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Review by Steve Purdy
The Auto Channel
Michigan Bureau

The trusty little Subaru Impreza got a full makeover for the 2017 model year and we’re reviewing it here just as the 2018s are arriving at dealers. The ‘08 gets some platform changes as well as a few content and trim upgrades, but you’ll not find it much different than the 2017.

Impreza comes in sedan or hatchback, both with four trim levels. Setting Impreza apart from a plethora of other compacts sold in the U.S. is the standard all-wheel drive and a horizontally-opposed, “boxer,” engine. Both define the Subaru brand vehicles throughout its range. Impreza, by the way, is also the car upon which is based the awesomely fast, race-worthy WRX and WRX-STI. Subaru now markets those as a separate brand.

Impreza styling is mostly nondescript. You would probably be unable to identify it in a crowd. The typical-for-Subaru small trapezoidal grille with badge looks modern enough but will turn no heads. This year’s styling update resulted in some subtle but attractive body sculpting, but you’ll see no excesses in design. That’s not the point of this car, to be sure. Its reason for being is as a dependable, economical, modest sedan for those with a social conscience and hankering for that all-wheel drive. The brand’s social conscious is more often seen in their marketing and promotions with some sort of social or ecological message.

Our first slide into the driver’s seat triggered a little thrill when I realized we have the manual transmission. A five-speed manual is the starting point for the Impreza powertrain. A CVT is optional on the lower trim levels and standard on the top. Only one engine powers the Impreza, a tepid, 2.0-liter boxer that desperately needs a turbo. It makes just 152 horsepower and 145 pound-feet of torque. That’s good for just a 9.7-second 0-60 time. Even those attuned to the feel of a powertrain will barely be able to discern the unusual rhythm of the boxer engine. That was a big part of a Subaru’s charm, at least for me, in the early days. The EPA says we should expect about 31 mpg on the highway, 23 in the city and 26 mpg combined for this 3,100-pound car. Our experience this week was about 10% below that, but my driving style is, . . . how shall I put it . . . enthusiastic.

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For a compact sedan this Ohio-built Subaru Impreza felt roomy and comfortable. They claim it has the most interior volume in its class. As we filled the trunk for our road trip and readied ourselves in the cabin, it felt roomier than you would expect for a compact sedan. Of course, the 5-door hatchback will have even more cargo space. Ingress and egress caused this big guy no consternation, unlike even many larger cars. The cabin was nicely trimmed with red stitching and good quality materials throughout. Controls are attractive, simple and seldom confused us. Road noise crept into the cockpit more than most and we had to turn the radio up to hear the news over the hum of mottled pavement.

While steering, throttle response and the feel of the shifter are not nearly as intense and mechanical as earlier Subarus, they’re not bad. Driving dynamics are as good as any in its class. In bad weather, particularly snow, the handling will really stand out, probably best-in-class, as the most agile car on the block because of that full-time all-wheel drive.

While small sedan sales overall are waning in the market, this one continues to do well, maybe something to do with having that wonderful symmetrical all-wheel drive system for not much more money than cars of lesser competence. The Subaru brand also has a remarkably loyal following. The brand is particularly popular in snowy climates like New England and the Rocky Mountains. We sat at a rustic diner in a busy little town in northern Vermont some years ago and it seemed fully half the cars that passed were Subarus of one kind or another.

You can get an unadorned, bottom-of-the-line Impreza – but still with all-wheel drive – for just about $18,500. Our test car is the “Sport,” third-of-four trim levels, starting at just under $22,000. Content for the price represents, if not a bargain, certainly a good buy. With the optional power moonroof, premium audio, blind spot detection and rear cross-traffic alert our sticker’s bottom line shows $24,965. Throughout the trim levels, you’ll pay only about $500 extra for the 5-door hatchback.

Subaru’s warranty covers the whole car for 3 years or 36,000 miles and the powertrain for 5 years or 60,000 miles.

Our road time in the Impreza this week involved a four-hour drive each way to cover the massive Chicago Auto Show and hang with the grandkids, just as a heavy winter storm began to bear down on the city. Lake effect snow greeted us along the shore of Lake Michigan with glazed roads slowing most of the traffic. Not us. We breezed along, carefully but confidently, through white-knuckled traffic. Then the big snow came just as I left the auto show dumping about 10 inches.

Sure glad we had that Subaru this week.

© Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved

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