What would you consider Subaru’s brand image to be? Like most carmakers, the answer would depend on which models interest you. The majority of Subaru owners are likely to name reliability, practicality, safety, and environmental leadership as core values, while those focused on its WRX and BRZ lines are possibly thinking that it’s a performance-oriented brand.
Subaru has been able to ride this fine line quite better than most thanks to unique technologies that improve both safety and performance, particularly its trademark symmetrical all-wheel drive system that comes standard on all but one model, as well as its horizontally opposed “boxer” engine design that’s only otherwise used by Porsche (and occasionally Ferrari), which reduces a vehicle’s centre of gravity to improve handling.
For these reasons, as well as improving its average fuel economy, interior refinement, infotainment systems, and overall value proposition, Subaru has more than doubled its Canadian sales since 2009 and almost tripled deliveries since 2005. Yet, to put things in perspective, its entire brand-wide volume of 46,609 units in calendar year 2015 fell 18,341 deliveries short of Honda Civic sales alone, and Subaru only ranked 14th out of 20 mainstream brands. Tell that to Impreza buyers and they’ll smile, happy they’ve purchased something you won’t see on every corner and more importantly a car that ideally suits their personal image and lifestyle. If you ask me, I think a lot of consumers are missing out.
Just the same, Subaru has been using its sales growth and the resultant economies of scale to its advantage, by creating cars that are more premium in refinement and features, yet priced closer to the volume sellers. Take the Impreza, which was redesigned for its fourth generation in 2011 and has only received minor revisions since, but still looks good thanks to an inspired original design featuring muscular, yet classy 4-door sedan and 5-door hatchback profiles, a bold hexagonal grille, and even more eye-catching lower front fascia, plus attractive chrome detailing from front to back.
The interior gets a premium-grade soft-touch dash top, the same pliable synthetic for the door uppers in front and the rear (the latter very rare), sharp-looking metallic trim on the steering wheel spokes, instrument panel, centre stack, lower console, and door panels, along with some impressively upscale electronic interfaces.
The 2016 Subaru Impreza 5-door 2.0i Touring model I’m describing is merely just above base at $22,595 with a 5-speed manual transmission or $23,895 with one of the industry’s best continuously variable automatics (CVT) featuring paddle shifters no less.
Standard content includes a 2.0L DOHC 4-cylinder engine that’s capable of producing 148 horsepower and 145 lb-ft of torque, AWD, a fully independent suspension, auto-off headlamps, body-coloured mirror caps and door handles, a rooftop spoiler, remote entry, power-adjustable mirrors, illuminated steering wheel controls, a 3.5” colour multi-information display in front of the driver, cruise control, Bluetooth phone and streaming audio, voice activation, a 6.2” high-resolution colour touchscreen for infotainment on the centre stack, a rearview camera, USB and iPod integration plus satellite radio, filtered air conditioning, 60/40-split folding rear seatbacks, cargo tie-down hooks, a hill holder, all the usual active and passive safety features including an airbag for the driver’s knees, and much more.
That base infotainment system is very good, incidentally, with access to news, food, weather, music, podcasts, audiobooks, and other multimedia content via its own apps or Aha and Pandora.
Touring trim cranks things up a notch with upgraded front springs, a rear stabilizer bar, full auto on/off headlights, 16” alloy wheels, a windshield wiper de-icer, welcome lighting, chrome inner door handles, heated front seats, two additional stereo speakers, a rear centre armrest with cupholders, a retractable cargo cover, and more.
Other than body styles (the 5-door costs $900 more) and the CVT ($1,300 extra), the only options available with the Touring package are six no-cost exterior paint colours and the choice of black or ivory cloth upholstery. Of course, you can opt for Sport or Limited packages, too, and both can be upgraded with a $2,500 Technology package that makes the CVT standard and more importantly includes Subaru’s EyeSight advanced safety technologies.
In terms of environmental performance, the 2016 Subaru Impreza’s emissions are very clean evidenced by Partial Zero Emission Vehicle (PZEV) status, just another reason its followers are so loyal. Fuel economy is also good at 9.5L/100km in the city and 7.0L/100km on the highway with the manual or 8.5 and 6.4, respectively, with the CVT.
Additionally, Subaru happens to be the highest-rated volume brand on Consumer Reports’ coveted 2016 report card on reliability; the only brand to beat it was Audi. It didn’t fare so well in J.D. Power’s latest 2016 Initial Quality Study (IQS) and Vehicle Dependability Study (VDS), however, placing below average in the former albeit still ahead of Honda, Mazda and others, and again below average in the latter yet higher than Volkswagen, Nissan, Ford, and the list goes on.
As far as compact models go, the Subaru Impreza does a nice balancing act between sport and comfort. As most of you know, this little car serves as the basis for both the rally-bred WRX road rocket and the rugged little Crosstrek soft-roader, so the seats are inherently comfortable as well as amply supportive, my tester’s featuring nice woven black cloth bolsters with soft velour inserts. While the steering wheel is merely polyurethane, its design looks sporty and feels comfortable, plus the shift paddles fall naturally to fingertips.
The CVT features shift points to feel more like a conventional automatic, and it does a pretty convincing job, while I found the paddles best for downshifting to hold a given gear during aggressive cornering, a situation the Impreza takes to naturally thanks to a rigid body shell, a wonderfully sorted suspension, and reasonably sized wheels and tires. The Touring’s 16s are also a bit more comforting over rough road surfaces than the available 17s, not to mention cheaper to replace or buy snow tires for when needed. No matter which wheel size you choose, the Impreza Touring’s ride quality is generally very compliant. Braking is also very strong.
Of course, a comforting ride matters when passengers are on board, as does a lot of room to stretch out. In that case, nobody is likely to complain about front-seat spaciousness in the Subaru Impreza. Also, I always position the driver’s seat for my own 5’8” frame as a reference, and then climb in back to see how I fit in. Granted, I’m not a large person, but I had plenty of room to spare in all directions, while the rear seats’ lower back support really impressed me.
Those seatbacks fold 60/40 for a large, flat loading floor, the process increasing cargo capacity from 637-1,486 litres. A well-made aluminum crossmember houses a retractable cargo cover, and while it was stiffly held into place and therefore a bit difficult to remove, it didn’t rattle around either.
Such sense of quality sums up the entire 2016 Subaru Impreza. Everything about this Japanese compact feels above average. With a rigid body structure, a gritty powertrain, advanced AWD, excellent road manners, a compliant suspension, a nicely finished cabin, impressive electronics, and general usability, not to mention its superb reliability and resale value, it’s a car that’s well worth the price asked.