2012 Subaru Impreza road test: Easy on fuel and relatively easy on the wallet, too

2012 Subaru Impreza Premium Sedan

2012 Subaru Impreza Premium Sedan

Japanese automaker Subaru has followed the road less traveled with its products over the years, but it seems to have pulled at least one wheel back on to the main highway with its new 2012 Impreza sedan.

No need to panic, Subaru fans.. The company has not abandoned any of its core values. You’ll still get standard all-wheel drive and a horizontally-opposed engine.

The designers and engineers have merely given the four-door sedan a more contemporary style and engineered it to better meet the needs of 21st Century motorists.

While the previous compact Impreza sedan was not unattractive, one look at the new model is enough to show that its lines are better integrated and, to me at least, more attractive.

In addition, the redesign, which stretches the wheelbase an inch but not the sedan’s overall length, provides a bit more interior room. Cabin materials have improved in quality (leather is an option) and the new Impreza has emerged 165 pounds lighter than its predecessor.

And, for those buyers who want to squeeze the most practicality from their purchase, the Impreza is also available as a hatchback.

Subaru Impreza instrument panel

Subaru Impreza instrument panel

But, the most important change in the Impreza is under the skin. The 2.5-liter, four-cylinder boxer engine of 2011 has been replaced by a 2-liter version.

While power is reduced from 170 horses to 148, and torque drops from 170 pound-feet to 145, fuel efficiency improves by a full 30 percent.

The 2012 Impreza with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) is rated at 27 mpg city/36 highway, compared to the 20/26 rating for a 2011 model with a four-speed automatic transmission. In my time with the car, the Impreza recorded an overall average of 30.5 mpg.

With such a substantial reduction in power, it would seem that the new Subaru would seem relatively sluggish. I did not find that to be case, but I didn’t find the car to be very quick, either. Figure 0-60 mph runs at a minimum of about 10 seconds.

The new car was adequate for all of my driving needs. It was an easy cruiser on the highway, competent on the back roads, and roomy enough for four adults.

But, I must add a disclaimer.

Subaru Impreza rear bench

Subaru Impreza rear bench

All my driving was in the flatlands of South Carolina. I think the new Subaru powertrain might have felt strained at times if the Impreza had been in one of its natural habitats; say, the hilly, snow-covered roads of rural Vermont.

Although I can appreciate the continuously variable transmission for its ability to provide an infinite number of gear ratios, thereby maximizing fuel efficiency, I have never been able to bring myself to enjoy it.

The sound of an engine quickly climbing to a high speed and then waiting for the gears to find the best ratio has always been grating to me. Oddly, I do not suffer the same annoyance when a motorboat or an airplane accelerates.

All of that said, I concede that Subaru’s newest CVT is more pleasant than the antiquated automatic that preceded it, and I did appreciate the steering-wheel paddles that allow the driver to manually select among six set ratios.