AUTO REVIEW: Subaru Impreza Makes the Case for the Family Hatchback

Subaru Impreza
The 2024 Subaru Impreza

By Henry Payne

BOWMANVILLE, Ontario (The Detroit News/TNS) — Subaru has carved out a niche in the competitive U.S. landscape against full-line behemoths like Chevrolet, Toyota and Ford by offering competent cars like the Impreza to consumers who want reliable, affordable, all-wheel-drive vehicles.

Consumers like Mrs. Payne.

So when Subie comes to market with a new Impreza every five years, I get the chance to see the customer buying experience up close and personal. When the 2024 Impreza arrived in my driveway this June, my wife wanted to put it through the paces on a road trip to Ontario, where I would be racing sports cars at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park (aka Mosport).

She was not just interested in the latest Subaru take on tech goo-gaws that her husband writes about all the time (big touchscreens, wireless Apple CarPlay, driver-assistance systems) but also whether the new model suffered from the same bug that has plagued her current 2017 car.

On the cusp of buying her third-generation Impreza, this is a make-or-break generation for my wife. While the Impreza has met her needs — to the point where she is a missionary for Subaru to friends and family — the ‘17 model has failed in one crucial area: it has an electronic hiccup that is driving her bonkers.

When left unattended for a few days, her Impreza Sport’s battery will drain — leaving her stranded at, say, the airport upon return from out of town. Ouch. After multiple visits to her dealer and multiple new batteries, the problem hasn’t been resolved.

Happily, the ‘24 Subie has improved other details that annoyed her. Kind of like upgrading the 20-year-old microwave in your kitchen that takes 15 minutes to heat leftover lasagna.

On I-94 east to the Port Huron crossing into Canada, Mrs. Payne activated adaptive cruise control (oh, she loves this feature) in the new Impreza and cruised along between 70 and 77 mph — adjusting the speed with a simple toggle on the steering wheel. That’s a noted upgrade from the ‘17 feature that would speed up in 5 mph increments. Want to adjust in 1 mph increments? That requires an awkward, loooooong button hold. It drove her batty.

Subaru Impreza

Problem solved. On such little things does loyalty hang, and Mrs. Payne appreciated Subaru’s attention to details. It was like product managers had been listening in on to our conversations for five years.

Motorheads like me like to buy different stuff — the most wicked-looking sports car here, the latest self-driving EV there — and my influence on my wife’s buying habits is not trivial. I’ve been an Impreza WRX and STI fanboy for years, and my wife — who still prefers sedans over SUVs — knew that I was impressed with Subaru’s performance engineering. She also knew I wouldn’t let a Subaru into our house until they hired a competent design team — which they finally did for the fourth-gen 2012 Impreza.

But fundamentally, she wants an appliance that fits her life. All-wheel drive that gets her up the driveway in January, heated seats for Michigan winters, a hatchback to fit our luggage when we go up north after winter finally ends.

She liked the modest tweaks designers had made for the ‘24 hatchback, like the frameless grille inspired by an athletic shoe. But she was more impressed by the redesigned center console, which replaced the hand brake with an e-brake to open up room for staggered cupholders, and a wireless charger so she could navigate with wireless Apple CarPlay.

Now we’re talking. No more wires crisscrossing the console. No phone-draining battery while navigating for hours. Mrs. Payne simply set our destination to Bowmanville, Ontario, on her phone and the car automatically picked it up on Impreza’s new 11.6-inch vertical screen.

As she chugged across Canada in wireless adaptive-cruise heaven, I related to her that we were driving the Impreza RS.

“It’s a new model featuring a 2.5-liter Boxer-4 engine with 30 more horsepower than the standard 152-horse, 2.0-liter engine it carried over from your Sport model and, um . . . ”

Too much motorhead talk. She hadn’t noticed the power difference. Didn’t care. What did matter to her was that the cabin was quieter and the continuously-variable transmission improved from last gen, making for smooth acceleration as she merged into traffic on Canada’s 401 highway.

Which is why Subaru has made evolutionary drivetrain changes for 2024. Consumers are content with its performance, reliability, 29 mpg efficiency. Which is why government mandates to force Subaru to go electric (along with the rest of the industry) make little sense to Subaru’s core customers.

Fuel was never an issue during our 800-mile, five-day round trip. We made a single fuel stop for five minutes at a Petro Canada next to our hotel on Friday night. That’s all we needed (in addition to more power, the RS gets a bigger gas tank for 2024 and a 100-mile increase in gas range to 564 miles). A year ago, we thought about driving my Tesla Model 3 to Mosport but abandoned the idea because recharging would have added significant inconvenience to a tightly timed weekend in Bowmanville — a town that does not have fast chargers where we could charge overnight.

Instead, we drove a Volvo XC90 plug-in tester in 2023 so we could use the gas engine on the long trip — and the 23-mile reserve battery for local trips from our hotel to the racetrack. We plugged in every night on a 110-volt charger in a nearby Hyundai dealer, but the battery wasn’t nearly enough to make the daily 44-mile round-trip to the track and back.

Running back and forth to the charger each night made Mrs. Payne wonder what made the $84,000 Volvo a better appliance than the $28,000 Subaru.

Speaking of battery issues, the 12-volt lead acid battery will dog my wife’s purchase of the new 2024 model. Will the 12-volt system have the same drain as her current Subie? Will the residual trade-in be hurt by the Impreza’s battery issue?

The questions led her to shop the compact car market (no EVs on her list), but the AWD choices are few. VW’s Golf-based AWD AllTrack has exited the market, which leaves only the Mazda3 Turbo.

Motorheads like me love the Mazda but its small, remote touchscreen is a turn-off to my wife — especially now that the new Impreza Sport comes standard with the big touchscreen. The Impreza’s rear seat/cargo room is also bigger than the Mazda to hold more Paynes and their stuff.

Subaru Impreza

The new ‘Ru isn’t perfect — budget constraints mean the backup camera doesn’t sound an audible as it approaches an object, and there is no heated steering wheel option. Mrs. Payne had hoped for both. But overall she liked the upgrades to her microwave — er, auto — appliance.

And we didn’t experience an overnight battery drain. Looks like Subie still has a loyal customer.

2024 Subaru Impreza

Vehicle type: Front-engine, all-wheel-drive, five-passenger hatchback

Price: $24,085 base including $1,095 destination ($29,239 RS as tested)

Power plant: 2.0-liter Boxer 4-cylinder; 2.5-liter Boxer 4-cylinder

Power: 152 horsepower, 145 pound-feet of torque (2.0L); 182 horsepower, 178 pound-feet of torque (2.5L)

Transmission: Continuously variable

Performance: 0-60 mph, 8.2 seconds (Car and Driver est.); gas range, 564 miles

Weight: 3,275 pounds (as tested)

Fuel economy: EPA 27 mpg city/34 mpg highway/30 mpg combined (2.0L); 26 mpg city/33 mpg highway/29 mpg combined (2.5L)

Report card

Highs: Rare all-wheel-drive compact sedan; upgraded screen/tech

Lows: No heated steering wheel; no backup camera audible

Overall: 4 stars

Photos by Subaru/TNS

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