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Subaru’s Impreza impressive for ’12

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Subaru’s compact Impreza gets a thorough makeover for 2012, and the results are, for the most part, impressive.

Stylewise the little Soobie has always been a bit of an odd duck (as have many Subaru models). But the new car, available in both five-door hatchback and four-door sedan, borrows from the current Legacy design playbook. As a result, the cars are much more mainstream in appearance, with just enough quirk left so as not to disenfranchise the marque’s extremely loyal clientele.

Major upgrades have been granted to the interior as well, with finger-friendly, soft-touch materials on dash and doors where dour, hard plastics used to reside. The new car’s dash tilts toward the stark in a kind of Germanic way, but the controls are perfectly situated for ease of operation without the overly swoopy, button-happy layouts many designers have become enamored with.

2012 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Sport Premium
VEHICLE TYPE: Four-door, five-passenger, compact hatchback
BASE PRICE: $20,595
PRICE AS TESTED: $21,414 (incl. delivery fees)
POWERTRAIN: 2.0-liter, DOHC, “boxer” four-cylinder; 148 horsepower; 145 lb.-ft. torque; five-speed manual transmission; front-wheel drive
WHEELBASE/LENGTH: 104.1″/173.8″
CURB WEIGHT: 3,086 pounds
EPA FUEL RATING: 25 mpg city/33 highway (regular grade)

Seating has received a comfort transplant with thicker, denser foam and more appealing upholstery. And although the new car is the same length as the old, there’s more generous legroom for backseat passengers thanks to a stretched wheelbase. While still tight for three in the back, two full-sized adults will enjoy plenty of stretch-out room.

Under the hood there’s good and not-so-good to report, for there resides a brand-new, 2.0-liter motor. Still in the familiar “boxer” configuration, the new engine delivers outstanding economy for an all-wheel-drive vehicle (25 mpg city/33 highway with our tester’s five-speed manual gearbox) but gives up 22 horsepower and 25 pound-feet of torque to the previous powerplant.

That makes for acceptable acceleration, but sporting it isn’t. It also makes for a fair amount of noise at higher revs, where you’ll find yourself spending an inordinate amount of time in a search for more gumption.

Handling and braking are definitely improved, and the steering is excellent, especially for an electronic unit.

Overall, Impreza makes quite a positive impression.