Let it snow
Most cars can get through the harsh Canadian winter with a good set of snow tires. On the other hand, few cars enjoy winter as much as a Subaru and its competent all-wheel drivetrain.
The 2012 Subaru Impreza just received a makeover and a 2.0i Sport 5-door, equipped with the five-speed manual, arrived on my doorstep with perfect timing. It snowed during five of the seven days of my test drive, and the car proved absolutely brilliant.
When summertime arrives, however, the Impreza becomes just your average compact car. Subaru smartly engineered it to reduce the shortcomings of dragging a full-time AWD setup; namely, in regards to fuel economy.
Less power, less fuel
Lots of eyebrows were raised when Subaru announced the Impreza would ditch its 2.5L engine for a smaller, 2.0L unit. Power drops from 170 horsepower to 148, while torque drops from 170 lb-ft to 145.
But the Impreza also shed a noticeable amount of weight. Compared to its 2011 equivalent, the 2.0i Sport model lost 220 lbs (100 kg), which partly offsets the reduced firepower.
Is it slower? Yup, but nothing to blow a fuse over. The major trade-off is improved fuel economy; with the manual gearbox, the city rating plunges from 10.8L/100km to 8.3, while the highway rating falls from 7.5 to 5.9. I'll take those extra savings any day over the slight difference in performance. The calculated average over the course of my wheelspin-happy week is 9.9L/100km.
Subaru's symmetrical AWD is a full-time setup that distributes engine torque evenly between front and rear wheels. It's one of the best systems out there, and makes this Impreza so entertaining in the white stuff. Switch off the traction control, slap the shifter in first and floor it, and the Impreza claws its way up to speed, lightly kicking out the rear end and getting back into a straight line. Good times.
If you can, get the five-speed manual instead of the optional continuously variable automatic, which replaces last-year's four-speed auto. If not, the CVT does a better job in the fuel economy department than the manual.
Subarus usually feature no-nonsense cockpits finished with solid materials; in the case of our Sport tester, there's minimal silver-painted trim, while all elements of the car's switchgear feel solid.
Grippy fabric wraps supportive seats, despite their minimal adjustment possibilities, and the front chairs are mounted higher up, so you no longer feel as if you're sitting on the floor. The 60/40-split folding seatbacks include a fold-down centre armrest in all but the base model.
The five-door Impreza offers a cargo capacity of 638 litres, which grows to 1,485 litres with the rear seat folded; those volumes figure among the best in its category.
The Impreza is a champ in the snow, but when summertime arrives, the full-time AWD setup isn't nearly as useful, adding extra weight and friction on the drivetrain when you don't really need it.
W.hen it's time for barbecues and poolside get-togethers, the Impreza's one true advantage over the competition disappears; it becomes just your average compact five-door hatchback. Happily, Subaru's engineers succeeded in reducing fuel consumption, which we mentioned earlier, so the Impreza is cured of what used to be a disadvantage.
The 2012 Impreza starts at $19,995 for a base 2.0i four-door, while the five-door is $800 more. Our 2.0i Sport is listed at $24,795 before taxes, freight and delivery charges.
There aren't many rivals with AWD. The Toyota Matrix AWD ($28,070, automatic only) and Suzuki SX4 iAWD ($20,795 to $24,935) are the only ones, in fact. Other similarly equipped competitors include the Volkswagen Golf 2.5L Sportline ($26,025), the Mazda3 Sport GT ($24,695), the Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback GT ($24,198), the Ford Focus SEL Hatchback ($23,999) and the Kia Forte5 SX ($22,495).
The 2012 Subaru Impreza is worth considering according to how much you love or fear winter. Four-wheel drifts in the snow are a blast in the Subie, and its all-wheel drivetrain provides tremendous grip on the road. If winter isn't a factor in your neck of the woods, though, there are many other compact cars that offer as much equipment, refinement and versatility.