I purchased this car new late last year. It's the 5-door hatchback model with a naturally aspirated 2.5L motor, manual gearbox and the Limited Package.
The main feature that sold me on this car is the standard All-wheel-drive. Winters here in Canada can be brutal, and few things irritate me more than getting stuck in the snow. I am pleased to report that Subaru's much vaunted AWD has exceeded my expectations. With a set of quality winter tires, in this case BF Goodrich's excellent new Winter Slalom KSI, acceleration and road-holding in slippery snow and ice conditions is nothing short of breathtaking! There seems to be a nearly limitless supply of grip, and one cannot help but grin when effortlessly passing vehicles with less-adept drive-trains. I find myself almost wishing for snow, where I used to dread it before.
I opted for the fully-loaded Limited package, which includes leather rally-style seats, 17" alloy wheels, body kit, sunroof and several electronic amenities not found in rest of the model range. I found the cloth seats in lower-spec versions awkward and uncomfortable, mainly due to the intrusive headrest that pushes your chin into your chest. The rally seats with their one-piece design present no such problem. They are supremely comfortable for any length journey, and in my opinion are sufficient justification for the Limited package's price premium.
The 2.5L boxer engine is torquey and more than adequate for daily use. It is somewhat coarse at certain engine speeds, but it retains an endearing character nonetheless. It feels somewhat dead off-idle though, and the car requires some revs when starting off in 1st or reverse to prevent stalling. The engine seems to "hold on" to revs, which forces slower gear changes than I am accustomed to, but with some practice, the car can be driven very smoothly nonetheless.
The clutch action is smooth and progressive, and the shifter is positive and precise with a pleasing mechanical feel when snapping into gear; an engaging trait lacking in many manual gearboxes today.
The shift throws are somewhat long, but by no means intrusively so. One must keep in mind that this is not an STi, and is intended as a more leisurely vehicle than its more powerful brethren.
In spite of these minor issues, I would recommend the manual over the automatic in a heartbeat. I drove the same car with the slushbox, and it felt heavy and lethargic by comparison, and always in the wrong gear. The manual gearbox is mandatory to get the most out of this car.
The car's handling is very assured and sure-footed, and the hydraulic steering is well-weighted for a Japanese car giving a decent amount of feedback. The self-centering action is strong, but the on-center feel is a bit vague. It is not as tactile or communicative as a comparable German product, but it is more than satisfactory.
Ride quality is superb, with minimal cabin disturbance over all but the biggest bumps. Body roll is ever present in tight cornering, but this is hardly an issue in normal driving. More spirited drivers will find the body-roll a tad disconcerting however, despite the fact the limits of adhesion are further away than they seem.
At the limit, the car's dominant trait is understeer, curable on high traction surfaces by slowing down or by a judicious stab at the throttle when in the snow. This car is fun to toss in the snow, and is very controllable and predictable in its element. It's less gratifying on dry pavement.
Fuel mileage is quite good for an AWD car with 170HP. In mixed driving, it has returned a respectable 9.6l/100km. On a long highway trip at speeds averaging 120 to 130km/h, I got an astonishingly good 6.8l/100km on regular unleaded.
In terms of serviceability, the engine compartment is all business, and very well laid out. Anyone with a modicum of mechanical knowledge should have no problem finding his/her way around, and there is enough space to work on parts that would eventually need attention (albeit only several years from now based on what I've heard about this brand's sterling reliability and durability)
My main criticisms of this car relate to the body and trim. Having driven German makes for a number of years, the body of this car does not approach the vault-like solidity of a VW Golf. While everything fits together rather nicely, the sheet-metal feels thin and more delicate.
The interior plastics, though arranged in pleasing shapes, are sub-par in their quality and their tactile feel, and have a propensity to buzz and creak when the temperature drops below freezing. The headliner is tragically made of econo-grade mouse fur that looks OK, but feels cheap.
The leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter have a quality feel to them and a good sense of heft, but the leather that covers the seats is simply not up to segment standards. It's far better than the cloth, but still lacking in my opinion.
Instrumentation and controls are intuitive, clearly visible and of average quality, but the gauge cluster eschews a proper temp gauge in favor of an idiot light. I really wish Subaru would install the excellent cluster from its WRX models on the non-turbo Imprezas. I also wish that the car had a low-washer fluid warning light instead of a dip-stick style device on the bottle itself. Thankfully, the washer holds a little over a gallon, so it does not need frequent attention.
While the radio and climate controls and the turn signal and wiper controls are excellent in their functioning and layout, not all the switchgear is backlit at night, with power mirror controls and most of the window controls remaining dark. Also, only the driver's window has a one-touch down feature, and none of the windows have a one-touch close feature. This is irritating when swiping parking passes and the like.
The front seat heaters work very well, but they are limited to 2 settings, and the switches are awkwardly placed on the center console behind the handbrake lever.
Interior stowage is quite good, but the all-wheel-drive machinery does noticeably intrude in the cabin. This is especially evident in the rear. Although the back seat folds relatively flat, vertical cargo space is a bit below my expectation, though by no means poor.
The car is delivered with a system of anchors already built into the roof, so that snapping on the OEM roof rack is a cinch. Other manufacturers would do well to follow this lead.
The car has good visibility all around, and the heated mirrors and the defroster element beneath the front wipers work wonders in the winter. Halogen headlights do an admirable job of lighting the road, but must be kept perfectly clean to ensure maximum clarity.
Safety wise, in addition to a full-suite of airbags and other invisible structural reinforcements, the car has standard ABS and traction control with a hill-holder function. The ABS works as well as any other, but the traction control becomes intrusive when navigating deeper snow. In certain situations, it will cut power to the point the engine stalls. Thankfully, it can be turned off to allow wheel spin to get out of deeper snow (which the AWD does most admirably!)
Overall, I am very pleased with my purchase. Despite its deficiencies, the Impreza still offers a world-class drivetrain at an accessible price, along with a very satisfactory list of features and amenities. It is comfortable, competent and practical and has been absolutely reliable up to now. While it lacks the refinement and panache of some its competitors, one needs only to drive in the snow to appreciate its sterling qualities, and the effortlessness with which it goes about the business of getting me to work and back home again during the worst storm of the year, while everyone else slips and slides and skids.