2017 Subaru Impreza First Drive: No longer the oddball
– La Jolla, California
It’s a good time to be Subaru. Here in the U.S., the automaker just posted its 60th consecutive month of sales increases – this once-niche car company is indeed carving out a mainstream stake. That only stands to get better in the coming months, with the imminent launch of a three-row crossover, not to mention this fifth-generation 2017 Impreza. With a totally new platform underneath and some key improvements everywhere else, the redesigned Impreza puts Subaru right near the top of the compact car class.
Nearly everything has been changed. The 2017 Impreza is the first car to ride on Subaru’s new global platform architecture that will underpin almost every new model moving forward. This brand-new structure makes the Impreza stiffer and safer than before, and lends a hand in making this a car that’s quite good to drive.
Despite its new platform, the Impreza doesn’t grow much in this new generation. Both the four-door sedan and five-door hatchback are only an inch or two longer, wider, and taller, and the 2017 models only gain about as much weight as I do during the holidays, depending on model and trim.
The chassis tuning is superb – comfortable enough to filter out small imperfections and provide a smooth ride quality on the highway, but stiff enough to kill body roll while cornering.
It’s certainly not the beauty queen of its class – what Subaru is? – but this Impreza exudes a bit more personality and verve than its predecessor. The body sides get prominent character lines, and the front and rear fascias appear smoothed out and more stylized. It’s not quite as frumpy as last year’s model, and looks really good all dolled up in Sport trim with the large 18-inch wheels seen here. That said, lesser models don’t look quite as nice – Corolla-chic, if you will – but still evoke a little more emotion than a drab ol’ Nissan Sentra.
Where the Impreza really excels is from behind the wheel. The 2.0-liter boxer engine is a familiar powerplant, 152 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of torque – it’s a little pokey off the line, but once you’re up and moving, the way this car handles is its own reward (more on that in a moment). The continuously variable transmission tested here is average at best, though under aggressive driving, Subaru says the CVT reverts to a seven-speed “stepped” logic, giving the feel of a conventional automatic transmission – honestly, I didn’t really notice. For folks who want to row their own, the base and Sport models can be equipped with a manual transmission (a blast-from-the-past five-speed gearbox, at that), though that’s not immediately available at launch.
Overall, the car feels incredibly solid from behind the wheel, more so than many other compact cars. The chassis tuning is superb – comfortable enough to filter out small imperfections and provide a smooth ride quality on the highway, but stiff enough to kill body roll while cornering. All Imprezas come standard with Symmetrical all-wheel drive, but Sport models get active torque vectoring, which modulates torque delivery between each wheel, and combined with 225/40-series tires, the Impreza hugs corners with confidence, delivering a lot of feedback to the driver.
The five-door can haul as much as 55.3 cubic feet of stuff with the second row folded, making it more capacious than the Ford Focus, Honda Civic, and Mazda3 hatches.
A hugely important aspect of the Impreza’s dynamics is its improved steering. The re-tuned rack uses a 13.0:1 steering ratio (for reference, the brand’s far sportier BRZ coupe’s is 13.1), and while there’s a bit of a dead zone on-center, steering weight builds progressively, with a nice amount of feedback. Combined with the grippy, solid road manners, this makes the Impreza an incredibly fun, rewarding vehicle to drive – quick to respond, and a joy in the corners. Honestly, it reminds me of the Mazda3, or the Civic Hatchback I recently tested.
Naturally, not all buyers will opt for the Sport model, but a stint behind the wheel of a mainstream 2.0i Premium model reveals it’s a worthy steed, too. There’s a bit less grip, but that all comes down to a smaller wheel-and-tire package – 16-inch alloys with 205/55-series tires. The ride quality is just as smooth and composed, with the same light, direct steering. The Impreza just has great bones, period. That’s not only great for this car, but bodes well for the handling characteristics of future models, especially the all-important, next-generation WRX...
The Impreza comes in four trim levels – 2.0i, Premium, Sport, and Limited – all of which are available as sedans or hatchbacks. (Interestingly, Subaru says the hatch accounts for 65 percent of current Impreza sales.) Both models are really spacious, with a low beltline and great visibility from all angles. Plus, the five-door can haul as much as 55.3 cubic feet of stuff with the second row folded, making it more capacious than the Ford Focus, Honda Civic, and Mazda3 hatches.
The 2017 Impreza is improved in a number of big ways, and the overall package just feels more substantial than before, not to mention much better to drive.
Interior materials are strictly average, as far as compact cars go. Even the higher-end Sport and Limited models don’t feel particularly luxurious, though they’re equipped with the same comfort and convenience features as the competition. The upgraded Starlink infotainment system uses an eight-inch touchscreen on higher-end models, and it looks modern and elegant, nicely integrated into a center stack that’s free of buttons and clutter. The infotainment interface generally works well, with bright colors and easy-to-read displays. Of course, there’s also Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connectivity, if you’re into that sort of thing.
Pricing remains competitive, with the base 2.0i starting at $18,395 for the sedan and $18,895 for the hatch. Subaru’s excellent EyeSight safety suite, with automatic braking, lane-keep assist, and more, is available on all models but the base 2.0i, bundled with a moonroof and premium audio. A pretty-loaded Sport model like the one seen here will set you back $27,060 all-in, though the volume model of the range will be the Premium, which – nicely equipped – runs between $21,000 and $25,000.
This is really a case where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The 2017 Impreza is improved in a number of big ways, and the overall package just feels more substantial than before, not to mention much better to drive. It’s a great formula – a nice compact car, with lots of Subaru spunk. Plus, its new architecture provides a solid footing for vehicles to come.
Photos: Michael Shaffer / Subaru