LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Having redesigned the Impreza into its fifth generation for 2017, Subaru kept the updates to the 2020 version simple — it’s a mild enough refresh that you might miss some of the changes.
There’s an updated front bumper and Legacy-style grille, revised taillights for the hatchback, and all but the base trim level get LED fog lamps. All get automatic door locks, a rear seat reminder system, and easier-to-access USB ports. All trim levels with a CVT now get EyeSight, Subaru’s camera-based suite of active safety features, as well as Subaru’s SI-Drive throttle mapping system for a sportier drive. Most notable from behind the wheel are tweaks to the springs and dampers for a more comfortable ride, and better steering feel. All models still use Subaru’s 2.0-litre four-cylinder Boxer engine, meaning the pistons lie flat on either side of the crankshaft, rather than upright as in most four-cylinders. It’s rated at 152 horsepower and 145 lb.-ft. of torque. Transmission choices are a five-speed manual or the aforementioned CVT.
All-wheel-drive is standard, of course. Subaru calls it “symmetrical,” which actually refers to the driveline’s mirror-image layout on either side of the car’s axis, rather than the amount of torque sent to each wheel. Imprezas with the manual transmission splits power 50/50 between the front and rear, while CVT-equipped cars send a bit more to the front. While many AWD competitors run only the front wheels under most driving conditions and send power to the rear only when needed, Subaru’s system constantly powers both axles.
With the manual, the Impreza sedan starts at $19,995 and the hatchback at $21,995. For the CVT, it’s $20,995 and $22,995, respectively, which includes the EyeSight system. Apparently, adapting some of its functions to a manual transmission is a complex operation, and so few people buy the stick that the company has held off on the investment needed.
I drove the top-line Sport-tech with EyeSight, which comes only with a CVT — the sedan version is $30,795, while my hatchback tester was $31,695. Getting AWD and the technology for the price is the big deal here, because the little engine is tepid on acceleration; it’s also noisy, and the CVT often drones. Many automakers have done a superb job of making CVTs smooth and quiet, but the Impreza’s seems rather dated. And the addition of SI-Drive doesn’t really help much; it just keeps the engine revs higher, and adds more noise than power. Get past all that, though, and the Impreza is a fine little driver. It handles very well, the ride is bigger-car comfortable, and the brakes are quick and confident.
I like the simplicity of the interior, with its large dials, physical buttons to access the infotainment system, and not to mention, the simple touchscreen. It can actually look a little too downscale in the top-of-the-line Sport-Tech, where you’re topping $31,000. But on the other hand, you do also get leather seats, a heated steering wheel, a premium sound system, and dual-zone climate control.
EyeSight includes adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, emergency front braking, and an alert if the vehicle ahead of you at the light starts moving — but please don’t use it as an excuse to check your phone. Because the EyeSight cameras only look ahead, it doesn’t include blind-spot monitoring, which comes only on the Sport and Sport-tech trim levels.
The verdict overall? The Impreza may be leisurely off the line, but it hands back a smooth ride and great handling, along with an excellent all-wheel system. And even if the interior seems a bit stark, it’s very comfortable and everything’s easy to use. Even if you’re looking at a crossover or small SUV, it’s worth your while to give this hatchback a spin.