Subaru is the indie band you loved when nobody knew them, and the 4-star 2018 Impreza 2.0i Sport compact sedan just might be the crossover hit that takes them big time, landing them in movie soundtracks, commercials and three driveways on your block.
Do you still love them? Or are you a fair-weather fan who valued their obscurity as much as the music they made?
Subaru has been the in-crowd's secret for years. Now it also makes several of the world's best cars. It's hard to keep that quiet. Get used to seeing more Subarus.
This is not without risk. Other brands have built a devoted audience around a unique personality, only to lose sight of what made them special as they chased higher sales.
BEHIND THE WHEEL
2017 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Sport sedan
All-wheel-drive five-passenger compact sedan
Price as tested: $24,145 (excluding destination charge)
Rating: 4 out of 4 stars
Reasons to buy: Value; all-wheel-drive; controls
Shortcomings: Fuel economy; power
The Impreza compact sedan and hatchback were all-new for the 2017 model year. The 2018 model year brought a few safety features and a price increase that reflects the car's status as a hit: Impreza sales are up 48.3 percent versus a year ago.
All-wheel-drive is standard on all models, a feature that makes the Impreza unique among mass-market compacts. Competition includes the Chevy Cruze, Ford Focus, Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra, Kia Forte, Mazda 3, Nissan Sentra, Toyota Corolla and Volkswagen Jetta.
All Imprezas have a 2.0L four-cylinder horizontally opposed "boxer" engine that produces 152 hp and 147 lb-ft of torque.
Prices start at $18,495 for a four-door sedan with a five-speed manual transmission. Hatchbacks start at $18,995. Subaru's continuously variable automatic transmission adds $1,000.
The most expensive Impreza in the 2018 model line is a $24,695 Limited hatchback with the CVT.
I tested a nicely equipped mid-level 2017 Impreza Sport sedan that stickered at $24,145. My car had a large and useful touch screen; voice recognition; Apple CarPlay; Bluetooth compatibility; Android Auto; backup camera; 18-inch alloy wheels; high-definition radio; a four-month satellite radio trial; power locks, mirrors and windows; power sunroof; Harman Kardon audio; blind spot and cross-traffic alerts.
A 2018 Impreza Sport equipped like my test car costs $25,145. All prices exclude destination charges.
That's still a bargain. None of the other mass-market compacts offer AWD, and the Impreza's other features compare well.
COMPETITIVE BASE PRICES (EXCLUDING DESTINATION CHARGES)
(Automatic transmission models)
2018 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Sport sedan w/CVT: $22,895
Chevrolet Cruze Premier: $23,475
Ford Focus Titanium sedan: $24,175
Honda Civic EX-L: $23,900
Hyundai Elantra Limited: $22,100
Kia Forte EX: $21,600
Mazda 3 Grand Touring: $24,195
Nissan Sentra SL: $23,440
Toyota Corolla XSE: $22,730
VW Jetta 1.4T SE: $22,245
The Impreza is roomy and comfortable. The passenger compartment is larger than any of the competitors. The front seat has plenty of storage for cups, smartphones and the like. The rear seat is accommodating. The trunk is smallest in the group, but still practical.
The controls include a large touch screen for smartphone and other functions. There are also conventional buttons and dials for frequently used features such as volume, tuning, fan and temperature. The controls are simple and easy to use.
AN ALL-NEW ARCHITECTURE
The Impreza uses a new platform Subaru developed. The structure is stiff and light. My AWD Impreza weighed just 106 pounds more than a front-drive VW Jetta SE.
That allows the boxer engine and CVT to deliver satisfying performance despite only average power for the segment. The steering is responsive. The suspension manages bumps and keeps the car stable in quick maneuvers.
Subaru offers a wide range of safety features in an option package called EyeSight. You can equip an Impreza with adaptive cruise control, automatic braking, automatic high beam lights and lane-keeping assist, in addition to the features on my car. That package of features costs $2,150 on an Impreza Sport.
The Impreza's styling is simple and nearly unadorned. Large windows provide good visibility. A rectangular grille houses a Subaru badge and silver wings.
The sides have mild fender flares and subtle character lines running along the beltline and just above the door sills.
Expect flashier looks and more performance when Subaru adds a high-powered WRX sport model in 2019.
SPECIFICATIONS AS TESTED
Engine: 2.0L horizontally opposed four-cylinder boxer engine
Power: 152 hp @ 6,000 rpm; 145 lb-ft of torque @ 4,000 rpm
Transmission: Continuously variable automatic
Wheelbase: 105.1 inches
Length: 182.1 inches
Width: 70.0 inches
Height: 57.3 inches
Curb weight: 3,131 pounds
Where assembled: Lafayette, Ind.
It's hard to find any real shortcomings in the Impreza. Fuel economy is in the middle of the pack, but that's still pretty good for an all-wheel-drive vehicle competing with front-wheel-drive cars. AWD adds weight and increases how the engine works even when the car doesn't need extra traction.
The EPA rates the CVT-equipped Impreza at 28 m.p.g. in the city, 38 on the highway and 32 in combined driving. The key combined figure trails the Civic and Cruze, but is actually better than the Mazda 3, Ford Focus and Toyota Corolla.
The other cars match the Impreza.
COMPETITIVE EPA FUEL ECONOMY RATINGS
(Automatic transmission models)
2018 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Sport sedan w/CVT: 32 m.p.g. city/38 highway/32 combined. Regular gasoline.
Chevrolet Cruze Premier: 29/40/33. Regular gasoline.
Ford Focus Titanium sedan: 27/38/31. Regular gasoline.
Honda Civic EX-L: 32/42/36. Regular gasoline
Hyundai Elantra Limited: 28/37/32. Regular gasoline
Kia Forte EX: 29/38/32. Regular gasoline
Mazda 3 Grand Touring: 28/37/31. Regular gasoline
Nissan Sentra SL: 29/37/32. Regular gasoline
Toyota Corolla XSE: 28/35/31. Regular gasoline.
VW Jetta 1.4T SE: 28/38/32. Regular gasoline.
The Impreza brings the goodies that made Subaru a cult favorite to the mass market, at affordable prices. It should raise the ante for every other brand that wants to sell a compact car.
There's a new star on stage.
The days of catching that cool indie band in tiny clubs may be over. You may have to share Subaru with stadium-size crowds
And if you're one of the early adopters who kind of hates the fact that everybody else has figured out how good the funky little brand you discovered is, get over yourself.
The Beatles and Eminem remained trailblazers long after they became best sellers. There's no reason Subaru can't, too.
KEY FEATURES ON VEHICLE TESTED
Standard equipment: Antilock brakes; stability control; front-seat side air bags; driver knee air bag; curtain air bags; backup camera; LED daytime running lights; 18-in alloy wheels; rear spoiler; turn signals built into side mirrors; power locks, mirrors, windows; air conditioning; 8.0-in. touch screen; HD radio; four months SiriusXM satellite radio; Bluetooth compatibility; Apple CarPlay; Android Auto; USB port; cruise control; automatic headlights; push button start; manually adjustable front seats; manual tilt and telescoping steering column; aluminum pedal covers; leather wrapped steering wheel and shifter; 60/40 split folding rear seat; heated front seats.
Options: Power sun roof; 432-watt eight-speaker Harman/Kardon audio; cross-traffic and blind-spot alert.
(c)2017 Detroit Free Press
Visit the Detroit Free Press at www.freep.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.