NEW YORK—Subaru is a manufacturer near and dear to New England's heart. It's almost as if they were designed solely for this region. As the old joke goes, the Subaru is the state bird of New Hampshire.Fans — mostly New Englanders and anyone in the snow belt — have loved them for their distinctive design and tough all-wheel-drive systems, but in recent years Subaru has begun to homogenize its cars to make them more appealing to the rest of the country. Case in point: The 2012 Subaru Impreza.
At its launch to the media in Manhattan last month, company executives said the previous generation model was, to paraphrase, ugly. And like all Subarus, it consumed gas at a horrible rate for a small car.
Let's address the latter point first. The 2012 Subaru Impreza, now in its fourth generation, gets the new 2.0-liter Boxer engine (the cylinders fire horizontally, unlike the upright design of an inline or "V" layout) that debuted in the 2011 Subaru Forester. It features a longer stroke, double overhead camshafts, and dual active valve control system for efficient performance and low emissions.
All that translates into an EPA-rated 27-mpg city and 36-mpg highway rating when equipped with the continuously variable transmission (CVT). For comparison's sake, the 2011 model with the 2.5-liter engine was pegged at 20 mpg city and 26 mpg highway with its four-speed automatic.
In spite of a smaller gas tank, the highway cruising range for new Impreza is 523 miles, up 67 miles from the 2011 Impreza,. That gives the current Impreza a better range than the Chevrolet Cruze, Honda Civic, Mazda 3 and Hyundai Elantra — none of which offer all-wheel-drive.
The 2011 Impreza, however, had a bigger engine with more power. The previous model had 170 horsepower and 170 lb.-ft. of torque compared to the new Impreza's 148 horsepower and 145 lb.-ft. of torque from its smaller engine. Yet the new car is a half-second faster from 0-60 mph with the CVT.
It's still not right to use the word fast and Impreza in the same breath (that 0-60 time is 9.8 seconds, barely quicker than a Prius), but the new transmission provides the smoothest acceleration of any CVT I've tested under hard acceleration. Like any CVT, though, it can get caught looking for shifts under certain conditions like hilly terrain. It's not a deal breaker but it is noticeable.
Two different versions of Subaru's standard all-wheel-drive are available, depending on transmission. Models with 5-speed manuals feature "Continuous AWD" with a viscous-coupling locking center differential that splits power 50/50 front to rear. Models with the CVT use "Active AWD" which varies the power split based on acceleration, deceleration, and available traction. Both systems power four wheels at all times.
Subaru let automotive journalists flog the Impreza over 250 miles in three states, including a stop at Camp Hi-Rock in Mount Washington, Mass., which had an impressive, twisty gravel road that just made you want to throw the rear end sideways. Fortunately, the all-wheel-drive and electronic stability control stepped in at the right time.
The 2012 Impreza is also a good highway cruiser and adept at local roads, too. Improvements in the thinner A-pillar design, which has been moved forward eight inches, make visibility impressive. There's no sense of sitting in an enclosed bathtub like with previous Imprezas.
Other design improvements include a shorter hood and a wheelbase that is one inch longer. That and the scalloped front seats add two extra inches of rear legroom. The door openings are also wider for easier entry and exit, as well as making it simpler to load bulky cargo in the backseat. The shoulder line has also been lowered for better visibility. Most rewarding are the interior materials, upgraded with more padded surfaces on the dashboard and less cheap plastic.
When the new Impreza goes on sale next month, it'll start at the same base price as the current model's $17,495. The next most expensive Impreza is the 2.0 Premium at $18,795, which is $710 less than a Honda Civic EX. The hatchback in the top-end Limited trim starts at $22,595.
C'mon winter, throw us your best shot. The Impreza's ready to take you on.
Note: Subaru paid for a regular one-way Amtrak ticket to get our Connecticut writer to Manhattan to attend the event.
About Boston Overdrive
|Clifford Atiyeh is an automotive writer and car enthusiast . He has spent his entire life driving cars he doesn't own.
In the garage: 1995 21-speed Iron Horse, 2002 Jeep Wrangler X (by association)
|Bill Griffith is a veteran Boston Globe reporter, having reviewed cars for more than 10 years and serving as assistant sports editor for 25 years. He was also the paper's sports media columnist.
In the garage: 2006 Subaru Baja
|John Paul is public affairs manager for AAA Southern New England, a certified mechanic, and a Globe columnist. He hosts a weekly radio show on WROL.
In the garage: Hyundai Sante Fe, Chrysler PT Cruiser convertible
|Craig Fitzgerald has been writing about cars, motorcycles, and the automotive industry since 1999. He is the former editor of Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car.
In the garage: 1968 Buick Riviera, 1996 Buick Roadmaster, 1974 Honda CB450
|Keith Griffin is president of the New England Motor Press Association and edits the used car section on About.com. He also writes for the Hartford Business Journal and various weekly newspapers in Connecticut.
In the garage: Mazda 5, Dodge Neon
|George Kennedy is a senior writer for WheelsTV in Acton, which produces video reviews for Yahoo, MSN, and other auto websites.
In the garage: Lifted 1999 Jeep Cherokee