2012 Subaru Impreza

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There’s a 5-door hatchback Impreza too, for more cargo space.
There’s a 5-door hatchback Impreza too, for more cargo space.

The farther north one travels in New England, the more Subarus there are.

In fact, along with pickup trucks, mommy minivans and senior-citizen Buicks, the Subaru wagon is a staple, especially in pea-soup green. And why not? Subies are practical, thrifty, long-lived, go-anywhere, low-maintenance vehicles; if at first they’re sometimes easy to overlook, the longer we know them, the more they impress.

Does this not also describe the natives of, say, Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont?

Just like those Yankees who pack their children off (sometimes as far away as Boston or New York) for a good education, Subaru has steadily toned up its models, especially the Legacy and the Outback. Horsepower, digital connectivity, plush decorating, and new safety and driver-assist technologies—it’s all there.

Or at least available. Still, every model, no matter how gussied-up, has all-wheel drive and none is what you might call low-slung. Up north, the weeks between winter and summer aren’t spring, they’re mud season.

Now, for 2012, Subaru has given its least expensive car, the Impreza, a good going-over as well. Some of the improvements are subtle. The seats have been raised a bit, the dashboard lowered a bit, the base of the windshield moved forward quite a lot.

The result, though, is notable: No more sitting in a bathtub. Outward visibility seems much improved, and the driver feels more in control. The cabin is light and airy, and the materials and fittings have been upgraded appropriately. Old Subie seats had flat bottoms and only adjusted fore and aft.

These are nicely contoured and supportive, and can be raised or lowered. On this two-steps-up Limited model, they’re even leather-covered and heated.

The cheapest Impreza has a sticker price of $17,495 plus $750 for delivery. This one cost $22,645, to which has been added $2,069 for a power sunroof, a navigation system and all-weather floor mats.

The only things on the center stack besides a storage cubby are three knobs for heating and air-conditioning and a small screen for the satnav and radio. The simplicity may leave you wondering what Subaru has skimped on, but really, it’s all there. Cruise-control and radio switches are in the steering wheel.

There’s an iPod plug and Bluetooth audio. It took me a while to find the two-stage seat-heater switches because they’re between the front seats and I’d covered them up by sliding the console cover-armrest forward. The nav system is easy to use and the controls are just sensitive enough.

It isn’t a long, or distracting and dangerous, reach to the touch-screen, either. You can get text messages on it, too.

The most interesting thing about this Impreza is its new 2.0-liter engine. It’s still a compact, flat four-cylinder, but it’s half a liter smaller and 22 horsepower (and 25 lbs-ft of torque) less powerful than last year’s. That’s quite a lot, and you’d think the car would suffer. But it’s lost weight, too.

The Impreza barely weighs 3,000 pounds, which is unusual these days. There’s more than enough acceleration. Add responsive steering and strong brakes plus four-wheel independent suspension, and we have a comfortable AWD sedan that seats four and is more agile than some small FWD cars.

In addition, the fuel economy has improved. With the optional continuously variable transmission (with paddle shifters, no less), the Impreza is now rated for 27 miles per gallon in city driving and 36 MPG on the highway. The Impreza must be one of the least-expensive, most fuel-efficient AWD cars available, but it certainly doesn’t feel like a bottom-feeder.

Overall, the Impreza gives off a strong whiff of sanity and reason. It’s as though Subaru really thought about how to make its car genuinely better instead of bigger, heavier, faster, glossier.

The Impreza recently won the New England Motor Press Association’s Yankee Value Award for 2012. No surprise.



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