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2012 Subaru Impreza Road Test Review by Bob Plunkett

2012 Subaru Impreza Road Test Review
Packing a fuel-thrifty engine

By Bob Plunkett

Rack the sporty three-spoke steering wheel hard to the right, then quickly back to the left, now right again to make yet another chicane kink of a blacktop slalom course draped through deep folds of the Ouachita Mountains in western Arkansas.

Our sporty hatchback from Japanese automaker Subaru -- the 2012 Impreza 2.0i Sport Premium 5-door, hunkering low against the road and hugging hard through each tight curve with all four tires clawing for traction -- cuts a precise and controlled line at a quick clip.

Actually, we're sailing through the convoluted course, running lickety-split with a new horizontally-opposed engine whining and tire rubber wailing simply to see just how well -- and fun to drive -- this new Impreza really is.

And it shows us.
           
The rigid platform, drawn in wide-track stance with wheels floating independently at the corners, sets up a nimble package of compact dimensions that's rigged with all the right stuff to let it romp on pavement.

It's also fired up to work, thanks to a unique little engine that produces surprising muscle and torque from relatively modest displacement.

Bottom line: Impreza has been redesigned in a fourth generation of models for 2012, which conform as a 4-door notchback sedan and 5-door hatchback. Collectively, these new vehicles are stronger, more powerful and more serious than any previous Imprezas, and they look streamlined slick dressed in sleek new packages.

The new Impreza engine displaces 2.0 liters and has four cylinders opposed horizontally and set perpendicular to the drive line, then linked with equal-length drive shafts so pairs of cylinders act like boxers jabbing at one another in counterbalanced movements that negate the typical four-cylinder engine's jarring vibrations.

This plant produces 148 hp at 6200 rpm plus torque of 145 lb-ft at 4200 rpm.

Better yet, the engine scores well in the thrifty fuel department, with EPA numbers climbing to 36 mpg.

All of the power channels through either a tight-shifting manual five-speed stick with ISA (incline start assist) or Subaru's Lineartronic CVT (continuously variable transmission) with a manual shift mode and paddle shifters at hand on the steering wheel.

There's no choice about the traction mechanism, however, as all vehicles at Subaru come with an all-wheel-drive (AWD) system that's always engaged.

With CVT the active AWD system on Impreza has a continuously variable hydraulic transfer clutch (CVHTC) managed electronically.

With a manual five-speed transmission, the continuous AWD system has a viscous-coupling locking center differential (VCLCD) designed to distribute the engine's power evenly between front and rear wheels. Slippage of front or back wheels may prompt the device to redirect some of the power to the wheels not slipping, and it's possible to send all of the torque to the front or rear.

Subaru outfits all Impreza models with suspension, brake and steering systems designed to forge a responsive vehicle.

The new suspension is fully independent with tuned MacPherson struts up front and a double wishbone design in the rear.

And the steering system, through a rack and pinion arrangement, adds a new electric power steering (EPS) device which by itself contributes a 2-percent efficiency increase.

The four-wheel disc brakes tie to an anti-lock brake system (ABS) with electronic brake distribution (EBD) and electronic brake assist (EBA) plus a stability system under Subaru's label of Vehicle Dynamics Control (VDC) with a four-wheel all-speed traction control system (ASTCS).

Exterior styling for Impreza looks sleek yet strong.

The prow, tapering to a narrow point in front of a sculpted hood, carries long corner headlamp clusters flanking a revised chrome grille with squared bottom edge and lower fascia with broad air intake ports.

Smooth flanks with body-color moldings, mirrors and door handles are interrupted by bold wheelwell blisters and large multi-spoke alloy wheels.

Trims consist of base, Premium and Limited, with the 5-door adding Sport Premium and Sport Limited models.

The Impreza 2.0i base sedan rolls on 15-inch steel wheels capped by 195/65R15 all-season tires and stocks air conditioning, power controls for windows and door locks and exterior mirrors, cloth seat upholstery with the driver's bucket gaining height-adjustable controls and the rear bench with seatback split 65/35 and folding, a tilting/telescoping steering wheel, variable intermittent wipers, rear-seat heater ducts, two overhead map lights, two 12V outlets and an audio kit with AM/FM/CD and four speakers.

The Impreza 2.0i base hatchback carries the same equipment but adds a rear roof spoiler plus a rear window wiper/washer and cargo bay tie-down hooks.

The 2.0i Premium sedan and hatchback score 16-inch alloy wheels with 205/55R16 tires, foglamps and body-color exterior mirrors, plus more cabin appointments like an adjustable center armrest, cruise control, Bluetooth connectivity and six-speaker stereo with AM/FM/CD/MP3.

Subaru holds the line on prices, which begin at $17,449 for the Impreza 2.0i base 4-door and $17,995 for the 5-door.

For more info on the 2012 Subaru Impreza, click here.

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