2013 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Premium Hatchback: A different kind of sporty.
Price: $22,637 (includes a $1,500 option package with sunroof, 17-inch wheels, and leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob.)
Marketer's pitch: "Love. It's what makes a Subaru, a Subaru."
Conventional wisdom: Edmunds.com liked "standard all-wheel drive; spacious interior; secure handling; compliant ride quality" but not the "lackluster acceleration; tiresome CVT and engine noise; substandard sound systems."
Reality: Yeah, I could feel the love.
A different kind of sporty: Subaru has made a name for itself as the go-to carmaker for go-anywhere driving. They don't sell over-the-road and around-the-curve fun, but the outdoorsy, into-the-woods brand.
The studious, hardworking type: Subaru has a way of making its products exude competence. I drove a Forester a few years back and now the Impreza gave me the same feel. The interior feels solid and well made, all the controls are in the right spot, and the gauges are easy to get used to. They're the co-worker who shows up on time every day, does a little more than he needs to cheerfully, and still isn't a jerk to talk with.
From the get-go: The 2.0-liter four was no rocket ship. But using the six-speed manual judiciously, drivers can make the most of the power curve to find there is fun to be had. I note Edmunds' complaint about the continuously variable transmission, and have to say I probably wouldn't like it in that form either.
The clutch had nice feel and was easy to operate. After my sad experience in the Beetle TDI last week, I feel compelled to note that I did not stall the Impreza once, nor did I end up with any lingering pain or soreness.
On the curves: Here, competence again is the refrain. I preferred the Forester I tested a few years ago. But the Impreza goes where you point it and somehow just feels ... right. A touch of American-style floatiness did appear in the little Impreza and it seemed to require a lot of adjustment in the wind.
Inside: We tested a barebones model (as evidenced by the options list) and still the simple, cloth-covered seats felt comfortable and solid.
Outside: I'm quite attracted to small hatchbacks -- I just traded the Protégé5 for a Pontiac Vibe -- so this little baby is definitely my cup of tea.
Friends and stuff: Backseat passengers will find ample legroom in the Impreza. Two of them, anyway. A third might whine about leg cramps caused by the big hump in the middle, but that's the admission fee to the world of all-wheel drive. Headroom and footroom are great.
Cargo space is ample. Cell phones enjoy plenty of space in a tray in front of the gearshift. Plenty of CDs can ride along in the console, a hit-or-miss feature in small cars.
The rear seats fold easily with a latch on the seatback itself, reached from the passenger compartment and the cargo bay.
Temperature control: Heater controls have three simple dials.
Feedback: A small information panel above the radio was easy to follow for fuel economy and trip reports. The gauges are clear and easy to read.
Play some tunes: The low-end radio in my navigation-less Impreza worked just fine. Unlike Edmunds, I found the sound impressive and appreciated the midrange adjustment in addition to bass and treble.
Fuel economy: One downside to Subarus over the years has been fuel economy. But some re-engineering in the last couple years has solved this problem. I noted 31 mpg in my usual mix of highway and suburban driving.
Where it's built: Ota Gunma, Japan.
How it's built: Consumer Reports found the Impreza to be its top-scoring small sedan.
In the end: It's a small, versatile hatchback with all-wheel drive, that does most things well and lasts a while. I'd say with a manual transmission, the Impreza is a solid choice.
Scott Sturgis, a freelance auto writer, can be reached at email@example.com.