Test Drive: 2017 Subaru Impreza
Completely redesigned, the 2017 Subaru Impreza is based on the company’s new Subaru Global Platform, which will underpin all future Subaru models and is engineered to support gasoline, gas-electric hybrid, and electric powertrains while meeting crash-protection standards well into the next decade.
Now built at Subaru’s Indiana factory, the 2017 Impreza also introduces the automaker’s latest design themes. It is available as a sedan and a hatchback and in base, Premium, Sport, and Limited trim levels. Upcoming variants, which are treated as separate model lines, include the 2018 Crosstrek crossover SUV and 2018 WRX performance car.
On sale in December 2016, the new Impreza is priced from $19,215. During the car’s introductory media test-drive event, I sampled the Sport hatchback with the optional continuously variable transmission (CVT) ($24,115) and the Limited sedan ($24,915).
Styling and Design
Subarus are known to possess numerous positive qualities, but attractive design is not one of them. Perhaps that changes with the “Dynamic x Solid” styling theme worn by the new Impreza.
Honestly, it doesn’t look much different from what the company has penned for the current Legacy and Outback, neither of which is unattractive from the perspectives of balance and cohesion. There is a clear family lineage between the new Impreza and Subaru’s larger models. In my opinion, the Sport is the version to get because its larger 18-in. wheels and lack of chrome exterior trim give it a bolder appearance.
Inside, the 2017 Impreza demonstrates a greater degree of refinement in terms of materials and closer attention to detail in terms of the control layout, displays, and user-friendliness. Thanks to thin windshield pillars, front quarter windows, and oversized door-mounted side mirrors, outward visibility is outstanding, giving the new Impreza a familiar feel from behind the wheel.
Features and Controls
Subaru expects 70% of Imprezas to be sold in base or Premium trim, but I recommend upgrading to the Sport version at a minimum. Why? It has nothing at all to do with performance driving and everything to do with that version’s perfectly tuned dynamics. More on that later.
If you elect to get the Premium version, you’ll benefit from a set of nondescript 16-in. aluminum wheels, added stereo speakers, a quieter interior, and better cabin lighting. In a nod to the Impreza’s Snowbelt fan base, this version also includes heated front seats, side mirrors, and wiper deicers. The Premium also adds a free year of automatic collision notification and SOS emergency calling service.
The Impreza Sport adds larger wheels and tires, revised suspension tuning, better brakes, and active torque vectoring, which collectively make the car exceptionally good to drive. Sporty styling cues are present inside and out, and the StarLink infotainment system gets an upgrade to an 8-in. display screen and a longer list of functions and features.
The Limited is treated to a more upscale look and feel, thanks to chrome trim, leather seats, automatic climate control, and more. Packaging remains a problem with the Impreza, though. For example, the Limited comes with smaller wheels, softer suspension, and less agile handling than the Sport, while the Sport cannot be fitted with leather, or an embedded navigation system, or Subaru’s handy keyless access system with PIN-code operation.
With the new Impreza, you can have your cake, but you cannot eat it.
Overall, the car’s interior layout is logical, the controls are intuitive, and the graphics for the three different information display screens are sophisticated. This approach represents an improvement for Subaru, one that will hopefully expand to the rest of the lineup with each coming redesign.
For maximum utility, choose the 5-door hatchback, which supplies 20.8 cu. ft. of cargo space behind the rear seat, and 55.3 cu. ft. with the rear seat folded down. Sedans carry 12.3 cu. ft. of cargo in a boxy, cube-shaped trunk.
Safety and Technology
Safety is a Subaru hallmark, and the company has not skimped in this area when it comes to the new 2017 Impreza, one of the few models in its segment to weigh more than 3,000 lbs.
From the new vehicle architecture, which boasts a claimed 70% improvement in structural rigidity and a 40% gain in crash-energy absorption, to the full suite of EyeSight driving-assistance and collision-avoidance technologies, the 2017 Impreza is almost certain to lead its segment in terms of safety.
EyeSight includes adaptive cruise control, forward-collision warning with automatic emergency braking, and a lane-departure warning system with lane-keeping assist. Additionally, the Impreza is available for the first time with a blind-spot monitoring system, rear cross-traffic alert, lane-change assist, and rear automatic emergency braking capability.
Automatic collision notification and SOS emergency calling are available through a StarLink Safety Plus service package, which is free for one year on Premium, Sport, and Limited trim levels, and offered through Subaru’s next-generation family of infotainment systems, which includes standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone -projection technology.
Both test vehicles had the larger StarLink touch screen, measuring 8 inches across and featuring gesture control. Highlights include StarLink Apps, text messaging support, Near Field Communications connectivity, and more. Separate volume and tuning knobs help to make the infotainment system easier to use, and an 8-speaker Harman/Kardon sound system is available for Sport and Limited Imprezas.
Subaru powers the 2017 Impreza with a mostly-new, 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine. It sends 152 horsepower to all four wheels through a 5-speed manual gearbox or a CVT and an active all-wheel-drive (AWD) system. Subaru says that the power and torque curve is broader than before, lending the car improved responsiveness.
Under normal driving situations, this is true. The Impreza responds well to part-throttle requests for acceleration, and the stepped-ratio CVT is quick to react when asked for passing power. Under full acceleration, the CVT sounds and feels similar to an automatic transmission, but power is modest at best. Elevation also saps the Impreza of liveliness, a problem that could be resolved with a turbocharger. Paddle shifters and seven programmed ratios help the CVT make the best of what power is available.
Brilliance is evident in the Impreza Sport’s driving dynamics. Thanks to the robust new vehicle architecture, revised 4-wheel-independent suspension, quicker steering ratio, improved brakes with larger rotors, active torque-vectoring technology, and 18-in. wheels and tires, the Sport loves to hustle around corners, proving that outright acceleration doesn’t preclude a car from being terrific fun to drive.
Comparatively speaking, the Impreza Limited demonstrates sloppier driving dynamics. That’s why I recommend the Sport trim level even if you have no intention of zipping around city corners, freeway ramps, or twisty country roads. The Limited feels softer and less sure of itself, but this could be an impression solely attributable to lengthy back-to-back drives in both trim levels.
In reality, the Impreza Limited met one of Subaru’s key drivability goals, which is to deliver superior hazard-avoidance capability. On a San Diego freeway, traffic was swerving around a stepladder lying in the road. With just moments to assess the situation, our options, and make a decision, my driving partner deftly cut the steering wheel to the right and then corrected. We missed the ladder, and the Impreza Limited demonstrated exemplary composure.
Fuel-economy ratings range from 24 mpg city to 38 mpg highway, with the CVT providing better economy. Between the two test vehicles, I averaged 29.2 mpg during a drive that included few city streets but lots of idling and enthusiastic driving.
In the 2017 Impreza, Subaru has another potential hit on its hands. It could use more power, and given the company’s focus on safety it definitely needs safe teen-driver technologies related to speed, curfew, and geographic boundary alerts, not to mention driving reports. Plus, it’s not easy to mix and match features to create the perfect personal transportation solution.
Nevertheless, it is difficult to fault the new Subaru Impreza. Nobody else offers AWD in a small, mainstream car (aside from Mitsubishi’s aged Lancer), but blasting through blizzards isn’t the Impreza’s only talent. With Subaru’s track record of supplying safe and dependable vehicles that hold their value over time, this practical, versatile, and technologically advanced 2017 Impreza demands consideration.
Just be sure to test drive the Sport version, which has the dynamic tuning to put a genuine smile on your face.