The Subaru Impreza comes as an all-wheel-drive sedan or hatchback. It was redesigned for 2017, so for 2018 it doesn’t get any significant changes. Headlamps come on with the windshield wipers on the top two models.
The redesign made it sleeker and crisper on the outside, more appealing on the inside, a bit more powerful with engines having direct fuel injection, better handling with a revised suspension, and somewhat safer with a body structure having a 40-percent increase in crash-energy absorption, as well as more available active safety systems. The Impreza is built in Indiana.
The standard 2.0-liter flat-four engine makes a slim 152 horsepower. A 5-speed manual gearbox comes standard, while Subaru’s outstanding continuously variable transmission is optional on. It’s the best CVT in a passenger car that we know of, and what makes it great are the simulated gear changes, seven of them, even without the manual mode.
Rivals to the practical and well-mannered Impreza include sportier compact sedans and hatchbacks, including the Mazda 3, Ford Focus, and Volkswagen Golf and Jetta. The Impreza Sport would compete best against those. Sport models feature lower-profile tires on unique 18-inch alloy wheels, with a suspension tuned to provide a more sporty feel. Standard active torque vectoring produces sharper and tighter steering in corners out on the road, and more security with better grip.
There is a high-performance version of the Impreza, sedan only, the Subaru WRX and even hotter STI. We review those separately.
The best model for fuel mileage is the aerodynamic sedan with the CVT, rated by the Environmental Protection Agency at 28 mpg City, 38 Highway, 32 Combined. The hatchback gets a bit less, at 28/37/31 mpg. The Sport model gets one or two mpg less, on account of its wheels and tires.
The 5-speed manual significantly hurts fuel mileage, with 24/32/27 mpg for the sedan and 24/31/26 mpg for the hatchback.
Safety-wise, the Impreza nails it. The NHTSA gives the Impreza a rare five-star rating across the board, and the IIHS gives it top scores in all of its tests, including a new passenger-side small-overlap frontal test. Those scores earn a Top Safety Pick Plus rating from the IIHS. However, the halogen headlights on base, Premium, and Sport models rate only Marginal compared to the Acceptable and Good scores posted by the two levels of LEDs available on the Limited. The Good headlamps swivel into corners.
Every 2018 Impreza comes standard with a rearview camera, seven airbags, anti-lock brakes, and stability control. Impreza Premium, Sport, and Limited models can be optioned with Subaru’s EyeSight suite of safety equipment including adaptive cruise control, forward-collision warnings with automatic emergency braking (including in reverse), blind-spot monitors, active lane control, rear cross-traffic alerts.
The 2018 Impreza comes in 2.0i, Sport, Premium, and Limited. (Prices are MSRP and do not include destination charge.)
The Impreza 2.0i sedan ($18,495) or hatchback ($18,995) comes with a manual gearbox; rearview camera; power windows, locks, and mirrors; cruise control; a 6.5-inch touchscreen; Android Auto and Apple CarPlay; a 60/40-split fold-down rear seatback; remote keyless entry; four-speaker audio; and 16-inch steel wheels. CVT is optional ($1,000).
Impreza 2.0i Sport sedan ($22,095) or hatchback ($22,595) has manual transmission, 18-inch alloy wheels with low-profile performance tires, a retuned suspension, and active torque vectoring. Sport models also get simulated leather upholstery, carbon-fiber and aluminum trim, an 8.0-inch touchscreen, and a rear spoiler. CVT is optional.
Impreza 2.0i Premium sedan ($21,295) or hatchback ($21,795) includes the CVT with simulated 7-speed manual-shift mode, plus 16-inch alloy wheels, six-speaker audio, a cold-weather package; and automatic headlights. Options include a moonroof, EyeSight active-safety features, and a navigation system with mapping from Tom-Tom.
Impreza 2.0i Limited sedan ($24,195) or hatchback ($24,695) has CVT, 17-inch alloy wheels, pushbutton start, automatic climate control, leather-trimmed upholstery, power driver’s seat, 8.0-inch touchscreen, and automatic high beams.
The 2017 redesign made the Impreza slightly longer, wider and lower, as well as sleeker and more sculpted. It remains straightforward, sensible and functional. The hexagonal grille is familiar.
The headlamps sweep back, while character lines accent the shapely, flowing sides. Countering the snub-nosed profile of some rivals, the front overhang is relatively long.
Despite the improvements to the interior for 2017, making the cabin less basic and more expressive, the upholstery and trim remain short on style and only average in quality. The dashboard, however, has soft-touch surfaces, and two-tone upholstery in upper trim levels can make the interior seem lighter. A widened console makes it feel more spacious.
Audio and climate controls are simple and intuitive. Instrument clusters and the touchscreen incorporate beveled-edge, rectangular shapes. A hooded auxiliary display sits at the dashboard center, just below the windshield base. Subaru’s basic infotainment system is impressive. The display for the standard rearview camera provides steering lines.
The cabin is quiet and the front seats comfortable, with height adjustment on most models. Rear headroom is adequate. Entry and exit to the rear is easy, through door openings that were widened for 2017. Thin pillars help make outward visibility excellent.
Five-door hatchbacks offer greater versatility and considerably more space, with 20.8 cubic feet of cargo volume (55.3 cubic feet with back seats folded). Sedan trunks are smaller than average, totaling only 12.3 cubic feet.
Among everyday compacts, the Impreza stands out for its balance and handling. That’s largely due to the design of the horizontally opposed engine that can be mounted lower and farther back in the chassis than an inline four-cylinder. The suspension changes in 2017 help keep the new Impreza at the top of the handling heap, with 50 percent less body roll than the previous generation.
Active torque vectoring helps make the Sport model the choice for more enthusiastic drivers. Low-profile tires yield a relatively comfortable ride, while enhancing roadholding.
We just wish it had more power. You really have to keep your foot down to pass other cars on the highway. Although many Impreza buyers might not notice. The engine is at least quiet, and is certainly able to keep up a cruising pace. It gets louder as it works harder.
The ride is comfortable and satisfying.
The CVT is just about the best, and with the manual mode on top models, it can be paddle-shifted through seven simulated gears. The all-wheel drive is seamless. It’s always there but you never know it, until you hit snow or ice, at which time you praise yourself for being smart in buying a Subaru.
It’s hard to find better value than an Impreza hatchback with standard all-wheel drive. The CVT costs a bit more but enhances that value, in fuel mileage if nothing else. If you don’t expect a luxurious interior and don’t need a lot of speed, you can’t go wrong. You get style, superb safety, excellent fuel mileage, great handling, and that enjoyable CVT.
Sam Moses contributed to this review, with staff reports from The Car Connection.