obvious.

Also: Kelley Blue Book Best Buy Awards of 2017

More power, please

The sporty handling made us that much more frustrated with the engine. It's a heavily revised version of the previous car's 2.0-liter flat-4 engine. It now features direct injection and other upgrades, but the 152 horsepower has more than 3,000 pounds of Subaru to haul around. That puts the Subie in the bottom half in terms of weight-to-power in the compact sedan segment, and the subsequently leisurely acceleration requires advanced planning for things like passing on a two-lane road. On the plus side, fuel economy averages were in the low 30-mpg range during our test drive, and the CVT is much quieter and smoother in its operation, with paddle shifters doing a reasonable simulation of a traditional 7-speed automatic. Hopefully the manual transmission that's in the works will at least let drivers exploit the engine's power more effectively.

We have few complaints about the interior. 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, premium feeling soft-touch materials everywhere, and a high-end look and feel to the infotainment, climate control, and other switches. The new seats are also exceptionally comfortable, heated on higher-end models, and with a good portion of the additional wheelbase finally giving the Impreza decent rear-seat leg room for tall passengers. Subaru claims best-in-class interior space, and the new Impreza definitely has an airy feel to its cabin. The color information display between the main gauges provides plenty of thoughtful information to the driver, and on higher end models it's supplemented by another color display atop the dash above the infotainment screen.

Also: Class of 2017 -- New Cars Ready to Roll

Driver assists available

Above that, at the top of the windshield, is the third generation of Subaru's EyeSight driver assist system, available in all but the base model, adding adaptive cruise control, collision warning and prevention, lane keeping assist, and a host of other safety systems. EyeSight has definitely improved in terms of how smoothly it works, and we applaud its wide availability. However, it had some difficulty finding lane lines in the harsh glare of a setting sun, and its lane-keeping assist bounced between the left and right lane lines instead of steadily navigating between them. It's not as smooth an operator as the Civic's Honda Sensing system, but it's right there with many other cars in its class.

Prices don't change much, and with a base price of about $19,200 for the sedan and $19,700 for the 5-door hatchback for base Impreza 2.0i with a 5-speed manual transmission, the Impreza is the least-expensive all-wheel drive vehicle you can buy. Even a fully-loaded Limited hatchback maxes out at less than $30,000, and that gets you tons of cargo space, leather upholstery, built-in roof racks, EyeSight, automatic climate control, and a ton of other features, plus all the goodness of the new Impreza itself.

That includes the new door handles.


 

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