Imprez-ive: New-look Subaru sedan and hatchback gains inside perks, transmission that packs a wallop

A downtown Charleston home serves as a backdrop for this 2012 Subaru Impreza. The redesigned Impreza is on sale at Crews Subaru of Charleston (Leroy Burnell/postandcourier.com 4/5/2012).

By JIM PARKER The Post and Courier

Face it: The Subaru Impreza needed a makeover, cosmetic and otherwise.

While trendy in its far sportier high-performance persona, the brand had become less-than dramatically shaped as a passenger sedan. That’s why Subaru slated a resdesign for Impreza in the 2012 year.

The four-door would get 17-inch alloy wheels, Bluetooth and other hands-free functions on the steering wheel and a larger trunk that opens and lifts electronically.

The engine would be a 2.0-liter four-cylinder “boxer,” with horizontally opposed pistons that “box” each other, producing 148 horsepower. Guiding the engine would be a continuously variable transmission (CVT). Another perk for 2012 would be a pair of paddle shifters on the steering wheel enabling the driver to shift gears in manual mode without using a clutch.

All in all, the Impreza would resemble a smaller version of the popular Legacy. “It looks like the little brother,” said H.R. Hicks, general manager of Crews Subaru of Charleston on Rivers Avenue.

Yet smaller doesn’t mean less effective. Subaru is expecting the Impreza to become one of its three volume leaders, he said.

Hicks said sales of the chiseled-looking Impreza, available since earlier this year, have been “very good.”

The model comes in sedan and five-door hatchback versions and its listed fuel mileage is 27 mpg city, 36 mpg highway.

The Impreza’s base price is a moderate $19,095.

“It’s a lot of fun,” said Josh Stringer, certified Subaru specialist at Crews.

The specialist said most of the customers thus far are older buyers looking to save money on fuel. “They are just wanting the gas mileage,” he said.

The Impreza carried over some special features. Independent four-wheel suspension keeps the car steady even off road. All-wheel-drive helps in inclement conditions.

Safety features abound. Built into the model are a host of air bags; Subaru added a driver’s-side knee air bag for the first time, Stringer said. A reinforcement cage envelops the driver and passenger zone.

In an afternoon test drive of the premium Impreza model, the newly styled Subaru proved to be almost high performance, not bad for a less than 150-hp engine.

Most notable is the continuously variable transmission. To put it simply, the car felt like it wasn’t shifting at all. There were none of the revs and drops in power found even in the smoothest automatic. Yet the vehicle, with its four-cylinder engine, handled interstate speeds with ease and didn’t lug down in traffic.

Handling is superb, with the vehicle able to sharply switch lanes or quickly maneuver in and out of traffic. Another nice point: the turning radius is tight. Legroom and headroom is more than adequate, although the back seats could be a little scrunched for taller people.

To sum up, the Impreza is a safe, smart-looking sedan (or hatchback) with surprising pickup and handling at a less-than break the bank price.

Pretty good for a makeover. Reach Jim Parker at 937-5542 or jparker@postandcourier.com.