The cars we loved.
Cooler weather gets many motorist thinking about winter time driving. For those lucky enough to have all wheel drive, traction is not as big a concern for them. Increasingly, more auto makers are offering all wheel drive systems on passenger cars.
One company that’s no stranger to the concept is Subaru. Its modern offerings have all-wheel drive and have always been spun by all fours. Where its smaller car lines are concerned, its been the 305 hp Impreza WRX that gets most of the spotlight. For anyone not wanting the ultimate in boy racer, rally/road performance, there is a whole line of more sedate Imprezas. They offer some of the potential of the WRX, but won’t attract drag race invitations from guys in hopped up Civics or the attention of local highway patrol.
It’s easy to overlook the less sporty Imprezas of the past. They tended to be functional and homely looking cars with little in the way of swagger or style. Like many other Subaru, the Impreza attracted a strong following amongst brainy types and outdoor adventure lovers. For years these people were attracted to the solid engineering and dependability that came with the Japanese built Subaru. For them, It was a simple formula: dependability + functionality = quality.
Until recently, style was never a major factor in the equation. Buying a Subaru was as much a lifestyle choice as transportation. This was most evident in the Impreza family’s extreme versatility. Impreza DNA ranged from the type A personality of the WRX STi on one end to the tree hugging, adventure loving Outback Sport on the opposite. Firmly in the middle of functionality, style and practicality was the low-key range of “regular” Impreza sedan and odd-looking 5 door hatch.
Then something happened in the small car market. Manufacturers started taking them seriously. Style, features and performance increased and suddenly the small car was no longer the penalty box our parents had known. Subaru was a bit behind the curve where more mainstream design was concerned, but it had been making gradual inroads towards making the Impreza more attractive, while maintaining all that was good about the brand like its distinctive personality.
In 2007 a redesign went a long way toward making the ’08 Impreza more appealing to a broader audience. By 2011, the fourth generation design’s basic shape was refined and moved even closer to the mainstream. While some Subaru loyalist might cringe at the thought of Subaru becoming more mainstream, it’s doing so while still keeping its fun to funky personality. Interior materials, long a sore point with Impreza critics was brought up to more upscale standards. No Subaru is nearly on par with Ford, Honda and Toyota. Available as a 5 door hatchback and more traditional four door sedan, the Impreza had grown up to reflect a tougher market where the “Beauty of All-Wheel Drive” may not be the major selling point anymore.
There are more variations of the Impreza also. In the US there were about 8 trim levels by 2013, all featuring a 2.0-liter boxter four-cylinder engine with 148 hp. While power is less than many of its rivals, the Impreza’s engineered save weight measures have offset what would have otherwise been increased bulk from its AWD system. At just under 3,000 lbs. a typical Impreza can achieve anywhere from 34 to 36 mpg depending on what transmission is chosen. While no one else has all-wheel drive, a self shifting Impreza comes close to the magical 40 mpg mark advertised by the Chevy Cruze and Ford Focus. Shifting choices are odd for an all-wheel drive car. Auto shifting comes by way of Subaru’s Lineartronic transmission (their name for CVT). It offers paddle shifting without a clutch and may be one of the few semi-manual CVT systems on the market. More traditional (and fun) stick rowing is achieved by the standard manual 5 speed.
No ones gonna mistaken the 148 hp Impreza for a BZR, but its handling is competent on most road surfaces in nearly any kind of weather. You can’t say that for a Mustang. Most are likely to be sold with the All-Weather Package, especially in the Northeastern states where the Impreza has always been popular due to long harsh winters. While the package makes the Impreza easier to live in winter due to heated seats and side mirrors, it does nothing to make it more fun to drive. All models seem to be equipped with the same performance related hardware. Going up the model line only gets you more kit in the form of storage/roof racks, electronic gadgets etc.
In Japan the Impreza is called the XV and is considered more upmarket than its positioning in North America. Some of what made JDM Imprezas upmarket has rubbed off in the States as the Impreza employs some advanced technology, once reserved for large luxury cars. In addition to having the expected LCD screen based amusements and sat nav systems, some Impreza can be equipped with a twin camera system called EyeSight.
EyeSight basically monitors the road for obstructions ahead, behind and beside the car. it works in conjunction with cruise control to help maintain safe distances from cars ahead of the driver. It even alerts distracted drivers of light changes and crossing pedestrians. Such a system was a big deal on a $50k Cadillac about 10 years ago.
With a ground clearance of 5.7 inches, the Impreza can roam toe to toe with most SUV’s. To bridge the gap between the very car like Impreza and more truck-like SUV’s, a new cross over model was introduced in 2012. The XV Crosstrek is essentially a Impreza with a higher ground clearance. It’s a sporty take on the crossover genre and shows that Subaru is moving from more traditional staid designs to youth oriented fun boxes.
The Impreza is likely to continue its trend towards upward mobility as the small car market gets more heated. The novelty of all-wheel drive is still a rare feature for small cars in the United States. As long as Subaru can continue to retain that what makes a Subaru a Subaru, its likely to find more new buyers willing to take a chance on its brand of quirk.