2012 Subaru Impreza

GOLDSBORO, N.C. — When speaking of the excellent new crop of compact cars already in American showrooms or on the way later this year, seldom is the Subaru Impreza part of the discussion. That may be changing in the coming months with the introduction of an all-new, stylish and more fuel efficient Impreza. The redesigned 2012 Subaru is better looking, has more interior space and is more fuel efficient than its predecessor.

Even though the new 2.0-liter horizontally opposed 4-cylinder engine — rated at 148 horsepower and 145 pound-feet of torque — has 22 fewer ponies than the previous 2.5-liter engine, it feels just as adept at handling the driving chores of life. Chalk that  up to the loss of 165 pounds of body weight and the addition of a continuously variable transmission (CVT) in place of the old, outdated four-speed automatic.

Performance, even loaded up with four adults and a trunk full of cargo for a 130-mile weekend round trip was more than adequate; but the Impreza is no speedster in the compact segment, completing a 0-to-60 run in just under 10 seconds, according to recorded times by a major automotive publication.

The new boxer engine derives 27 mpg city and 36 mpg highway with the CVT, a vast improvement over the 2011 model at 20/26. In this case, increased gas mileage clearly trumps the nearly imperceptible loss in performance. Opting for the five-speed manual will, indeed, put more spring in the Impreza's step, but will reduce mileage slightly to 25/34.

The Impreza's highway manners are impressive. The steering is nicely weighted, the ride is compliant, the cabin relatively free of road and wind noise, and the brakes solid-feeling.

The interior design is stylishly conservative with straight-forward controls. Fit and finish is good, and materials appear to be of top quality. Hard plastics have mostly been replaced with soft-touch surfaces. The front seats are comfortable, and reaching an optimum driving position was not a problem.

Our rear-seat passengers both said they were satisfied with their leg and foot room without need for adjusting the front seats forward. The trunk holds a reasonable 12 cubic feet of cargo, and the seatbacks can be folded forward for more storage.

The new Impreza comes in both sedan and hatchback models starting at $18,245 and $18,745 respectively. Standard features on base models are considerable and include full power accessories, air conditioning, a height-adjustable driver's seat, tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, keyless entry, air conditioning, and a four-speaker sound system with CD player.

The compact segment is loaded with numerous stylish and fun-to-drive models. Even with the strong competition, the new Impreza should be a solid choice for shoppers looking for a well-made, comfortable and safe sedan or hatchback. And Subaru has a trump card — standard all-wheel drive.

— Jim Meachen