2017 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Premium 5-Door Review – Not Just Competitive Because There Are Four Driven Wheels

2017 Subaru Impreza 5-Door

2.0-liter flat-four, DOHC (152 horsepower @ 6,000 rpm; 145 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm)

Continuously variable transmission, all-wheel drive

28 city / 37 highway / 31 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)

8.4 city / 6.5 highway / 7.5 combined (NRCan Rating, L/100km)

29.4 mpg [8.0 L/100 km] (Observed)

Base Price: $19,215 (U.S) / $21,690 (Canada)

As Tested: $24,910 (U.S.) / $29,790 (Canada)

Prices include $820 destination charge in the United States and $1,695 for freight, PDI, and A/C tax in Canada and, because of cross-border equipment differences, can’t be directly compared.

There have been times when Subarus were good enough.

On top of being good enough, these Subarus were equipped with all-wheel drive as standard equipment. As a result, an increasing number of people purchased these Subarus, cars which didn’t excel in very many areas but which featured the all-wheel-drive system deemed so desirable by consumers in certain regions.

To be fair, not all Subarus were sold purely on the merits of being all-wheel-drive cars that were merely good enough in other ways. Forester XTs and WRXs, for example, weren’t simply decent AWD vehicles. Setting aside its desirable AWD system, the Subaru Outback has long been a high-riding wagon in a world largely devoid of high-riding wagons. Subarus have often been blessed with impressive crash test results, as well.

But was the Subaru Impreza — not only way back in first-generation form but even in its fourth iteration from 2011-2016 — an attractive proposition if not for its AWD appeal? Sure, it was good enough, but not by much.

Yet as of the 2017 Subaru Impreza’s launch, as of the arrival of this fifth-generation Impreza, the Subaru Impreza is finally strong enough to stand on its own two feet. Albeit still with four driven wheels.

There’s a powerful sense of change as soon as your left arm relaxes on the driver’s door cushion. Stricken in the past with all the textural delicacy of aisle 7 at Lowe’s, this 2017 Impreza’s armrest is a veritable pillow.

It’s not just the soft touch materials that serve to upgrade the Impreza’s interior. The infotainment cluster is straightforward and swift. The HVAC system is controlled with chunky climate buttons that offer pleasant resistance.

The feature count isn’t short, either. For less than $25,000, the hatchback Impreza includes a sunroof, heated seats, and Subaru’s EyeSight package, which includes adaptive cruise, pre-collision braking, lane departure warning, and lane keep assist.

Quite naturally, the huge leap forward in interior quality is joined to a commensurate increase in overall refinement. The 2017 Impreza is not a Lexus-like cocoon of silence; it’s likely not even the quietest car in its class. But the absence of road hum, traditional flat-four burble, wind noise, and vibration in the cabin means the Impreza is no longer a comparatively unrefined laggard in America’s compact car segment.

Pair the interior upgrades to the major reduction in NVH to the properly comfortable rough-road ride quality and the fifth-gen Impreza begins to make more sense as a genuine rival for class leaders. So stiff is the structure that Subaru seemingly did not struggle to build a car that could both absorb the worst of a coastal Nova Scotian road and rash mid-corner inputs. Even the steering is quick enough, though there’s a gummy feel that strictly limits communication.

Speaking of a loss of communication, the Subaru Canada-supplied tester that came our way (in Canada-spec “Sport With Technology Package” guise) linked Subaru’s 152-horsepower 2.0-liter boxer four-cylinder to a continuously variable transmission.

Subaru USA’s mid-grade Premium trim and top-spec Limited Imprezas aren’t available with the five-speed manual — that’s reserved for base and Sport models.

Continuously variable transmissions in 2017 are typically far less offensive than they once were, and this Impreza’s CVT is a fair example of improvement. There are nevertheless moments when the Impreza’s tachometer sustains an annoying rpm for an annoying period of time, annoyingly.

More than sapping power, the CVT stands in the way because it saps charm. The new 2017 Subaru Impreza has what it takes to be a fun car to drive. But with modest power and this transmission, it’s merely mature.

Mature? That’s enough for most car buyers. Most car buyers will be more likely to take note of a spacious cabin, a large cargo area, and decent affordability rather than CVT-limiting fun. At 97.5 cubic feet with the sunroof, the Impreza is 3-percent larger inside than the Honda Civic Hatchback and 4-percent larger than the Volkswagen Golf. It’s bigger than the hatchback versions of the Chevrolet Cruze, Ford Focus, Kia Forte, Mazda 3, and Toyota Corolla, too. And while the Impreza’s cargo hold isn’t technically as large as some of its main hatchback rivals, the aperture that leads into that cargo is vast.

With power being sent to all four wheels, fuel economy isn’t up to the standards of the class leader. The CVT-equipped 2017 Impreza 5-Door is rated at 28 miles per gallon city; 37 highway, 31 combined at best. Honda’s more powerful Civic Hatchback is an EPA-rated 34-mpg car, combined.

Yet in the 2017 Subaru Impreza’s world, do competitors and class leaders matter? Not only do the Impreza’s supposedly direct rivals not come standard with all-wheel drive, the core versions of the Civic, Corolla, Cruze, Focus, Forte, Golf, and 3 don’t even offer all-wheel drive.

To many, it’s a component set unnecessary across much of America; a feature deemed frivolous by legions of winter drivers who prefer to invest in a good set of Bridgestone Blizzaks. But that doesn’t change the fact that Subaru has marketed Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive so successfully that — unnecessary or not — all-wheel drive is now broadly appraised as expedient.

Sure, the 2017 Impreza doesn’t offer the ride and handling balance of the Volkswagen Golf, the communicative nature of the Mazda 3, the built-in popularity of the Honda Civic, the reputation of the Toyota Corolla, or the value card of the Kia Forte. Unlike the situation enjoyed by the Ford Focus and Chevrolet Cruze, there’s not a Subaru dealer on every corner, either.

But the 2017 Subaru Impreza is now better than good enough. Consequently, while U.S. sales of passenger cars continue to slide, Subaru is on track to sell more Imprezas than ever before.

Timothy Cain is the founder of GoodCarBadCar.net and a contributing analyst at The Truth About Cars and Autofocus.ca. Follow on Twitter @timcaincars.

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