By Dan Ilika Dec 16, 2016 Photos by Dan Ilika. Video by Alex Beare.

FAST FACTS

  • Engine: 2.0L four-cylinder
  • Power: 152 hp, 145 lb-ft
  • Transmission: Five-speed manual; continuously-variable auto
  • EPA Fuel Economy (mpg): 28 city, 38 hwy (CVT)
  • CAN Fuel Economy (L/100 km): 8.4 city, 6.2 hwy (CVT)
  • US Price: Sedan starts at $18,395; hatch starts at $18,895
  • CAN Price: Sedan starts at $19,995; hatch starts at $20,895

 

You’d be hard-pressed to find more than a smattering of Subaru loyalists willing to describe the Impreza as stylish or fun to drive.

Sure, there are the brand’s vaunted WRX and STI models, but when it comes to the car from which those two get their roots, the Impreza is little more than an A-to-B commuter with the added bonus of standard all-wheel drive. But the smallest of Subarus on the North American market has earned a reputation for reliability over the years, proving itself more than capable of going head to head with the segment’s best. And now the automaker is gunning even harder after the compact competition with an all-new 2017 Subaru Impreza that features an updated design with improved driving dynamics to match.

All-New Architecture

Of all the changes made to the Impreza in its fifth generation, the most drastic is the platform that underpins it. The car marks the first of many models, including a pending three-row crossover, that will ride on Subaru’s new global architecture, a modular platform developed with a focus on rigidity and safety.

The new platform gives the Impreza a 40-percent boost in crash energy absorption compared to the outgoing model, while overall stiffness is drastically enhanced, and works with a new suspension setup to provide better responsiveness and ride quality.

With the new architecture forming the 2017 Impreza’s foundation, the car in both sedan and hatchback body styles rides on a wheelbase that’s an inch (25 millimeters) longer than before, while the overall length and width have each been stretched about 1.5 inches (38 mm), resulting in more room for second row passengers. Interestingly, the Impreza’s overall height has been reduced by about 0.4 inches (10 mm) but headroom, both front and rear, has been improved slightly this time around.

ALSO SEE: 2017 Honda Civic Hatchback Review

The majority of our time in and around Monterey, Calif., with the new Impreza was spent in the hatchback, which proved spacious for both passenger and cargo. The front seats provide plenty of room to get comfortable, while leaving more than enough space in the back for an extra passenger or two. Legroom in the back maxes out at 36.5 inches (927 mm), which is plenty, and outdoes both the overhauled Mazda3 and the new Honda Civic hatchbacks, however slightly, when it comes to accommodating additional passengers. When it comes to headroom, the new Impreza falls short of the competition on paper, but won’t leave anyone this side of 6-foot-5 feeling claustrophobic.

The hatchback’s cargo room has also been increased, with 20.8 cu-ft (589 liters) on offer behind the rear seats, and 55.3 cu-ft (1,566 liters) with them folded flat. The latter measurement puts the Impreza in the conversation for best-in-class cargo capacity, besting both the Mazda3 (47.1 cu-ft, 1,334 liters) and Civic (46.2 cu-ft, 1,308 liters) with the second row stowed. The five-door also benefits from a wider trunk opening than before, with the new architecture allowing for the incorporation of a square tailgate frame that provides plenty of room to load larger items.

Evolution of Design

Like the platform on which it rides, the new Impreza also ushers in a new design language for the automaker that, while slightly on the conservative side, is certainly a step in the right direction. The 2017 Impreza now easily ranks among the best-looking cars in the segment, with the design language translating well to both sedan and hatchback forms. The body is much more sculpted this time around, with plenty of character lines that combine with new head- and taillights that cut down on the old car’s blandness.

Inside, the Impreza takes a massive step forward in terms of layout and design — particularly in higher trim grades. Clean lines divide the space nicely, vaulting the car’s cabin out of the dark ages of old and into the modern era. There’s still plenty of hard plastics used throughout, even in top trim, but the seats are comfortable and the controls fall readily to hand.

But the biggest addition, both aesthetically and practically speaking, is the new eight-inch touchscreen that comes into play on Sport models and above. Like the 6.5-inch touchscreen that comes standard, it runs Subaru’s Starlink infotainment interface, a system that has proven itself frustrating and complicated to use. But most of that has changed in its new iteration, and it now includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility across the trim range, a welcome addition that makes up for past shortcomings. Even without a phone paired to the system, the interface is attractive and easy to use.

Revised Powertrain

For all that’s new about the Impreza, both inside and out, it’s still the same-old when it comes to the powertrain — at least on paper. Lift the hood and you’ll be greeted by the same 2.0-liter boxer engine as before, though it has been reworked extensively for 2017. The majority of the four-cylinder’s internal components have been replaced, while direct injection has been added, along with new intake and exhaust components, to improve emissions.

Engine output remains relatively static, with 152 horsepower on offer to go along with 145 lb-ft of torque, but the engine’s torque curve has been flattened on the top end to provide longer spells of maximum power, which comes in handy while merging onto the highway or passing slower traffic.

The same two transmissions are offered again, with the choice of a dated five-speed manual or a continuously variable automatic that, like the engine it’s paired to, has been overhauled. It still features the rubber-banding typical of CVTs, but a new seven-speed manual mode has been added that makes it feel a lot more like a traditional automatic.

Fuel economy for the CVT is estimated at a combined 32 mpg (7.4 L/100 km) for the sedan, 31 mpg (7.6 L/100 km) for the 5-door. The manual transmission is a fair bit worse at 28 mpg (8.4 L/100 km) Both ratings are in line with the rest of the segment, an impressive feat considering the Impreza comes fitted with standard all-wheel drive.

Impressive Driving Dynamics

Combining the new platform and suspension with the old powertrain, Subaru’s engineers virtually nailed it with this new Impreza. The outgoing model’s drive could only be described as boring, with very little to get excited about. But the 2017 version hits almost all the marks. It’s compliant, quiet and comfortable, the perfect recipe for cruising or commuting, but the stiff new chassis means you can toss the Impreza into a corner and live to tell the tale.

The steering is crisp, while the brake-based torque vectoring system, which comes into play on Sport models, provides turn-in response not often found in this segment. The key to a good torque-vectoring system is its relative imperceptibility. While you should know it’s working, it shouldn’t be jarring in doing so, rather working to smoothly pull the car tighter into a turn. And that’s exactly what the Impreza’s system does, providing plenty of bite as corner radiuses shrink.

Of course, there are two sides to this newfound driving fun. On one hand, it provides plenty of corner-carving ability for a reasonable price. On the other, the Impreza isn’t going to overwhelm anyone with power, in which case the WRX starts at just $26,696 ($29,995 in Canada). The ride is slightly less compliant than the Impreza’s, but it’s a more well-rounded performance package for the price premium.

The Verdict: 2017 Subaru Impreza Review

The improvements that have been made to this car are truly outstanding, cementing the Impreza as a real rival to the segment’s best. It can also line up with its adversaries when it comes to price. Starting at $18,395 for a sedan ($19,995 in Canada) and $18,995 for a hatchback ($20,895 in Canada), it’s in line with the likes of the Civic and Mazda3 out of the gate, and stays that way as you climb through the trim levels.

If it were my money on the line, I’d opt for the Impreza Sport hatchback with the five-speed. Sure, the transmission is antiquated, but for $22,495 ($25,295) it provides plenty of bang for a reasonable buck.

LOVE IT

  • Dynamic driving characteristics
  • Spacious cabin
  • Addition of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto

 

LEAVE IT

  • Plenty of plastic inside
  • Still no six-speed manual
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