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PowerSteering: 2017 Subaru Impreza Review

PowerSteering: 2017 Subaru Impreza Review

By Christian Wardlaw, July 05, 2017

Introduction
With the arrival of the redesigned 2017 Impreza, Subaru takes a big step into its future. The Impreza employs the company’s new vehicle architecture, one that is significantly better at dispersing energy from a collision and that has been engineered for gasoline, hybrid, and electric drivetrains.

This new architecture will be used for the 2018 Crosstrek and the next-generation WRX. Subaru will also stretch it this way and that in order to accommodate upcoming redesigns of the Forester and Outback crossovers, and the Legacy sedan. Subaru also plans to employ it for an upcoming 7-seat SUV called the Ascent.

2017 Subaru Impreza front quarter right photoFurthermore, Subaru has moved Impreza production from Japan to its Lafayette, Indiana assembly plant. This factory, which already builds the Legacy and Outback, is expanding in preparation of the Ascent’s launch, putting thousands of people in America’s Rust Belt to work.

To state that the 2017 Impreza is an important car for Subaru is an understatement. For this review, we evaluated a 2017 Impreza Sport with a continuously variable transmission (CVT). The price came to $23,615, including the $820 destination charge.



What Owners Say
Before we discuss the results of our evaluation of the new 2017 Impreza, it’s helpful to understand who buys this car and what they like most and least about it.

Women buy the Subaru Impreza more often than they do compact cars in general. According to J.D. Power research data, 52% of Impreza owners are women, compared with 41% of compact car owners. In terms of age, the median for Impreza buyers is 49 years compared with 48 years for the Compact Car segment. Impreza buyers are slightly more affluent, enjoying a median annual household income of $75,789 compared with $72,685 for the segment.

Impreza buyers are less likely to agree that they prefer to buy a vehicle from a domestic company (33% compared with 49% for the segment). Perhaps the Impreza’s production shift to Indiana for the 2017 model year will change sentiments in this regard.

Impreza buyers are also less likely to agree that their friends and family think of them as someone who knows a great deal about autos (44% vs. 56%), and they are less likely to be concerned about driving a vehicle that stands out from the crowd (53% vs. 67%). Impreza buyers are also less likely to agree that they like a vehicle offering responsive handling and powerful acceleration (82% vs. 87%).

The 2017 Impreza 2.0i is a Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle (PZEV), which aligns with the sentiment among buyers that they are more often willing to pay extra for a vehicle that is environmentally friendly (63% vs. 57%). In all other respects, Impreza buyer psychographic sentiments align with those of compact car owners in general.

Impreza buyers say their favorite things about their car are (in descending order) the visibility and safety, exterior styling, driving dynamics, interior design, and engine/transmission. Buyers indicate their least favorite things about the Impreza are (in descending order) the fuel economy, storage and space, seats, climate control system, and infotainment system.


What Our Expert Says
In the sections that follow, our expert provides his own assessment of how the 2017 Subaru Impreza performs in each of the 10 categories that comprise the J.D. Power 2016 U.S. Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study.SM

Exterior
There’s just enough Subaru weirdness here that the new 2017 Impreza retains a unique appearance, which should satisfy owners of the previous-generation car, who like the styling. From my perspective, the Sport trim looks the most “normal” of Imprezas, its large aluminum wheels providing a visual balance that is lacking for other versions of the car.

Interior
Neither upscale nor modern in appearance, the Impreza’s interior is best described as functional, both in terms of its design and its materials.

The Sport trim level’s carbon-pattern trim and red-stitched accents do add a splash of visual excitement. The red gauges, however, are a terrible choice. You can barely read them. Plus, they’re odd because the rest of the cabin uses white markings on black backgrounds. Mainly, I depended upon the driver information system’s available digital speed display to tell me how fast I was going.

Seats
With this redesign, the Impreza’s interior grows a bit in terms of size, and it is now large enough that a family of four will find it quite comfortable in terms of overall space.

Up front, the wide and flat seats are comfortable enough, but they lack bolstering. Also, even with the seat raised to a higher position, I found the seating hip point to be unexpectedly low. Articulating front head restraints are a nice touch, and Subaru supplies densely padded armrests on the door panels and center console.

Rear passengers will enjoy a roomy seat with good foot room and plenty of legroom. The front seatbacks are also padded and wrapped in fabric, making them extra kind to knees.

Speaking of fabric, the material for the Sport’s seating looks good and feels durable, sentiments that can, for the most part, be applied to all of the Impreza’s interior materials.

Climate Control System
The test car’s climate system was basic, featuring manual controls without automatic operation. In some respects, this simplicity is refreshing. Rear-seat occupants do not benefit from air conditioning vents, though, an oversight in a car redesigned for 2017.

Infotainment System
Equipped with the latest version of Subaru’s Starlink technology, the Impreza leads the way forward in terms of the company’s infotainment systems.

Two versions of the system are available: the base and Premium trim levels use a 6.5-in. display screen while the Sport and Limited upgrade to an 8-in. display. Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Pandora are now integrated with both systems, while those with the larger screen are wired for Near Field Communication connectivity, voice-recognition technology, text-messaging support, and several applications including a Magellan navigation app. On the Limited, an embedded navigation system is an option.

In terms of user-friendliness, the Sport trim test car included a “Home” button and primary menu choice buttons nestled between the power/volume and tuning knobs. Pairing an iPhone to the Bluetooth connection was simple, and I could use the voice-recognition technology to make phone calls without a problem. This car does lack rear USB charging ports, though, an oversight in a vehicle redesigned for 2017.

You’re also going to want to upgrade to the optional Harman Kardon premium sound system, because the Impreza’s standard speakers are not at all up to the task of reproducing bass.

Storage and Space
Storage space inside the new Impreza is adequate. Subaru continues to use a hand brake in this car, which I prefer, and it is designed in such a way as to limit the amount of space it requires. Still, the center console storage bin is small rather than large.

Additional storage areas include a rubber-lined tray forward of the shifter, large glove box, and sizable bins in both the door armrests and the lower panels. The missed opportunity is the lack of a tray atop the infotainment system. People will still use the existing shelf as a place to put things, but without a lip on the leading edge things can slide off.

Strangely, considering that this small all-wheel-drive (AWD) car is otherwise perfect for ski trips, it does not have a 40/20/40 split-folding rear seat, which would be ideal for carrying skis. Instead, you get a 60/40 split-folding seat.

Though the trunk measures just 12.3 cu. ft., it seems larger and more practical than that number might suggest. Still, if you’re seeking maximum versatility, get the Impreza 5-door hatchback model.

Visibility and Safety
Thin windshield pillars and front quarter windows contribute to excellent forward visibility from the Impreza’s driver seat. Large side mirrors make it easy to position them in order to see to the sides; the test car did not have the optional blind-spot monitoring, lane-change assist, or rear cross-traffic alert features, but I didn’t miss them much.

Subaru’s EyeSight system is optional for all but the base model, for which it is unavailable. EyeSight adds adaptive cruise control, forward-collision warning with automatic emergency braking, and a lane-departure warning system with lane-keeping assist. Features that are exclusive to the Limited trim level include automatic high-beam assist and reverse automatic braking.

In crash testing performed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the new Subaru Impreza earns the highest-possible scores across the board, which is reflective of the car’s robust new architecture. With a single exception in which it gets 4 stars rather than 5 stars, it earns the highest ratings for occupant protection.

Given this car’s performance in crash testing, it’s a real shame that Subaru doesn’t offer any Teen Safe driving technologies for the Impreza. Starlink’s Safety & Security subscription package is limited to automatic collision notification, SOS emergency assistance, and a handful of other services unrelated to remotely monitoring young drivers.

Engine/Transmission
Every 2017 Impreza is equipped with a horizontally opposed, 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine, also known as a “boxer-four” or a “flat-four.” It makes 152 horsepower, fed to all four wheels through a 5-speed manual gearbox or a CVT. The engine’s characteristic grumble remains evident, something I’ve always enjoyed about flat-fours, and lends the Impreza plenty of personality.

Given that this car weighs over 3,000 lbs., the engine is not generating a surplus of power. But the CVT does a good job of making the car feel lively around town, and mimics the sound and feel of a traditional automatic thanks to ratios that are programmed into it.

The Impreza can effortlessly maintain freeway speeds up mountain grades, and on the twisty road portion of the test loop the paddle shifters actually came in handy to hold revs higher and to better engage the driver.

Fuel Economy
Regardless of the model, most buyers rank fuel economy as the least favorite thing about their vehicle, but Impreza owners are different. That could change during the next APEAL Study, if my experience is any indication.

The majority of the time, test cars exceed the EPA’s fuel-economy estimate in combined driving on my test loop, simply because so much of it is highway driving at speeds between 50 and 80 mph. The Impreza didn’t come close, averaging just 27.8 mpg—a full 2.2 mpg short of the EPA’s 30-mpg estimate.

Driving Dynamics
Previous experience driving both the Impreza Sport and Impreza Limited has taught me that the two cars exhibit different driving characteristics, and that I much prefer the Sport model because it is the more engaging of the two.

A sport-tuned suspension, 18-in. wheels wrapped in 225/40 Yokohama Avid tires, and active torque vectoring are exclusive to the Impreza Sport, and make this version of the car fun to drive. Think WRX, but without all of that model’s turbocharged power. Comparatively speaking, other versions of the Impreza feel softer, flabbier, and are generally boring to pilot.

Unfortunately, on testing day, I was unable to test the mettle of the brakes due to traffic on the test loop, but the brake pedal feels good underfoot and is easy to modulate right up to the edge of anti-lock braking system engagement. Later, with my family aboard, the Impreza came to a rapid and uneventful stop on the freeway when traffic went from 70 mph to a crawl, a commonality in metro L.A.

If I have a complaint with the driving dynamics it is with regard to the steering. On-center feel is confidence-inspiring and feels completely natural. Off-center, the steering is quick but neither sharp nor accurate, and in constant-radius corners it can feel a bit loose and disconnected. When the car is driven with enthusiasm these traits make it harder for the driver to feed minor corrections depending on tire scrub, active torque vectoring, and other factors.

This isn’t a significant issue, and won’t impact typical owners in most situations, but it does spoil what could otherwise be—aside from the car’s rather slow acceleration—a thoroughly enjoyable driving experience.


Final Impressions
Though it is not flawless, the redesigned 2017 Impreza is impressive. First, it is large enough to legitimately serve a family of four. Second, it still comes with standard AWD and in two appealing body styles. Third, it is an incredibly safe vehicle. Fourth, in Sport trim, it looks great and drives better.

With greater attention to some obvious details (rear air vents, rear USB charging ports, Teen Safe driving systems, white gauge markings), there is a good chance that the only meaningful complaint to be directed at this car would be related to its fuel economy.

Subaru of America supplied the vehicle used for this 2017 Subaru Impreza review.

For more information about our test driver and our methodology, please see our reviewer profile.


Additional Research:


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