Among compacts, the all-wheel-drive Subaru Impreza is unbeatable for snow and foul weather. Impreza comes in hatchback and sedan versions (plus WRX and Crosstrek versions covered separately). All are able to handle primitive roads, come standard with Subaru’s proven all-wheel drive, and get good fuel economy.
The Impreza got a fresh face for the 2015 model year, slimmer pillars for visibility, upgraded infotainment, new safety features, and better fuel economy. For 2016, Impreza carries over with no substantial changes.
The 2016 Subaru Impreza is EPA-rated at 28/37 City/Highway miles per gallon with the CVT, or 3 mpg less with the manual, all excellent for all-wheel drive.
The 2.0-liter horizontally opposed four-cylinder engine sends 148 horsepower and 145 foot-pounds of torque to all four wheels. A lovely five-speed manual gearbox is standard, while upper models get Subaru’s Lineartronic continuously variable transmission (CVT), which yields better fuel mileage but is sluggish when power is needed quickly.
The 2016 Impreza leads its class in safety. A rearview camera comes standard, while an optional EyeSight system uses cameras and sensors for adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning, and pre-collision braking. The IIHS rates the system Superior and gives Impreza a mark of Top Safety Pick Plus, with a top score in the tough new small-overlap frontal test (telephone pole). The NHTSA gives the Impreza five stars overall.
The 2016 Subaru Impreza comes in base, Premium, Limited and Sport Limited models, as a sedan or five-door hatchback, with manual gearbox or CVT. A new model for 2016 is the 2.0i Sport Premium five-door, with rocker spoilers, 17-inch alloys, roof rails and unique seat fabric.
The Impreza doesn’t have the forward shape of the Ford Focus or the sporty clean lines of the Mazda3, but the proportions of the five-door work well. We like the sporty and cohesive lines of the five-door more than the taller sedan, which looks homely even with a trunk lip spoiler.
The hawkeye headlamps, trapezoidal grille and front bumper look fresh but mature in the sense that they make the Impreza look like the larger Legacy, as intended. Pre-2015 models looked dowdy and awkward. Now the Impreza looks distinctive.
The character lines on the sides of the car are conservative, unlike the contours and creases common in over-achieving small cars nowadays. Big wheel arches make the car look lower, but also make even the 17-inch wheels look too small. You can’t see the undertray, but you’ll like knowing it’s there, as it improves aerodynamics which raises fuel mileage.
Not surprisingly, knowing Subaru’s no-nonsense simplicity and utility, the cabin is well designed. There’s an abundance of rear legroom, and the rear seats easily fold flat for cargo. There’s an abundance of cubbyholes and cupholders, bins and trays, also two 12-volt outlets.
The gauge layout is basic, with a cowl over the speedo and tach, and a small display screen between them. There’s a wider display in the center of the dash, with digital info that’s easy to read.
The cabin can be a bit loud on rough pavement, even with thicker window glass from 2015.
It might not be fair to compare the Impreza to similar five-door compacts because it’s all-wheel drive, but still, we have to say the Impreza isn’t as much fun to drive as the Ford Focus or Mazda 3. The Impreza is balanced (its boxer engine helps a lot), responsive and free of drama, but it lacks that edgy and athletic feel. Its 148 horsepower and 145 pound-feet of torque is adequate but underwhelming.
The horizontally opposed engine carries its weight low, and is mounted in the Impreza frame as low and far back as possible. This gives a low center of gravity, which enables stability in quick corners and esses. The feedback of electric power steering system is very good, while the brakes are progressive and reassuring.
We like the 5-speed manual transmission. The CVT, even with paddle shifters and programmed steps, makes the engine feel sluggish at times. The CVT still allows quick acceleration, but it’s slow to rev when power is quickly needed.
The all-wheel-drive system is different with the CVT. The manual cars get a basic viscous coupling in the center differential, while the CVT is uses an electronically controlled hydraulic clutch to apply torque front to rear. Subaru has for many years used different all-wheel-drive systems with different transmissions. Subaru dominated the World Rally Championship with its all-wheel-drive expertise.
It’s hard to find a car that offers more for less money. The utility and versatility of the Impreza fits into many lifestyles.