Subaru Impreza shows off its new, sportier side

The Subaru Impreza gets a revamping for the 2017 model year. Its changes are fairly subtle, at least on the outside.

2017 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Sport: Fun in the snow?

Price: $23,615 as tested. (Starts at $18,395.)

Conventional wisdom: Edmunds.com liked the “quiet, comfortable and roomy cabin for a compact car; standard all-wheel drive delivers secure handling and wet-weather traction; long list of available safety features” but not the “slow acceleration even with the new, more powerful engine; transmission is loud under heavy loads.”

Marketer’s pitch: “More than a car. It’s a Subaru.”

Reality: Sure there’s some fun, as long as the snow isn’t too deep.

Snowtime: Subaru has rightly become synonymous with all-wheel drive, as all of its vehicles feature the automatic ability to drive any of the four wheels. But put that into a sporty car and some compromises must be made.

What’s new: Subaru says all of it. The exterior hasn’t changed all that noticeably, but overall power is up.

Up to speed: The 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine motivated the Impreza at a rate far beyond its 152 horsepower would suggest. Harnessing that power seemed to take some finesse — or, strangely enough, none at all. I first tested the Impreza’s acceleration on an uphill country road near my home, and the power curve seemed hard to pin down. No necks were snapped during that test. Later, on a late-night trip home from work, my urban expressway traffic companions seemed to be in an excessive hurry, so I just decided to keep up. And I found the Impreza did so quite nicely.

On the road: Subarus tend to fall into the realm of “competent.” They’re not exactly joyful to drive, but they’re not boring either. The new Impreza Sport, though, has moved closer to the realm of “fun.” Still, body lean in corners was more of an issue than I expected, and I found the Impreza needed a lot more slowdown on country road curves than I was accustomed to from small sedans. On that late-night expressway-heavy drive, though, the Impreza was a more enjoyable companion. So I guess flooring it and forgetting it is one way to get the most out of this sedan. 

Thin sneakers: The low-profile 40-series tires made for nice performance, I’m sure, but they worried me for putting the Impreza to a real foul-weather test (and we certainly had plenty during my week of testing). Still, some slippery parking-lot adventures and other potentially frightening maneuvers were handled adeptly, so I don’t think too much was sacrificed. Still, people looking for serious traction might want to avoid this exact model — Limited and Premium models have taller, narrower tires that would offer better snow grip.

Shiftless: My last Impreza came with a six-speed manual, and I found it smooth and easy to operate. The CVT in this one seemed to be the culprit in some of those disappointing acceleration tests. I found using the steering wheel-mounted triggers made for the best experience, where Subaru offers seven “gears” for its gearless automatic. Now, the Impreza’s manual is down to five gears, a disappointment to me.

Pancake with syrup? Subaru has softened the tuning of its flat-shaped “pancake” engine, which most drivers will appreciate but I found a tad disappointing.

Driver’s Seat: I found the cloth-covered perch to be a little heavy on the lumbar bolster and had no way to adjust it. Still, I didn’t end up with a sore back.

Information, please: The gauges were friendly and informative. An extra screen above the infotainment center offered the bulk of the information, in seven adjustable screens.

Friends and stuff: This is the smallest Subaru. Footroom and legroom are at a premium for rear-seat passengers, on par with a Mazda3. The center console intrudes into the rear seat significantly.

Play some tunes: The sound quality was a B+. Heavy bass thumping and high treble pitches ruined the experience, although overall the sound was clear. Operation of the system came through a left volume dial and a right tuning dial, with buttons for source and a touchscreen for the rest. The touchscreen required some forceful punches to motivate it.

Night shift: The headlights sat a hair low and the overhead map lights shone far too brightly to be used while driving. Many features that are normally illuminated at night in other cars — door locks, radio tuning — were absent in the Impreza tested.

Spoiling the fun: The rear spoiler on the test model offered some driving quirks. On my first day in the Impreza, sun glare on a trip north made driving kind of shiny, while at night it could help block some of the headlight glare from cars in back.

Fuel economy: I averaged about 28.5 mpg in the usual Mr. Driver’s Seat realm of country roads and highways.

Where it’s built: Lafayette, Ind.

How it’s built: Consumer Reports predicts reliability will be above average, down from top ratings in 2014 and ’16, but up from 2015’s average rating.

In the end: In this price range with all-wheel drive and reasonably fun handling, the Impreza is definitely worth a “recommend” despite some drawbacks. I’ll have the hatchback, please.

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