I purchased my Impreza GX after researching the Lexus IS200, Golf and BMW 3 series. Whilst the Impreza is not in the same class as the Lexus nor the Bimmer, I thought it had great potential of being a great driver's car because of the boxer engine's extra torque and lower centre of gravity it provides.
The stock standard Impreza GX understeers quite a bit so I whacked on a rear sway bar, front anti lift kit and a rear camber kit from Whiteline. These are all essential in getting the car to handle much more neutrally. I found that these modifications did transform the Impreza's handling very significantly and it only costs my AUD$1500 in total. Go for the base model impreza and add these mods on.
My only real critisism of the Impreza is the lack of steering feedback even though the mods did sharpen the steering up quite a bit. Fuel consumption is also a surprisingly high for a car in this class.
The boxer engine is very very impressive with its pulling power even thought the Impreza is a bit of a porky pig at 1.27 tons. Man... this engine sounds like a mini Porsche... very smooth even at higher revs. The engine is definitely one of the Impreza's strongest points not so much the AWD system.
I would have preferred a rear wheel drive only impreza matted with a boxer engine. AWD is a bit overated unless you want to go crazy in the wet. Its more a point of differentiation in a marketing sense rather than a functional one.