The Subaru Impreza has been a bestseller for years, and it set sales records in 2010 while others struggled. That's because of how much it offers for the money, including standard all-wheel drive. It packs in a lot, for its size and price. The 2011 Impreza is in its fourth year of this generation.
All Subarus are highly capable cars, and the Impreza is the backbone of the line. It deserves to be a top choice in foul weather or on rough roads. But it's an easy car to live with even in the best of conditions. It's comfortable and easy to drive. The interior is simple and straightforward, and everything is easy to operate. Cargo capacity after the 60/40 rear seats are dropped is excellent.
The Impreza is solid and safe, the ideal size for running around town while holding its own on the freeway with trucks and big SUVs. Fuel economy is EPA-rated at 20/27 mpg with manual, 20/26 mpg with automatic.
The Impreza comes in 4-Door sedan and 5-Door hatchback versions.
For 2011, the turbocharged Impreza GT has been discontinued, as attention has turned toward the hot WRX, which we review separately.
The four-door sedan looks traditional, while the styling of the five-door is sporty and somewhat edgy. The 5-door costs $500 more, but it offers more utility than the sedan with its larger cargo capacity, easier parking with its shorter overall length, and even better cornering with less rear overhang. Many people nonetheless prefer the lines of a simple sedan.
The Impreza Outback Sport comes only as a five-door. It's prepared for travel on unpaved roads and can easily carry gear for outdoor work or activities, from sports to dogs. Outback Sport includes 17-inch alloy wheels with all-season tires, a raised suspension, foglights, all-weather package, and cargo tray. The new 2011 Outback Sport Special Edition adds a power moonroof and removable TomTom navigation system, the audio system upgrade including Bluetooth and USB, iPod and satellite radio capability, and it's value priced.
The Impreza has a smooth highway ride and responsive cornering, thanks in some part to its relatively long wheelbase (103.1 inches), and the low engine placement, an advantage of the horizontally opposed position of the four cylinders. This lowers the center of gravity and improves the balance, contributing to agile cornering. What's more, the Impreza shares the quick WRX steering rack, with 2.8 turns lock-to-lock, and a tight 34.8-foot turning circle. You can definitely feel it, and it's good.
Out on the highway, there's plenty of speed from the 170-horsepower engine, with 170 pound-feet of torque at 4400 rpm, for good acceleration. There's no lacking in power at any rpm range.
The standard 5-speed manual gearbox works well. The optional 4-speed automatic works okay, too, including when you have to floor it, passing trucks or slower traffic on a two-lane highway. Most cars have 5-speed automatics nowadays, but the Subaru engine has enough flexibility in its power band to work well with a 4-speed.
The Subaru Impreza comes in four-door sedan and 5-Door hatchback versions.
The sedan is sleeker and better looking, but the 5-Door offers more cargo space (44.4 cubic feet with seats down) even with its overall length being 6.5 inches less. (Both ride on the same wheelbase, however.)
The 5-door and sedan have the same smooth hood and nose, with a big chrome vee flying over the dark opening in the grille, like a shiny silver bat bursting from a cave. They also share a character crease in the side, although the 5-Door's edginess vanishes in the sedan, which uses old-fashioned red taillamps, an understated black valance under the grille, and a dual exhaust: two pipes versus the 5-Door's one.
The roofline of the 5-Door is only 0.2 inches higher than the sedan, although the coefficient of drag is 0.34 vs. 0.32. (The Outback Sport is 0.35 thanks to the roof rack.)
The Outback Sport is a 5-door. Its styling is edgy, with flared fenders, a blocky butt, and short rear overhang with silvery taillamps. A neat nose rises up and back to the aerodynamic spoiler over the liftgate. The roof rack includes high crossbars that add to the outdoorsy look. The ground clearance is raised, but only by a fraction of an inch; the larger wheels (17-inch alloys) with all-season tires add to the rugged look, more aggressive than the smoother but vanilla sedan. The Outback Sport looks at home on a gravel road high in the mountains.
Effort and style have gone into the sweeping twin-cockpit design of the Impreza cabin. The quality of the interior materials is good. You can tell that the high-grade plastic is actually plastic, which is not always the case with some expensive cars, but it's not conspicuously plastic, like with some compact cars. The titanium color for the dashboard trim looks nice.
The steering wheel tilts and telescopes, which is good, but it doesn't seem to tilt high enough. At its top position, we couldn't climb into the car feet-first without rubbing our average-height knees against the steering wheel, though admittedly, we had the seat at its highest position, for the best visibility. Speaking of visibility, rearview vision is adequate in the 5-Door hatchback but not great.
On the dashboard above the center stack there's a horizontal window with digital readout for temperature, time, and fuel mileage, but it's not readable in the sun, and distance to empty is unavailable. The stack itself contains the usual vents with a six-disc CD changer above big easy climate control knobs. There's a nice shift lever behind a cubby and coinholder, and ahead of two cupholders and a 12-volt outlet; between the seatbacks there's a small deep console. The door pockets hold 32-ounce cups. Overall, it's a very practical interior, which is what you can expect from the Impreza.
The double-stitched cloth seats in the Outback Sport could be more form-fitting. Their outside edges are rugged and handsome, but the wider center part is made of a material that looks sort of like a pinstripe suit, and which attracts and won't let go of things that commonly float around cabins, especially dog hair. Considering that Subaru owners are well-known dog lovers, who take them everywhere, we find this issue with the seats shocking. The available leather-trimmed upholstery would likely be a better choice for dogs.
Rear-seat accommodations in the 5-Door models are average. There's good headroom, while hip and shoulder room in the rear are decent. The rear-seat legroom is a slim 33.5 inches. The rear seatback angles are reclined for relaxation, and the rear doors open wide, 75 degrees, so ingress and egress is easy, an important quality.
Cargo capacity in the 5-Door, after the 60/40 rear seats are dropped, is excellent for a car of this size. We filled our Outback Sport with a small kitchen table (legs removed), big shop vacuum, a weed whacker, and some boxes. (However, if carrying capacity is your priority, it's not as spacious as a longer Subaru Legacy wagon.)
The Impreza sedan can carry a lot too; being 6.5 inches longer than the 5-Door, it has a large and deep trunk, big enough for three golf bags.
We found the Subaru Impreza the perfect size for running around town while still being comfortable on the freeway out there against the trucks and big SUVs. As a runabout that's not too big and not too small, it's solid, safe, simple, and provides standard all-wheel drive so it's ready for any highway driving condition. It's good for the daily commute or for heading to the mountains in January.
There are two different all-wheel-drive systems on the Impreza models. Those with the manual transmission use locking center differential with viscous coupling, which distributes power evenly between the front and rear wheels on dry pavement, and shifts the torque around only when a tire slips. The models with automatic transmission use what Subaru calls Active Torque Split that transfers power based on acceleration and deceleration, as well as slippage. It's more sophisticated than the 5-speed manual system, but if what you're mostly after is traction in snow, either does the job.
The 4-speed automatic has four speeds with a SportShift semi-manual mode that works well. The driver can upshift and downshift using the shift lever. There are only four speeds, when most transmissions now have five speeds, but we didn't encounter any situations where it felt like the ratios were too far apart.
Out on the highway, we found plenty of speed from the standard 170-horsepower engine, with 170 pound-feet of torque at 4400 rpm. We found no flat spots or places where it was lacking. The transmission kept up just fine, when we had to hammer the throttle to pass trucks on a fast two-lane.
The Impreza has a smooth highway ride with responsive cornering, thanks in part to its long wheelbase (103.1 inches), and now, an engine placement that's even lower than before; it was already lower than the competition, thanks to its being horizontally opposed. The best-in-class engine placement lowers the center of gravity and improves the balance, solid and agile cornering. What's more, every Impreza now uses the quick WRX steering rack, with 2.8 turns lock-to-lock, and a tight 34.8-foot turning circle. You can definitely feel it, and it's good.
Although the suspension on the Outback Sport is described as heavy duty, with 17-inch wheels, it didn't translate into a beefy ride. Nor did we find the sedan's ride to be too soft. The rear suspension is double wishbone, like what's found on many sports cars. Its compact layout allows more room above, in the cargo area.
It's hard to go wrong with a Subaru, and the Impreza offers excellent value. The engine and all-wheel-drive are proven, the handling is secure, the maneuvering is tight, and its safety tops the charts. The sedan has traditional looks, the 5-door is edgy with more utility, and the Outback Sport is ready for rugged use.
Sam Moses filed this NewCarTestDrive.com report after his test drive of the Outback Sport in the Washington Cascades.