Calgary, Alberta – The Subaru Impreza is a nameplate with huge brand recognition and a glittering motorsport history. It’s not just about the glory days in the World Rally Championship, either – Subarus have won 11 of the last 18 Canadian Rally Championships (CRC), for example, and fast Imprezas of all ages still dominate CRC entry lists.
These days, Subaru’s brand message is about fuel efficiency, safety and value. Its sales in Canada and the US have soared to record highs due to the popularity of its crossovers and SUVs. But the Impreza endures as an AWD compact sedan or hatchback with few direct rivals.
2019 Impreza: What’s New?
The current generation of Impreza was introduced as a 2017 model as the first car on Subaru’s new Global Platform (SGP) – read our 2017 Impreza review here. For the 2019 model year, there’s an improved interface for the infotainment system and standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity across the range, which starts at a shade under C$20k for the Convenience 4-door and tops out at C$31,095 for the Sport-tech with EyeSight hatchback.
There’s also a new exterior colour on all grades for 2019, Island Blue Pearl, which is available with Ivory interior on everything but the Convenience.
During a week in Ontario at the TestFest judging event for the 2019 AJAC Canadian Car of the Year (Subaru has entered the new Forester and Ascent), we spent time with the range-topping model in 4-door form. Like all the sedans, it’s priced a little lower than the hatch, at C$30,195.
Impreza styling has varied considerably over the years from the iconic GC8s of the first generation, via the Bugeye cars of the early 2000s, to the somewhat slab-sided look of the final pre-SGP, fourth-generation models.
Subaru’s website describes the 2019 model’s styling as “bold”. We’re not sure we’d agree with that assessment, but it does have a more elegant look than the previous generation, within the confines of modern crash requirements – Subaru has a stellar record in the IIHS safety tests.
The details are important, however. Our Sport-tech sedan came with a small trunk-lid rear wing that hints at STI but hampers rear visibility. At this level of performance, the car would surely do fine without it.
As a matter of personal preference, we’re not sure about the 18in wheel design, either, and would have concerns about potential ease of curb damage, but there are some attractive 16 and 17in alternatives available. In a bright colour and with the right wheels, it’s a good-looking car.
Impreza’s Interior and Equipment
On the inside, the Sport-tech’s cabin does just about everything right. There’s good seat and wheel adjustment to accommodate drivers of all sizes. There’s plenty of room in the front, back and trunk, and the black leather-upholstered seats are comfortable. The finish quality of the interior trim is high.
The touchscreen – an 8.0in, high-res item in the higher grades, 6.3in further down – is easy to navigate and the GPS provides accurate real-time traffic updates. The Harman/Kardon audio sounds good, but then premium sound systems generally do!
As the highest available grade, Sport-tech with EyeSight gets niceties such as a heated steering wheel, dual-zone climate control and LED turn signals in the door mirrors. There isn’t any optional equipment – it’s all standard.
As we’ve discussed before (see our 2019 Forester first drive), the EyeSight advanced driver assistance (ADAS) technologies have been proven to cut accidents. On the congested roads of the GTA, EyeSight intervened intelligently to help keep us safe.
The Sport-tech grade gets the same, normally aspirated, 2-litre direct-injected Boxer engine as every other Impreza below the WRX. With combined consumption of 7.5L/100km (38mpg), it’s economical but somewhat uninspiring propulsion for a ‘Sport’ model.
That’s partly due to the CVT transmission, which inevitably leads to some buzzing engine notes that don’t quite chime with your natural instinct for the noise the motor should be making in a particular situation. Fans of a manual transmission can trade EyeSight for a 5-speed on the lower grades, but the two aren’t available together.
These days, Subaru’s brand message is about fuel efficiency, safety and value…the Impreza endures as an AWD compact sedan or hatchback with few direct rivals.
There’s little wrong with the Sport-tech’s dynamics on an everyday level. In our experience, bigger rims and ‘Sport’ suspension tunes generally just mean poor ride comfort, but the Impreza bucks the trend and does well to avoid harshness, despite its firmer suspension. The retune is unique to this grade, as are the ventilated brakes. The steering is much the Forester’s – accurate, but lacking the feel of older, hydraulically assisted systems.
One quirk was the car’s tendency to wander around on the grooved pavement of the Highway 407 toll road. We’re not sure whether this was down to the surface alone, or whether the suspension tune and 18in Yokohama Avid S34 tires also played a role, but it wasn’t ideal. Given that the phenomenon wasn’t repeated on other roads, we’re happy to give the car the benefit of the doubt, but it would be interesting to compare the behaviour on the same surface of an Impreza on tires with more sidewall.
Fuel efficiency, safety and value: the 2019 Impreza checks all of those boxes if you consider that the Convenience, Touring and Sport grades offer the same on-road performance for less money than the Sport-tech. And let’s not forget that the Impreza also provides the security of an AWD system that has helped Canadians through challenging winter conditions for decades.
As such, the 2019 model is a hard car to fault and, objectively, a much better car than the Imprezas of a decade or more ago. The rear arches won’t rust out, and engine reliability is much improved due to the introduction of timing chains and stronger head gaskets.
Our biggest issue with the Impreza Sport-tech driving experience wasn’t an objective problem, however. It was the nagging feeling that a top-of-the-line Impreza, with its upgraded chassis, should have more to offer on an emotional level. Older Imprezas have more driver appeal than the current model – a combination of intake noise and exhaust note, a powertrain tuned less explicitly for economy, terrific steering feel, and something harder to put your finger on.
The Volkswagen Jetta cannot match the Impreza’s AWD capability, but it nevertheless makes for an interesting comparison. It has no rally heritage and less power than the Impreza. But the combination of a perky turbo engine and the always-excellent dynamics of Volkswagen’s MQB platform make it a fun car to drive – more fun than the Sport-tech, in this writer’s opinion.
We hope that when it comes to the mid-life facelift, the Impreza’s engineers will be able to dial a little more soul back into this otherwise highly capable machine.
Read our past Impreza reviews here.
2019 Impreza Pros
- Still the go-to AWD compact car
- Comprehensive equipment list
- Excellent EyeSight ADAS
2019 Impreza Cons
- Details can make or break the looks
- Uninspiring powertrain
- Can’t match the driver appeal of Imprezas past
2019 Subaru Impreza Basic Specs:
- Body: 4-door and 5-door
- Wheelbase: 105.1 in.
- Length: 4-door: 182.1 in.; 5-door: 175.6 in.
- 4-door trunk (cu.ft.): 12.3 cu. ft.
- 5-door cargo (cu.ft.): 20.8 / 55.3
- Base curb weight (2.0i): 2,974 lb.
- Engine: DOHC 4-cyl. 2.0-liter Boxer, direct injection
- Horsepower 152 @ 6,000 rpm
- Torque 145 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm
- Transmission 5-speed manual or CVT
- EPA mpg, city/hwy. 28/38/32 (2.0i Sedan w/ CVT)