2015 Subaru Impreza Driving Impressions

The Impreza is definitely a Subaru. The small 2.0-liter flat-4 is no racer, of course; but with its efficient twin-cam heads it develops 148 horsepower and 145 pound-feet of torque. While those may not be big numbers, remember that the base Impreza sedan weighs just 2955 pounds.

Impreza scores an EPA-estimated 28/37 mpg City/Highway with the CVT. Those are impressive numbers; all the more so considering that Impreza comes with all-wheel drive and compares well against some of the best front-drive compacts: Ford Focus (26/38 mpg), Toyota Corolla (29/38), and Honda Civic (30/39). (All figures are for base engine and automatic transmission or CVT.) Also in its favor, the Impreza qualifies as a Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle (PZEV) in all 50 states.

Our drives in Imprezas have demonstrated one great, somewhat surprising plus: performance. At Interstate speeds, Subaru’s compact accelerates crisply and is delighted to cruise calmly and steadily at high speeds. Acceleration is quite spirited from a standstill, if a bit less brisk when pushing the pedal at 50 or 55 mph; but even when passing or merging, speed is rising faster than it seems. Little added engine noise stems from the CVT, except when pushing hard; and even then, it’s tolerable, unlikely to annoy.

We found the continuously variable transmission a big improvement over earlier CVTs, including Subaru’s own early version. The transmission has lost that feeling of being dragged around by a rubber band. The transmission still varies its ratio in response to engine speed, but it doesn’t do this as numbingly, promoting more direct control of acceleration and speed. Except for lack of shifts, in fact, you’d hardly know this was a CVT. Even non-CVT fans have to give it good marks for what it accomplishes, without fuss.

Our Limited 4-door had steering column-mounted paddle-shifters, the left-hand paddle for downshifts and the right-hand paddle for upshifts. Anyone used to the kind of vehicle control provided by a manual transmission, but not wishing to thump a clutch pedal every few seconds, will probably find these paddle-shifters a must. And the Subaru transmission doesn’t play games. Within reason, you get the shift you asked for. Most drivers, on the other hand, will feel little compulsion to use paddles, even if they’re installed.

The transmission has another brilliant provision. With the console gearshift lever in the right-hand position, the CVT will make fully automatic shifts aimed at maximum fuel mileage. You can still paddle-shift in this fully automatic mode, the transmission waiting a brief period before shifting to the most efficient virtual cog. But if you insist on absolute paddle-shift control of the transmission, you merely move the shift lever to the left. From then on, when you make a paddle shift, the transmission holds that gear in play until you select another gear. This allows downshifting to control your car’s speed descending a grade, because the downshift order stays in effect. If you want to, you can paddle-shift down two or three gears, presuming you will not over-rev the engine. This capability may be useful for downshifting into corners in wet weather or snow.

Some Impreza road-testers have faulted the artificially sudden throttle tip-in from a standing start. It may make the car seem faster than it is, but they found it annoying and unnecessary. We weren’t troubled by this characteristic when driving a 2015 Subaru Impreza Limited sedan. Compared to excessively swift tip-in exhibited by some cars, the latest Impreza seemed to start off in a reasonable manner.

Whether equipped with the 5-speed or the CVT, all Impreza models feature Incline Start Assist, which helps prevent the vehicle from rolling back when moving away from a stop on an incline.

Expect a comfortable and trouble-free ride, as the Impreza glides over most roughness and copes effectively with all but the harshest bumps and holes.

The Impreza’s electronic steering delivers nicely firm, but not heavy, steering effort, while contributing a 2-percent savings in fuel efficiency. As a result, the steering feel is confident and positive, as if there’s no doubt that the Impreza will go where it’s pointed, with minimal bother. Impreza cornering and stability are surprisingly good even at relatively high cornering speeds. The suspension keeps the car remarkably flat and stable. However, when taken to its cornering limit, a large amount of body roll takes place. We found the Impreza much more pleasant at a sporty pace than at a racy pace, which is how it should be.

The braking system has all the expected supporting systems: Electronic Brake Distribution, ABS and Brake Assist. The brakes have fairly good feel and performed powerfully even in very wet conditions.

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