Subaru's compact sedan has been reinvigorated for 2012. We check it out.

An eager-to-please little brother to the hot rod WRX, the standard Impreza has been reborn for 2012.

While the big bro is one of the best rides in the business, both from a driver engagement and a passion standpoint, the Impreza ius designed to cast a much wider net by appealing to all sorts of drivers.

Does it get lost it the WRX's shadow, or is it a hit on its own? Read along as we get our symmetrical all-wheel-drive thing on.

What is it?

Seen here as a four-door, five-passenger sedan with symmetrical all-wheel-drive, Impreza can be had as a three-box sedan with trunk or as a five-door hatchback (tested here). Its power is derived from the 2.0-liter boxer-style, horizontally opposed engine that also does duty in the Forester. That engine is also the basis for the naturally aspirated engine found in the new Subaru BRZ and Scion FR-S, and here it manages 148 horsepower at 6,200 rpm and 145 lb-ft of torque at 4,200 rpm for a mid-level power boost. Our tester was equipped with the Lineartronic CVT with driver-selectable "manual shift mode" via paddle shift levers. For those who like to row it themselves, a five-speed manual transmission is available in the standard 2.0i and 2.0i Premium trim levels.

A product of parent company Fuji Heavy Industries, which itself is 16.5 percent owned by Toyota, it is easy to see how certain other collaborations (ahem, BRZ and FR-S) have come about.

The new-for-2012 Impreza is immensely larger than the car it replaced, and has added capacity all around, especially in the cabin and in the case of the four-door sedan, in the cargo capabilities of the trunk. Subaru says the trunk can swallow four golf bags, although we don't think Caddyshack-sized bags are quite what they had in mind.

The big carryover on this Impreza 2.0i Limited is its symmetrical all-wheel-drive. Seen on every Subaru model in the lineup with the exception of the rear-drive BRZ, it is an active all-wheel-drive system with an electronic continuously variable hydraulic transfer clutch, which moves traction rearward as it senses wheel slip at the front axle. Subaru's big selling point is the symmetrical layout, which helps minimize torque steer in cars with offset systems.

For those looking for just a little more performance, there is always the WRX and WRX STI lineup. Based on the previous generation Impreza, they feature up to 305 rip-roarin' horsepower.

What's it up against?

By size and segment, the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Nissan Sentra, Hyundai Elantra, Chevy Cruze and Ford Focus present direct competition.

Historically, Subaru models, for better or worse, have tended to be priced toward the upward extreme of their segment. With this line of competitors, it seems that the rest of the segment has caught up. But no direct mainstream rival offers all-wheel-drive.

How does it look?

A few years ago Subaru Imprezas had all the charm, er, well at least the headlights of a bug-eyed Sprite. Subsequent facelifts hardly helped, but the latest Impreza rides on a longer wheelbase and features a sculpted version of the larger Legacy's look. Headlamps are more in line with the offerings from its competition, and you truly can't get more mainstream than by selecting the three-box design of this Limited model and its trunk.

Blending design cues that appear to have touches of BMW, Volvo, and even Honda on board tends to lend itself to the conservative nature of this Impreza four-door.

The large grille opening and under bumper intake are flanked by sporty looking fog lamps, while heavily creased wheel arches hold sway at the four corners of this sedan. Split-spoke 17-inch alloy wheels add a degree of aggression to the overall appearance, which is enhanced by a minimal amount of bling.

And on the inside?

To us, the interior is a little perplexing. Sure, it's an improvement, but while Subaru has improved a little, many rivals have improved a lot. It's just not very well outfitted. The nicely spec'd three-spoke steering wheel has all the redundancies that we've come to expect. The two-gauge binnacle? Check. The secondary IP hood with temperature readout and clock? Check. Auxiliary power port? Check, again.

But surprisingly, there's still plenty in the way of hard plastic on the center console and windowsills. The elbows come in contact with some soft-touch material. But we struggled to find much more. The audio and navigation system is beyond rudimentary, and while we realize it is an optional unit, we remember a time when Subaru offered McIntosh audio equipment as its preferred supplier, which made us think that we were listening to the finest audio entertainment on wheels.

The leather seating is actually very good in both the front and the rear seat, with an exceptional amount of legroom in both rows.

But does it go?

Even though it runs with a power deficit over the 2.5-liter engine that it replaces, we were impressed with the power that the 2.0managed to pump out. Quick on the takeoff, it did tend to scoot but didn't do so quietly. There is a large amount of road noise being allowed to come into the cabin.

Working with the power deficit could be disastrous if there wasn't a weight reduction program going on at the same time. As a result of some intelligent engineering, the 2012 Impreza Limited manages to tip the scales at just over a ton and a half, which is around 165 lbs. less than last year's model, or about the equivalent of an average North American male's weight.

The 27/36 mpg rating seemed realistic on paper, and so too the 30 mpg average. But combine that with the Subie's full-time all-wheel-drive and a prodigious use of our size-12 right foot, and you might see the empty side of the fuel gauge a lot faster than normal. We clocked an instant average of 28.2 mpg combined.

On the plus side, we do like the steering resistance, which although electrically boosted, still conveyed some feel of the road. Or perhaps it was just the added friction that comes with AWD, but it still offered a confident ride with good handling characteristics for the car. Credit the MacPherson struts at front and double wishbones in back as well as stabilizer bars at both ends. Another good thing is the paddle shift levers on the steering wheel, which although perhaps a bit artificial, allowed us to get underway quickly - a good thing for sure.

Why you would buy it:

Because 30 mpg and all-wheel-drive are almost the keys to the kingdom. But it's still no WRX STI.

Why you wouldn't:

It's the WRX's less-exciting younger brother and that big wing might be hard to resist in the showroom.

Leftlane's bottom line

At $24,000 and change, our Subaru Impreza 2.0i Limited tester sits in the middle of its competition but with the added traction of all-wheel-drive.

Previously, Subaru hovered near the ceiling of this group. Now that the other brands have effectively narrowed that gap, it's no wonder the brand is hot with no signs of cooling off.

2012 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Limited base price, $21,895.

Moonroof/Navigation Package, $2,000; Destination, $750.

Words and photos by Mark Elias.