We like the smooth shape of the Impreza front end, hood and nose. For 2010, there's a new grille with a big chrome vee flying over the dark opening, like a shiny silver bat bursting from a cave. It's nicely done but the v-front isn't original (see especially the overdone Acura).
Impreza models come in four-door sedan and five-door hatch versions. The 4-Door looks like a traditional compact sedan, while the 5-Door gets special styling cues that give it an edgy look.
This is most noticeable in the Outback Sport, which comes exclusively as a 5-Door. Outback Sport's two-tone paint job is designed to suggest a rugged off-road vehicle. One color rims the car, riding like a roller coaster from the level rocker panels up and down over the flared fenders, and wiping itself over the car's blocky rear with its short overhang. A second color reaches up to grab the mostly clear silvery taillamps in a composite shape for which geometry has no word. There's a ding strip on the doors in that other color that according to our notes doesn't add much. Outback has a nice big roof rack, but there's no attempt at elegance in the crossbars. The wheels are boring. The Outback Sport has more ground clearance and slightly taller tires than the 2.5i, but it only amounts to two-tenths of an inch.
The sedan looks less edgy than the hatch. There's still a crease in the side, but the sedan has old-fashioned red taillamps, an understated black valance under the grille, and a dual exhaust: two pipes versus the 5-Door's one.
Curiously, the roofline of the 5-Door is only 0.2 inches higher than the sedan, although the coefficient of drag is 0.34 vs. 0.32 (the Outback Sport is 0.35 thanks to the roofrack).
The sedan is sleeker and better looking, but the 5-Door offers more cargo space (44.4 cubic feet with seats down) even with its overall length (on the same wheelbase) being 6.5 inches less.
Effort and style have gone into the sweeping twin-cockpit design of the cabin in front. The quality of the interior materials is high relative to other compact sedans, though they don't convey high quality or low quality. You can tell for sure that the high-grade plastic is plastic, not always the case on some high-grade cars. The titanium color for the dashboard trim looks nice enough, though.
The tilt-telescoping steering wheel doesn't tilt high enough. At its top position, we couldn't climb into the car feet-first without rubbing our knees against the steering wheel, and our knees are decidedly not that high. Granted, this might be solved by lowering the seat.
On the dashboard above the center stack there's a horizontal window with digital readout for temperature, time, and average mpg (we got 22.2). But it's not readable in the sun, and distance to empty is conspicuously unavailable. The stack itself contains the usual vents with a six-disc CD changer above big easy climate control knobs. There's a nice shift lever behind a cubby and coinholder, and ahead of two cupholders and a 12-volt outlet; between the seatbacks there's a small deep console. The door pockets hold 32-ounce cups. All automatic transmission models are pre-wired for dealer-installed remote starting.
We would have preferred the double-stitched cloth seats in the Outback Sport to be more form-fitting. Mostly the seats should clean up better. The material on the edges is rugged and fine, and it would be nice if the whole seat were made of it. But the wider center part is made of a different material, looking sort of like a pinstripe suit. It might as well be made of Velcro for the way it attracts and refuses to let go of things that commonly float around cabins. Dog owner's beware: On this material dog hair armies occupy and take over like Rommel's Afrika Korps in the desert, despite weaponry against them including high-suction vacuums and duct tape. Try tweezers like we did. Better yet, order leather upholstery.
There's good headroom, front and rear and hip and shoulder room are decent. Rear-seat legroom at 33.5 inches is a pretty slim stat. The rear seatback angles are reclined, and the rear doors open wide, 75 degrees, so ingress and egress is easy. Rearview vision is adequate for a hatchback but by no means great.
Cargo capacity after the 60/40 rear seats are dropped is excellent for a car of the Impreza's size, although not nearly as spacious as a longer Subaru Legacy wagon. With the rear seats dropped, we filled a 5-Door Impreza with a small kitchen table (legs removed), big shop vacuum, a weed whacker, and some boxes. Because the sedan is 6.5 inches longer than the 5-Door, it has a large and deep trunk, big enough for three large golf bags. These cars are small for big dogs, however. Big dogs will like the midsize Subaru Outback more than the compact Impreza Outback Sport.