2024 Subaru Impreza First Drive Review: Not everything has to be an SUV

PASO ROBLES, Calif. – If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right? That seems to be the ethos of the 2024 Subaru Impreza, a car that on its face may look very similar to its predecessor. Yet, when the compact hatchback is examined more closely, the improvements are more than skin deep, resulting in a pleasant, if confused, compact hatchback that still makes a case for itself in the face of a market increasingly dominated by crossovers.

For some rational-minded folks attuned to the automotive industry, the continued existence of the Impreza hatchback wouldn’t seem to make sense. Why bother with the Impreza at all when the lifted, crossover-esque version of it, the Crosstrek (pictured below right), outsells it at nearly a 3-to-1 ratio? Well, those dwindling sales are still very much worth it to Subaru. It says the roughly 50,000 annual Impreza sales indicated sufficient interest in a lower-slung design, and in fact, the company expects that interest to grow in the next few years. Market research also showed that current Impreza owners like that it drove like a regular car and not an SUV, a fact underlined by how popular the previous generation’s Sport trim was. Subaru therefore leaned into the Impreza’s carlike, sporty attributes while distilling all the things buyers liked about the old car.

Still, 50,000 is not a huge amount, and something had to give. That would be the sedan body style, which has been discontinued. Subaru told Autoblog during the Impreza’s reveal that it was indeed a financial decision. The hatchback outsold the sedan by a 3-to-1 ratio, and with the Crosstrek outselling every Impreza by the same ratio, well, do the math.

2024 Subaru Crosstrek

The Premium and Limited trims were also axed, leaving the Base and Sport trims. Yet, something new was gained, or at least resurrected: The old Impreza RS has been reborn to sit atop the hierarchy as the sportiest of this supposedly sportier new generation.

No body panels are shared between this car and the old one, but the look is clearly an evolution, and the underlying platform carries over. Engineers increased chassis rigidity by 10%, though, and changes were made throughout to make the car quieter. So, nothing major, but Subaru said that existing owners were very happy with the old car. The goal was therefore to refine rather than reinvent the wheel.

Dimensions are basically the same as before, meaning spacious, with plenty of leg-, head-, and shoulder room for passengers in both rows of seats. The cargo area measures 20.4 cubic-feet, or a half-cube more than the Crosstrek, an amount comparable to subcompact crossover SUVs.

The interior sees the greater transformation, but it’s still unmistakably a Subaru with its simple dash dominated by one of two unusual touchscreen arrangements in the dash. The base trim gets two 7-inch touchscreens stacked atop each other, while the Sport and RS get a single portrait-oriented 11.6-inch screen. You get the same choices in the Outback, Crosstrek and WRX. This latest version of the biggest screen is easy to use, with big buttons and large text that doesn’t take much effort to parse out whilst on the move. As a whole, the Impreza is a well-packaged car that is uncomplicated to use, compared to some competitors that may have trendier designs but aren’t as practical or user-friendly. It’s simple, which isn’t a bad thing in the era of screen-heavy techno-gizmo cars.

Unfortunately, when it comes to that supposed newfound focus on sporty driving, the Impreza misses the mark, even when driving the sportiest version. Both the Sport and RS get a tauter suspension, bigger wheels, Subaru’s SI-Drive performance management system (basically a sport mode for the engine and transmission), and sportier styling cues than the base model. They are mechanically identical with one key exception: the engine. Whereas the base and Sport get a carry-over 2.0-liter boxer-four good for 152 horsepower and 145 pound-feet, the RS get the bigger 2.5-liter boxer-four also available in the Crosstrek. It produces 182 hp and 178 lb-ft of torque. Both engines get standard all-wheel drive and a continuously variable automatic transmission.

We drove the RS, but despite the upgrades, nothing about the Impreza feels all that sharp to drive. The powertrain combination is reasonably smooth and relaxed, but “engaging” and “sporty” aren’t words that could be used to describe the Impreza RS.

At freeway cruising speeds, the CVT is mostly inoffensive, yet when driven with verve, the transmission seems to never be in the right place at the right time. It tends to surge, and is the boxer engine’s mortal enemy against significant forward progress. The 2.5-liter engine in theory has roughly the same power as the Honda Civic’s turbocharged engine upgrade, yet it feels reedy, breathless and generally slower than the Civic’s 158-hp base engine. The Mazda3’s 191-hp base engine blows it away.  

The handling isn’t much to write home about, either. The Impreza found itself on some seriously amazing driving roads on the Central California Coast, but the car did little to make the experience enjoyable. The steering ratio isn’t particularly quick, and there’s little feedback from the road transmitted from the wheel. The suspension doesn’t give the driver much of a clue as to what the vehicle is doing, and the result is that of a dynamically disconnected hatchback. The Civic, Mazda3, Hyundai Elantra and even Toyota Corolla are all more exciting to drive.

On the flip side, the Impreza does ride very well. It’s arguably the best-riding small car that isn’t from a premium brand. And, when the car is driven in normal traffic circumstances, the Impreza reveals itself to be a reasonably quiet, comfortable compact hatchback.

Some may argue that expecting a not-so-expensive compact car like Impreza to show sublime driving dynamics is unfair. Sure, not everything has to have sporting pretensions, and it’s silly to expect a standard Impreza to be an homage to rally cars of old. To some buyers, the idea of sporty is just a set of cool wheels, an appearance package, and anything that sits close to the ground, unlike an SUV or crossover. The Impreza definitely checks those boxes, but if Subaru says that it’s aiming for the new Impreza to actually have some dynamic zest or verve, this car just ain’t got it.

Pricing starts at $24,085 for the base, including destination, and remember that includes all-wheel drive. Only the Mazda3 offers that in the compact car segment, and even then, for a price that starts over $30,000. The Sport goes for $26,085 and the RS $28,975. Should you be wondering how that compares with the Crosstrek, the Impreza’s more rugged sibling starts at $26,290, with the Sport version and its 2.5-liter engine upgrade going for $30,290. Basically, you’re looking at a $1,300 premium.

As Subaru owner research indicated, though, some don’t want the SUV look or capability. We’re not going to argue. For them, the Impreza is a pleasant, easy-to-drive car that should be just what they’re looking for. They’ll just need to ignore that the new, sportier Impreza isn’t all that sporty.

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