First Look: 2012 Subaru Impreza

First Look

There are some cars that are just meant to be sort of ugly, but in a good way. Other cars, specifically those coming from Italian design firms, simply blindside you with their beautiful lines. Subaru has never built a beautiful car, but that's always been part of their charm. While there was some aesthetic hope from the Impreza concept displayed at last year's Los Angeles Auto Show, the production version has been considerably toned down.

That's ok because the Impreza has never been pretty and the 2012 model continues what the Impreza has always done best: standard all-wheel-drive in an affordable and reliable package. We're still several months away from the WRX's introduction, so for now the standard four and five-door models take center stage after their big reveal at the 2011 New York Motor Show. Beginning where the outgoing model left off, the new car has the same length and width, but the wheelbase has grown by about an inch. Underneath, Subaru is using lightweight high-strength steel and a lighter braking system.

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Additionally, improved interior materials and seat frames help to contain overall weight, which is down by about 110 pounds. For the exterior, Subaru literally made the car sharper and diverted away from curved lines to a more angled approach, taking many design cues from the larger Legacy and the Impreza concept. The chrome-trimmed front fascia with the new hexagonal grille has a more chiseled look that gives a stronger presence. Arches over the front and rear wheels also gives the Impreza a firmer stance.

The angled look continues out back with the bumper, which meets the lower rear body panels in a flat plane design. Unlike before, the now larger side mirrors have been moved from the A-pillar to the doors, resulting in a quarter window at the front of the doors. According to Subaru, the main goal of the new Impreza was to improve fuel economy and they were willing to sacrifice some aesthetic appeal in order to achieve this. Powered by a 2.0-liter boxer engine, it boasts 148 hp and 145 lb-ft of torque, which is 22 hp and 25 lb-ft less than the 2.5-liter engine in the older car.

It's now mated to either a standard five-speed manual or a new Lineartronic CVT that's quieter and smoother than the ancient four-speed automatic it replaces. The new engine is actually a bit heavier than the 2.5 due to its more complex design, making it more efficient and cleaner. EPA figures claim that it'll return 25/33 mpg city/highway for the manual and 27/36 mpg for the CVT. That's an unbelievable 30 percent improvement than before, making the new Impreza the most fuel efficient all-wheel-drive car in the U.S.

With the decrease in power, many may be concerned about performance. Subaru is quick to claim that this won't be affected and performance and handling are actually improved due to the lower weight, revised suspension, and better aerodynamics. It will go from 0 to 60mph in approximately 9.8 seconds. Inside, the interior is another step forward over the previous car's plain vanilla-like style. The new dash is much more driver-focused as it also takes several design cues from the Legacy.

Composed of soft-touch materials in the dash, center console, and doors, the cabin is also better insulated and has increased passenger and cargo space. Standard features include, amongst others, remote keyless entry, power windows, doors, and side mirrors. Premium and Limited trims have additions such as Bluetooth, HD radio, and a 6.3-inch LCD screen with optional voice control. 15-inch wheels come standard on the base model and Premium and Limited versions have either 16 or 17-inch alloys.

Final pricing hasn't been announced, but it shouldn't deviate too much from current numbers when it goes on sale this fall. Subaru has built a decisively better Impreza than before in every way, but we're sure everyone is way more excited for the upcoming WRX and WRX STi. Yeah, so are we.