This review is part of an eleven-car comparison of compact sedans. The Impreza is ranked in seventh place of eleven.
Inside and out, the 2014 Subaru Impreza looks at least five years older than it is. Simple and plain, it doesn't follow the class norm of adding style and technology – the boxy exterior lends itself to good visibility rather than dramatic looks, and Subaru doesn't give you the bright feature-laden infotainment screen you'll find in most of today's competitors.
Set aside the aesthetics, though, and the Impreza is a pretty appealing car. It's comfortable, it rides and handles well, it has a spacious interior, its crash-test scores are impressive, and it's the only small car with standard all-wheel-drive. If you don't need the interior tech, it's a solid honest vehicle that many buyers will likely find refreshing in a class of flashy feature-laden models.
What holds it back a bit, though, is the price. At an estimated $19,750 out the door without some of the features of the other cars in this comparison, Subaru is charging a premium over most competitors for a car that's anything but fancy. Give it a long look if you favor sensible over stylish and don't have much interest in spiffy tech features, but there are other sensible cars that are less expensive and more fuel-efficient.
The Impreza was last redesigned for the 2012 model year, but even then it was a generation behind most competitors for its styling, especially the dashboard. It's nicely finished, to be clear, and the cloth seats on the midlevel 2.0i Premium model are richly upholstered. The dour dash has a nice rubbery finish and trim fits together properly.
But where various other small cars have high-resolution dashboard displays with touchscreen interfaces that help adjust audio settings and sometimes more, the Impreza makes do with small black-on-gray words, and in two places even the simplest seven-segment numbers like you'd find on a $2 calculator.
You can get more advanced settings and displays if you spring for the $2,300 package that includes an in-dash navigation system and rearview camera, which comes bundled with extras like a moonroof, heated seats, and bigger wheels. But even this expensive Impreza's screen is neither as advanced nor as user-friendly as the best competitors'.
Ergonomics are very user-friendly, though, with simple buttons and knobs. The climate knobs move stiffly, feeling a little cheap, but everything is simple to operate distraction-free. There's something to be said for the car's simplicity, though it's worth noting that a well-designed infotainment system adds options without compromising functionality.
But dated appearance aside, the Impreza has a comfortable and very pleasant interior. The front seats are well-shaped, comfortable, and supportive; the rear has a comfortable cushion and good legroom for two adults. Narrow roof pillars and decently large windows make for a good view out. And a couple of unexpected nice touches pop up in the most unexpected places, standing out in the multitude of back-to-back test drives: the handbrake's boot is lavishly stitched (many competitors don't even have one, sticking with bare plastic) and the turn signal stalk clicks into place without the slightest hint of chintziness.
One versatility caveat: The Impreza has the smallest trunk in this comparison at just 12 cubic feet. It's usefully shaped for its size, but that's a disappointment for a car that otherwise could offer enough room to be a substitute for a larger car. A more versatile five-door hatchback is also available.
The Impreza's pleasantness extends to the driving dynamics. The tested car wore optional 17-inch alloy wheels that let bumps punch through more sharply than the standard 16-inchers, but ride quality is still competitive. Handling, too, is nice, with light but accurate steering and decent agility. Driving enthusiasts may not necessarily flock to the Impreza, but neither will they loathe it. Even acceleration is competitive, and the Impreza's engine noise isn't objectionable despite using the same sort of continuously variable automatic transmission that creates a ruckus in some other cars.
Fuel economy is just okay at 30 miles per gallon in mixed driving – competitive for the class, but nothing special. The standard all-wheel-drive takes its toll here, but if you do value the feature's all-weather capability, you'll find this fuel economy phenomenal for a car that offers it. And even if you don't need AWD, a 30-mpg rating certainly isn't so low that you'd need to cross the Impreza off your list.
Note that although the Impreza is one of the heavier compact sedans, it doesn't have quite the same sense of big-car solidity as a Chevrolet Cruze. It's pleasant and comfortable but never feels premium.
It did demonstrate standout crash-test performance, though, with top scores in nearly every evaluation. Most notably, this Subaru aced the challenging Insurance Institute for Highway Safety small-overlap test, a feat shared by just two competitors. All-wheel-drive also adds a measure of security in messy weather.
A little pricey
The Impreza isn't a terrible value for the money, coming in at an estimated transaction price of $19,750 out the door when equipped with most of the same features as the competition: an automatic transmission; power windows, locks and mirrors; alloy wheels; and Bluetooth connectivity.
That's not the most expensive compact car but it's about $1,500 to $2,000 more than several competing sensible sedans, and those models can have their prices further reduced by skipping extra-cost infotainment screens. They also get better gas mileage than the Impreza and have handy rearview cameras.
Note, too, that availability of Imprezas can be limited. Subaru doesn't build that many for the U.S., and the relatively few cars that are built tend to sell quickly. Don't expect a wide selection at your local dealership, making it potentially difficult to find the options you want, especially if you also have a color preference.
But if you value space, comfort and safety over style, technology and the best deal, the Impreza may deliver for you.
Overall grade: B
More from this comparison:
- Next review: 2014 Toyota Corolla LE Plus (6th place)
- Previous review: 2014 Chevrolet Cruze 1LT (8th place)
- Rating the eleven compact sedans
- Ranking the eleven compact sedans
- Introduction to this comparison
More about the 2014 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Premium:
- Photo gallery
- Report card -- how does it compare in different ways, such as comfort, performance, and fuel economy?
- Report card -- how does it stack up for different types of buyers?
Vehicle tested: 2014 Subaru Impreza
Vehicle base price (MSRP): $17,895
Version tested: 2.0i Premium
Version base price (MSRP): $19,295
Vehicle price as tested (MSRP): $23,561
Vehicle price as comparable (MSRP): $21,090
Estimated transaction price as comparable: $19,750
Test vehicle provided by: Herb Gordon Subaru; Silver Spring, Md.
Length: 180.3 inches
Width: 68.5 inches
Height: 57.7 inches
Wheelbase: 104.1 inches
Weight: 3,043 pounds
Trunk volume: 12.0 cubic feet
Turning circle: 34.8 feet
Engine: 2.0-liter H4 with 148 horsepower
Transmission (as tested): CVT automatic
EPA city mileage: 27 miles per gallon
EPA highway mileage: 36 miles per gallon
EPA combined mileage: 30 miles per gallon
Assembly location: Japan
For more information: Subaru website
* Prices as comparable reflect vehicles equipped with the same features, when possible: an automatic transmission; power windows, locks and mirrors; alloy wheels; Bluetooth connectivity; and an infotainment screen.
** Estimated transaction prices are based on data from Truecar.com and dealer quotes.