The external appearance of the 2012 Impreza four-door and five-door is a vigorous leap forward in Subaru styling. But this dynamically forward-thrusting new shape is more than just a pretty face.
The overall length of the 2012 Impreza is identical to its 2008-2011 forebear (180.3 inches for the four-door, 173.8 inches for 5-door), but the 2012 Impreza makes vastly more efficient use of the interior space it encloses. The new car's wheelbase is one inch longer than the previous Impreza, and the base of its A-pillar has been moved a massive 7.9 inches forward. This slants the windshield steeply back resulting in a sleek, modern profile.
This aggressive cabin shape, besides looking great, allows Subaru designers to achieve startling improvements in interior space and efficiency. The new Impreza is roomier, more comfortable and easier to get in and out of. A major element in this improvement is the fact that front door opening is almost five inches longer front to rear. The lower lip of the doorsill is also one inch lower than in the previous model, adding to ease of entry. The rear door opening is also longer, achieving the same benefits. All of this in a car that isn't one inch longer than the previous-generation model.
In other respects, the new Impreza is a pleasing, modern shape. Its low, short hood and streamlined shape contribute to an enthusiastic form that moves through the air efficiently, registering a low coefficient of drag of 0.31 for the four-door and 0.33 for the five-door. The nose is aggressive, with dual low air intakes, shrouded for the lowest amount of aerodynamic drag. The rakishly shaped headlight clusters seem to glower with determination. The Impreza's sides have three character lines, thrusting downward and ahead. Finally, the wheel wells are surrounded by a distinctive flat semicircular bevel that keeps the profile from looking too heavy.
A stiffer chassis floor for 2012 allows the suspension to react more accurately to changing loads and more spirited driving.
All in all, the 2012 Impreza is one of the most attractive small cars in the marketplace, replacing the cheap/minimalist theme of some others with an appearance of true chic.
Entering the cabin for the first time, the 2012 Impreza has an airy, nicely stylish feel, with a relatively low beltline and a large greenhouse with large windows that welcome the outside world. The instrumentation on the dash looks simple and straightforward, as opposed to high-tech and demanding. It is a look that is fully in keeping with Subaru's geewhiz-free approach. But the controls are by no means a throwback to the previous (2008-2011) model. The dashboard cover and switchgear are redone with very nice soft-touch materials that give them an expensive, adult feel.
In keeping with this well-equipped package, the Impreza models are fitted with a new driver-side knee airbag, complementing the full standard array of mandated airbags.
Similarly, the layout and dispersion of instruments and controls is nicely intuitive; you feel you understand all you need to understand from the first exposure to them. The main dials for engine speed (redline 6600 rpm) and vehicle speed are black-on-white and almost disappointingly plain in keeping with Subaru's no-nonsense tone. The cruise control, audio control and hands-free phone controls on the steering wheel were dead simple, with little toggles that did their job well. A small multi-function Info display is located dead ahead between the tachometer and speedometer.
The front seats are average in terms of comfort and lateral support, appropriate to this thrifty, fuel-efficient car's place in the market. But the front seats have been improved in a major way for 2012: The seatbacks are taller, better protecting bigger drivers from whiplash injury.
In the rear compartment, legroom has been resourcefully increased by scalloping out the backs of the front seats.
Trunk volume in the four-door sedan is 12.0 cubic feet, but our 5-door test car, with its cargo room maximized, delivered a generous 52.4 cubic feet. Lift-over height is moderate: 27.0 inches.
The Impreza HVAC was absolutely straightforward and powerful, and the audio was good by contemporary standards, not exceptional but acceptable. The body-color electric outside mirrors have been enlarged since 2011 and provide better rearward visibility.
This is a comfortable, well-furnished interior, fully in keeping with Subaru's down-to-earth practicality. The Impreza is a simple economy sedan in some respects, but with the 2012 version, Impreza has added style and comfort that will be attractive to buyers well beyond the Subaru faithful.