Top 12 Things to Know Before You Buy a 2016 Subaru Impreza

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1. What’s new for 2016?

Peace-of-mind connectivity that, among other services, can remotely unlock your car and automatically notify authorities if you’ve been in a crash. Available on Impreza’s top two trim levels, the Subaru StarLink Safety and Security system is the final update before this automaker’s most popular vehicle is fully redesigned for model-year 2017.

The ’16 returns in four-door sedan and hatchback body styles, both offered in Base, Premium, and Limited trim grades. The hatchback again supplements those with Sport Premium and Sport Limited models. All continue with all-wheel drive (AWD) as standard and share a 148-horsepower four-cylinder engine. The Impreza-sedan-base high-performance WRX and STI models are not included in this review; we’ll cover them separately.

2. How much does it cost and what sort of deal can I expect?

Every other car in this competitive set comes only with front-wheel drive, so Subaru deserves credit for pricing Impreza in line with top-selling rivals such as the Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic, Chevrolet Cruze, and Ford Focus. In this class, only the Focus, Mazda3, Hyundai Elantra, Kia Forte, and Volkswagen Golf feature a hatchback body style.

Base price range is $19,090-$23,390 for Impreza sedans and $19,590-$24,390 for hatchbacks. Base prices include the automaker’s $795 destination fee, but not options. As for deals, Impreza continues to enjoy strong demand, with year-over-year sales up an impressive 17.5 percent though the first 10 months of 2015. That suggests you’ll likely pay relatively close to manufacturer’s suggested retail, a reality reflected in data from pricing service

Average transaction prices for the Impreza were trending 2.2-4.7 percent below suggested-retail base prices, depending on model, according to TrueCar. That compares with the 7 percent or discount so enjoyed by buyers of most competitors, and in line with the tight margins on the Mazda3. Luckily, Subaru isn’t too stingy with factory incentives. It was offering qualified buyers interest rates as low as 0.9 percent on some 2015 Imprezas. Better still, expect, dealers and the automaker to ramp up incentives and discounts on outgoing ’16s to clear inventories in preparation for the all-new ’17 models.

3. When will the next big change be?

Due in showrooms in late 2016, the ’17 Impreza will be slightly larger, look sleeker yet brawnier, and offer more high-tech features. Sedans and hatchbacks will return, as will standard AWD. Horsepower should remain about the same, but expect fuel economy to improve. This will be the first Subaru to employ the automaker’s new platform architecture, or basic engineering building blocks that will underpin vehicles in a range of sizes, from the compact Impreza and Forester and Crosstrek crossovers to an as-yet-unnamed full-size crossover SUV.

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4. What options or trim level is best for me?

Sixty percent of Impreza buyers choose the hatchback, and we would, too. It edges the sedan for passenger space, mostly with more rear headroom, though both body styles are spacious for cars this size (see “comfort” section below). Yes, the sedan’s trunk beats the hatchback’s integrated cargo bay for lockable security, but it’s small for the class, at just 12 cubic feet. By contrast, the hatchback provides a generous 22.5 cubic feet behind the rear seatbacks and 52.4 with them folded. That’s as much as any hatch in the class. All Imprezas come with a 60/40 split/folding rear seatback, but you’ll appreciate the hatchback’s greater versatility. And it’s more stylish than the sedan, too.

As for trim level, our fondness for manual transmission would point us to the only Imprezas in which the five-speed stick is available: Base versions of both body styles and the Sport Premium hatchback. We’re in the minority, though: most buyers favor automatic transmission — in this case, a continuously variable transmission, or CVT (see “engine” section below).

The majority also recognizes the Premium trim as the best value. Priced from $21,890 in the sedan and from $22,390 in the hatch, Premiums come with the CVT, 16-inch alloy wheels, a six-speaker audio system, and the All-Weather Package (heated front seats and mirrors and a windshield-wiper de-icer).

If you fancy more aggressive looks, go for the Sport Premium model. Available only as a hatchback and priced from $21,095 with manual transmission and from $22,095 with CVT, it has lower-body flaring, 17-inch alloy wheels, fog lights, turn-signal mirrors, roof rails, unique seat fabric, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob. A moonroof adds $1,000.

Want leather upholstery? You’ll need a Limited (starting at $22,595 for the sedan and at $23,095 for the hatch) or the Sport Limited hatch (from $23,595). These models also have extra exterior chrome and are the only Imprezas available with a navigation system. It’s part of a $2,895 option package that also includes keyless access with pushbutton ignition and EyeSight, Subaru’s driver-assist ensemble of adaptive cruise control, pre-frontal-collision braking, lane-departure warning and, new for ’16, automatic lane-wander steering correction. The new StarLink service is standard on all the Premium and Limited models.

5. What engine do you recommend?

There’s just one, and it’s no powerhouse. The 2.0-liter employs Subaru’s traditional horizontally opposed cylinder design, which creates a “flat” engine profile instead of the more traditional vertical cylinder orientation. With 148 horsepower and 145 pound-feet of torque (think of torque as the force that gets you moving, horsepower as the energy that keeps you moving) it’s among the least powerful four-cylinders in the class.

Combined with the weight of the standard AWD system, which renders Imprezas roughly 150 pounds heavier than the typical compact, acceleration is at best leisurely with the CVT. It’s adequate with the manual, but still nowhere near the lively feel you get with, say the 2.5-liter in the Mazda3 or, especially, the turbocharged four-cylinder that’s standard in the VW Golf and Jetta or the new turbo four available in the redesigned 2016 Honda Civic.

6. How is the fuel economy?

Subaru’s worked diligently to give you mileage on par with rivals unburdened by the weight disadvantage of AWD. Indeed, EPA ratings reflect virtually no penalty for Impreza’s class-leading traction advantages. With manual transmission, ratings are 25/34/28 mpg city/highway/combined for both body styles and 24/33/28 for the Sport Premium hatchback. With CVT, they’re 28/37/31 mpg, and 27/36/31 for the Sport Premium and Sport Limited models.

7. How does the Impreza handle?

Relaxed, in terms of the way it changes direction, but tenacious in how it pulls away cleanly in the wet and snow and stays on course through slippery turns. We’ve no quarrel with the relaxed part; get a WRX or STI if you want an Impreza with razor-quick reflexes. Look to the Focus, Mazda3, and Golf GTI for more thrills. Impreza’s mission is a mature blend of natural-feeling steering response and stress-free cornering. Critics call it unexciting. We call it unperturbed.

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8. Are the controls easy to use?

Yes. Simplicity rules, with large, clear gauges and a straightforward, three-knob climate system. Fully optioned versions have more than a dozen separate steering-wheel controls (including buttons, a thumb-rocker, and a toggle), but designers keep them reasonably distinct. With navigation, you get a seven-inch dashboard screen whose graphics aren’t quite as crisp as those of top rivals. And while Subaru has worked to reduce the size of the EyeSight housing, it’s still a bit of an intrusive box between the rearview mirror and the upper center of the windshield. Cabin-materials quality is best described as sturdy; even leather-upholstered models seem reluctant to put on airs.

9. Is it comfortable?

Yes, thanks to Subaru’s clear-headed approach to how this car should handle and the way in which it’s packaged. The relatively upright design of both body styles makes each easy to enter and exit. You get very good headroom and legroom on fairly cushy seats that nonetheless manage to support even after hours on the road.

The flipside of the relaxed handling is a suspension that works with rationally chosen tire sizes to deliver very good absorption of impacts from potholes, tar strips, and the like. Rushing through bumpy turns can trigger some wayward body motions, but grip is never compromised. This is not among the quieter interiors in the compact class, with road and wind noise rising as speeds increase and, with the CVT, the engine note intruding during rapid acceleration.

10. What about safety?

Crash-test ratings are top-notch. Both body styles earn the maximum five stars in the government’s 5-Star Safety Rating system. Five-star ratings continue for occupant protection in side collisions and in rollovers, but drops behind the class leaders with four stars in frontal-crash protection.

Impreza merits the highly sought “good” rating – the highest of four available – in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s battery of even more-demanding evaluations, which includes measures of survivability in front-corner to front-corner “overlap” impacts. Equipped with EyeSight, Impreza earns the insurance-industry-sponsored testing body’s coveted “Top Safety Pick+” award for the system’s ability to automatically bring the vehicle to stop to avoid a frontal collision.

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11. How’s the reliability and resale value?

Part of Subaru’s appeal is based on its reputation for dependability, a reputation that likely boosts resale value but isn’t necessarily born out by owner satisfaction with the brand itself. We’re disappointed to report that survey results of Impreza owners were unavailable from our standard source in matters of quality and reliability, consumer-research firm J.D. Power. However, in J.D. Power’s 2015 study of problems experienced during the past 12 months by original owners of 2012 model-year vehicles, Subaru ranked just below the industry average among the 31 brands measured.

The news is far brighter on the resale front. Residual-tracking authority ALG ranks the Impreza among the best cars overall in retained value, at around 39 percent after 5 years. With slight variations for body style and features, that’s neck and neck with the other compact-class leaders, the Mazda3, Toyota Corolla, and Honda Civic. Moreover, several other Subaru models top their particular market-category for retained value, including the Legacy among midsize sedan, the WRX in ALG’s “sports cars” class, and the Outback in its “midsize utility vehicle” segment.

12. Is it better than the competition?

Roomy, comfortable, fuel-efficient, and capable of engendering deep owner loyalty, Impreza is the traditional-values compact. And if the any-weather security of AWD resonates with you, it’s really your only choice among its immediate peers. It’s no star for speed or styling. But if you value its skill set, you’ll likely find a model in your price and features sweet spot.

About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to two decades of automotive testing and reporting for newspapers, books, magazines, and the Internet. The former Executive Auto Editor of Consumer Guide, Chuck has covered cars for, Collectible Automobile magazine, and the Publications International Ltd. automotive book series. This ex-newspaper reporter has also appeared as an automotive expert on network television and radio. He’s a charter member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, the president of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Media association, and a juror for the annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year awards. Chuck writes from Colorado Springs, Colo. If you have a question for Chuck, write to him at [email protected]