Impreza comes out hidden in plain view

John Gilbert

Why does this not look like a Subaru Impreza? Because it's an all-new look on an all-new platform. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Why does this not look like a Subaru Impreza? Because it's an all-new look on an all-new platform. Photo credit: John Gilbert

After pulling into the Target parking lot, I dropped off my wife, Joan, and engaged in my usual parking-lot roulette, wherein I circle a couple of times just to see if I can find a reasonably close open spot near the store. I found one, and nosed my metallic red compact into the slot.

There was some sort of a hockey or baseball game on the radio, so I sat there for a few minutes,. As I sat there, a family came by, parked their SUV and walked past the front of my car. The fellow who had been driving was carrying a youngster, and he turned back once, and then a second time, for a longer look. Then he smiled and walked on.

Over an inch longer and wider translates to more interior room in the Impreza. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Over an inch longer and wider translates to more interior room in the Impreza. Photo credit: John Gilbert

Another couple came by, and it was the same sort of thing. Both of them paused for a second look before continuing on. Later, at another parking space downtown in Duluth, Minnesota, a couple guys walked by and one stopped and asked, “What kind of car is that?”

“It’s the new Subaru Impreza,” I answered.
From his nod and expression, I could read his thoughts. “You’re kidding,” he said. “Doesn’t look like any Subaru I’ve ever seen before.”

Driver's eye view displays all that's refined and necessary in handling the new 2017 Impreza. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Driver's eye view displays all that's refined and necessary in handling the new 2017 Impreza. Photo credit: John Gilbert

It’s been a while since a Subaru attracted that sort of interest from passers-by. And when it comes to the Impreza compact, it’s been more than a while. The quirkiness of past Imprezas are simply nonexistent in the new car.

But this new 2017 Subaru Impreza is like no other previous cars. This one is built on an all new Subaru Global Architecture platform, upon which all things Subaru from here on will be built. Until a company revises and restructures its mainstay platform, consumers never stop to realize it may need it.

With the new Impreza, Subaru is claiming that the new car is 70 percent more rigid than the 2016 was. Think about that. It’s not like you drove the 2016 and thought of it as a piece of ill-fitted junk. It felt OK. Beyond that, it felt the way you anticipated a Subaru Impreza should feel. When you think that a compact sedan can become 70 percent more rigid than last year’s, it makes you try to ponder what any car would feel like if you reduced its rigidity by 70 percent.That’s all changed now, much in the same way the visual impact of the Impreza has completely changed. Passers-by were taken by the metallic red paint job, but more by the stylish contours that indented the sides and slanted upward near the rear wheelwells.

Those lines came off a smoothly coordinated grille and hood, and ended at a stylishly turned rear decklid and incorporated taillights.
The firmer platform makes you realize how ragged and inconsistent previous Imprezas handled, rode, and steered. This one tracks well, with its little 2.0 flat-opposed 4-cylinder kicking out 152 horsepower and 145 foot-pounds of torque. My test-fleet car had the CVT — continuously variable transmission — which handles the roughly 3,000-pound compact sedan with ease.

Contoured sides might fool passers-by, who will still get the traditionally rugged AWD foul-weather performance. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Contoured sides might fool passers-by, who will still get the traditionally rugged AWD foul-weather performance. Photo credit: John Gilbert

Partly because the flat-opposed engine now has direct injection for a slight increase in power, partly because its new steering geometry and suspension reduces the body’s tendency to roll by a full 50 percent, and mostly because of that all-new platform, the Impreza makes those sporty alloy wheels look like they are not out of place.

Inside, the seats are bolstered and comfortable, and there is room for adults in the rear seat, as well, where many compacts make that a tight fit. The interior finish is also vastly improved, including the nav screen, instruments, steering wheel, and little cubicles that seem to be everywhere you’d want them. Knobs and controls are easy to spot and work efficiently.

Perhaps most impressive, Imprezas always have been inexpensive, which makes the new one seem like much more of a bargain, at a starting price of just over $20,000. Option packages range up around $26,000, and you can add sport or limited packages that make it even more well-appointed. Does it blow away the main competition, such as Mazda3, Honda Civic, or Hyundai Elantra? In a word: No. But it now at least competes with them, with no apologies.

The high-performance WRX always has been an impressive premium model on the Impreza line, and the very top WRX STi is an outright screamer. Those will continue on the old platform, we’re told, for now. And I would have to say, as fun as those cars are, they are nowhere near as refined as the new garden-variety Impreza.

Even straight on, the new Impreza has a contemporary, sporty demeanor. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Even straight on, the new Impreza has a contemporary, sporty demeanor. Photo credit: John Gilbert

In assessing all the high points, we can point at the comfort, space, flexibility of its hatchback storage space, and now the precision noteworthy in its steering and handling, and its outright lack of shakiness that used to be standard equipment in Imprezas.
But I would have to go back to my parking lot experiences and other passers-by when I point out that the car looks slick, it looks like it might handle well and it might indeed get over its over-30 miles per gallon figure — I got over 32 in town in moderate driving.
In short, it can baffle onlookers because they can’t figure out what it is without asking. It simply doesn’t look like a Subaru Impreza because there is nothing odd or irregular about how it looks or how it drives. And that’s a good thing.