Want an affordable and fuel-efficient compact car with all-wheel-drive? Subaru's Impreza sedan and hatchback are your best options - and aside from the thirsty, dated Suzuki SX4, really your only options.
Subaru recently redesigned the Impreza with an emphasis on gas mileage, cutting out excess weight, adding a fuel-thrifty continuously variable transmission and installing a smaller, more efficient engine. While the new car isn't quite as quick as the old model, it's cable of returning up to 36 mpg on the highway - an impressive figure for an all-wheel-drive vehicle.
Outside, the latest Impreza looks more focused than its somewhat soft and rounded predecessor. Sleek headlights, well-integrated fender flares and squared-off bumpers highlight the hatchback model. Inside, the interior is simple but highly functional, with a sporty three-spoke steering wheel and intuitive center stack controls. One exception to the generally excellent ergonomics is the optional navigation system, which is fussy and difficult to operate. The hatchback offers a healthy 22.5 cubic feet of cargo space, and folding the rear seats down unlocks 52.4 cubes.
Helping the Impreza to achieve its strong fuel economy figures is a 2.0-liter boxer four-cylinder that produces 148 horsepower and 145 lb-ft of torque. Those figures are down from the 170 horsepower and 170 lb-ft of torque produced by the last-gen model's 2.5-liter mill, but the tradeoff is 27 mpg in the city and 36 mpg on the highway with the available CVT. The old automatic-equipped car returned 20/26 mpg. The other transmission option, a five-speed manual, helps the car get up to speed a bit quicker but lowers mileage to 25/33 mpg.
All-wheel-drive is standard across the line; it gives the Impreza a sure-footed feeling in slippery inclement weather. In terms of driving dynamics, the car's small size and capable chassis give it relatively nimble feel, but numb steering cuts down on the fun factor. Though slightly firm, the suspension provides a comfortable ride.
Trim Level Breakdown
The Impreza hatchback is offered in three trim levels - 2.0i, 2.0i Premium, 2.0i Sport Premium, 2.0i Limited and 2.0i Sport Limited.
The 2.0i comes standard with air conditioning, power windows and locks, a four-speaker AM/FM/CD stereo system with a USB input and full iPod integration, Bluetooth connectivity, a multi-function display, cloth upholstery and 15-inch steel wheels with hubcaps. The five-speed manual is the only available transmission for the 2.0i.
The 2.0i Premium adds cruise control, two extra speakers for the sound system, steering wheel-mounted audio and Bluetooth controls and 16-inch aluminum-alloy wheels. The CVT is optional on the 2.0i Premium.
The 2.0i Sport Premium ups the content level with heated front seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter, fog lights, roof rails and grey-finish 17-inch aluminum-alloy wheels. The CVT is standard on the 2.0i Sport Premium and higher trim levels.
The 2.0i Limited brings leather upholstery, HD radio, automatic climate control, auto on/off headlights and 17-inch aluminum-alloy wheels, but does without the Sport Premium's roof rails.
The 2.0i Sport Limited adds 17-inch grey-finish aluminum-alloy wheels and roof rails.
Options include a moonroof and a navigation system.
All Impreza models come standard with dual front, front side and full-length side curtain airbags in addition to a driver's side knee airbags, traction and stability control systems and a tire-pressure monitoring system.
Competitors to the Impreza hatch include front-wheel-drive models such as the Ford Focus Hatchback, the Mazda Mazda3 Hatchback and the Kia Forte Hatchback. The only similarly-priced AWD car is the Suzuki SX4, which is smaller and less fuel efficient.