Compact-car shocker: Impreza a rare sales hit. Look ahead to model-year 2019 changes and the end of a WRX / STI chapter

2019 Subaru Impreza

2019 Subaru Impreza

What changes will make the 2019 Subaru Impreza different?

Not much, pending an expected model-year 2020 redesign of the high-performance WRX and STI variants. The mainstream Impreza four-door sedan and four-door hatchback are expected to return for 2019 with little more than a new color choice or two. We would, however, urge Subaru to make its EyeSight driver-assist technology standard instead of optional for 2019; the system’s key component is autonomous emergency braking. Along with blind-spot and rear cross-traffic detection, EyeSight has been an extra-cost option even on the most-expensive Impreza models – and unavailable on all but the top-line WRX and STI trims.

Why should I wait for the 2019?

Mainly to see if Subaru liberalizes its EyeSight policy. More details on that in the “Will it have new features?” section below. Otherwise, these compact sedans and hatchbacks will return as the only cars with standard all-wheel drive in a class dominated by front-wheel drive. (The other AWD entries are the high-performance Ford Focus RS and Volkswagen Golf R hatchbacks, and VW’s Golf Alltrack and SportWagen 4Motion station wagons.)

If you’re a member of the WRX or STI enthusiast cult, waiting for the ‘19s gives you a final shot at their current design generation. The current versions launched as 2015 models, based on the 2012-2016 Impreza platform. Their anticipated model-year 2020 redesign will move them to the engineering platform adopted by mainstream Imprezas with their model-year 2017 redesign. Called the Subaru Global platform, it’s a stiffer, lighter, more space-efficient structure that also underpins Subaru’s redesigned 2018 Crosstrek subcompact crossover and, in modified form, its 2019 Ascent three-row midsize crossover. The automaker could mark the close of this WRX and STI generation with additional special performance or trim editions such as the 2018 WRX STI Type RA package.

Should I buy a 2018 model instead?

Yes, if you’re OK with spending extra to get all the safety gear. Plenty of buyers must be, because Impreza sales are booming. They rose an astounding 56 percent for 2017, easily outpacing a compact-car class that experienced a 3.5-percent decline as the market shifts from cars to crossover SUVs. (Demand for the aging WRX and STI, which make up a respectable 27 percent of Impreza sales, slipped 6 percent.) Still, Impreza in all its variations ranked seventh in a segment dominated by the Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic, and Nissan Sentra, each of which outsold the Subaru 3-1.

That doesn’t tarnish the mainstream Impreza’s desirability as a roomy and well-built small car. Likely to carry over for model-year ’19, the 2018 Impreza sedans and hatchbacks share a lineup consisting of Base, Premium, Sport, and Limited grades. The WRX and STI are charter members of the fast-and-furious club and still offer good bang for the buck. But their basic design is long in the tooth. The coming redesign should strengthen their standing against newer rivals such as the VW Jetta GLI, Golf GTI and R, the Focus ST and RS, even the Honda Civic Si and Type R. Offered as sedans only, the 2018 WRX features base, Premium, and Limited trims, the STI is available in base and Limited form, plus the Type RA package.

Will the styling be different?

If it is, it’ll involve only details. Besides new exterior-paint possibilities, the mainstream Imprezas will be back with the styling that came on line with their 2017 redesign. They won’t change until the midcycle refresh expected for model-year 2021. These aren’t the comeliest cars in the class, their shape in service of interior roominess rather than in pursuit of trends. Indeed, both the sedan and hatchback deliver great passenger space, the hatchback our favorite for its cargo versatility, at a near class-leading 20.8 cubic feet behind the rear seat, 55.3 with it folded. Their shared dashboard is refreshingly rational, too, minimizing digital falderal for clearly presented gauges and controls. Base and Premium models have a 6.5-inch infotainment touchscreen, the others a nicely integrated 8-inch display.

Riding the older platform with its nearly 1-inch-shorter wheelbase, the WRX and STI sedans are less efficiently packaged. Rear-seat room is tighter and, while no less functional, their dashboards look dated, with infotainment screens maxed out at 7 inches. It’s their flare-fendered, air-scooped, spoiler-bedecked exteriors that form their identity. Subaru updated their styling for 2018, giving the WRX body-colored bumpers, a new mesh-type grille, and a new front fascia with an even larger lower opening. The STI also got a new mesh grille, steering-linked bi-LED headlamps, and its first 19-inch tires, mounted on new dark-gray alloy wheels. STI buyers will again get the choice of a rear wing or a lower-profile trunk spoiler at no additional charge. A limited-edition of 500, the 2018 Type RA (Record Attempt) package includes a roof panel and rear wind of carbon fiber, plus unique 19-inch forged alloy BBS wheels.

Any mechanical changes?

None likely, unless this Japanese automaker sends off the outgoing WRX and STI generation with enhanced special editions. Another possibility, though, is an upgrade — to a 6-speed from a 5-speed — for the manual transmission offered on the Base and Sport versions of mainstream Impreza sedans and hatchbacks. For certain, 2019 Imprezas of all stripe will again have four-cylinder engines that employ Subaru’s traditional “boxer” design, in which cylinders move in horizontal opposition rather than inline vertically or in a “V.” Also used by Porsche for its sports cars, this “flat” arrangement makes for a compact powerplant that, by its pancaked layout, helps lower the vehicle’s center of gravity.

Expect all mainstream Imprezas to return with a 2.0-liter engine of 152 horsepower and 145 pound-feet of torque. That output would again be about average in their competitive set. Acceleration should remain perfectly adequate with both the 5-speed manual or the available continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), although an advance to a 6-speed manual would likely improve performance and fuel economy.

The ’19 WRX should reprise a turbocharged 2.0-liter with 268 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque and link it to a 6-speed manual or a performance-tuned CVT for robust performance. Look for the STI to again challenge the segment’s quickest cars thanks to a turbo 2.5-liter with 305 horses and 290 pound-feet mated exclusively to a 6-speed manual. The STI-based ’18 Type RA had 310 horsepower, plus suspension upgrades and reduced weight via the carbon fiber pieces and removal of the spare tire. That could be a template for any 2019 WRX or STI send-off edition.

Subaru will gain employ a variety of AWD systems for the ’19 Imprezas, each calibrated for the particular model’s mission and price. AWD on the mainstream sedans and hatchbacks, for example, is intended as an all-weather traction adjunct, while that on the WRX and STI is tailored to maximizing grip and handling on dry pavement. The STI’s system is even driver-adjustable to bias more power to the rear wheels for ultimate cornering performance.

Will fuel economy improve?

Sans mechanical changes – such as introduction of a 6-speed manual for mainstream models — expect the 2019 Impreza line to replicate its 2018 EPA ratings. To Subaru’s credit, that would keep fuel economy for the mainstream Impreza sedans and hatchbacks about midpack for this segment, despite the potential mileage penalties associated with the additional weight and powertrain drag of AWD. Even the WRX and STI versions are competitive with compact-class rivals of similar power.

With the 5-speed manual transmission, expect EPA ratings of 24/32/27 mpg city/highway combined for the 2019 Base sedan and 23/31/26 for the Sport sedan. For their hatchback counterparts, look for ratings of 24/31/26 mpg for the Base grade and 22/30/25 for the Sport. The CVT is optional on the Base and Sport and standard on the Premium and Limited. With the CVT, expect 2019 EPA ratings of 28/38/32 mpg city/highway/combined for the sedans and 28/37/31 for the hatchbacks. In Sport trim, look for ratings of 27/36/30 for sedans and 27/35/30 for hatchbacks.

If it returns unaltered, expect the 2019 WRX to again rate 21/27/23 mpg city/highway combined with the 6-speed manual and 18/24/21 with its performance-tuned CVT. Similarly, the manual-only STI should repeat at 17/22/19. Expect Subaru to again tune the mainstream models for regular-octane gas and to recommend premium octane for the WRX and require it for the STI.

Will it have new features?

The mainstream sedans and hatchbacks already offer a range of features quite comprehensive for this class. And given their lame-duck status, Subaru isn’t likely to introduce anything new for the2019 WRX and STI – unless there’s another RA-like special edition. More probable for the mainstream models is some equipment shuffling, similar to 2018’s addition of automatic on-off headlamps linked to activation of the windshield wipers.

As we’ve stated, though, Subaru could strengthen the 2019 Impreza safety story by rethinking the way it markets EyeSight. It’s already a praiseworthy picture: 2018 Imprezas equipped with EyeSight and steering-linked LED headlamps earned the industry’s most coveted safety accolade, Top Safety Pick+ status from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The steering-linked LED headlamps were exclusive to the most expensive models — the Limited versions of the Impreza, the WRX, and the STI. But among those models, EyeSight was an option only for the Impreza Limited, as part of packages costing $2,495 and $3,845, and only for the WRX Limited with the CVT, in a $3,300 package. That was, in fact, the only way to get a WRX or STI with EyeSight.

Besides the ability to autonomously slow and stop the car to mitigate a frontal collision EyeSight includes adaptive cruise control to maintain a set distance from traffic ahead; blind-spot and rear cross-traffic detection; automatic on-off high beam headlamps; and lane-departure warning, although not lane-maintaining automatic steering. Happily, EyeSight was available for 2018 on all but the Base-trim Impreza, although you had to purchase option packages priced from $1,395-$3,845, depending on model grade. Lowering EyeSight’s price, even including it as a standard perk on Limited models, would make its safety advantages accessible to more Impreza buyers.

Every 2019 Impreza, WRX, and STI should again come standard with Subaru’s well-sorted Starlink multimedia system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity and hands-free Bluetooth and Pandora linking. The automaker, could conceivably expand some other amenities among the optional and standard features for 2019. For example, leather upholstery was a 2018 standard feature exclusive to the Limited versions of the Impreza, WRX, and STI.

A power moonroof was optional on Premium, Sport, and Limited Imprezas. It was standard on the STI Limited and also on the WRX Premium, where enthusiasts could delete it on manual-transmission versions via the $2,050 Performance Package, which also included Recaro front bucket seats and red-painted brake calipers. An imbedded navigation system was optional on the Impreza Limited and WRX Limited and standard on the STI Limited. All 2019 models came with remote keyless locking, but pushbutton start was standard only on the Limited grades of the Impreza, WRX, and STI.

How will 2019 prices be different?

Despite strong demand, Subaru seemed to exercise restraint for model-year 2019, holding base-price increases to a few hundred dollars on most models and to under $1,000 on the WRX and STI. Expect the same for the 2019 models, although any potentially collectible WRX or STI special could well be priced extravagantly; 2018’s limited-edition Type RA listed for $49,855, a full $8,100 above the next-most-expensive STI. (Estimated base prices listed here include Subaru’s destination fee, which was $860 on 2018 models.)

In the mainstream Impreza line, for sedans, estimated base prices are $19,550 for the Base model, $22,450 for the Premium, $23,250 for the Sport, and $25,350 for the Limited. Expect to add about $500 to each if you want the hatchback body style. And look to pay around $1,000 to equip a Base or Sport model with the CVT.

Estimated base-price range for the 2019 WRX line is $28,200-$33,900, with the manual transmission; figure another $1,200 to equip a WRX Premium or Limited with the performance-calibrated CVT. Expect the ’19 STI base version to start around $37,400 and the Limited to begin around $42,200.

When will it come out?

Expect a release date for the 2019 Subaru Impreza, WRX, and STI during the second quarter of 2018.

Top competitors

Chevrolet Cruise, Ford Focus, Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra, Kia Forte, Mazda 3, Nissan Sentra, Toyota Corolla, Volkswagen Golf and Jetta

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]