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Less 'Imprezive' than rowdy relatives

Gruff, bipolar Subarus like the dark-hearted STI left some real dents in me.

They hurt so good.

Driven slowly, the sinister STI thrums and squirms and stutters along like a two-bit con getting squeezed by a couple of beefy, heavy-handed cops.

But give it a boot in first or second, and the squat, odd-looking sedan explodes with the turbocharged intensity of a honey badger coming out of a cage.

Yeehaw. Call a chiropractor and lawyer. My neck will still be sore when I get out of jail.

And meanwhile, maybe we could find a good body man to work on the deep impressions left by those scintillating Subies from a few years back.

They sure make it harder to start clean with the 2012 Subaru Impreza 2.0i, a lean, nicely styled and utterly modern sedan that looks like it just got home from choir practice.

OK, OK, I realize that high-performance WRX and STI models of the Impreza will arrive shortly. But one thing I've relished with Subarus over the years is that even the tame ones carry an ominous echo or two from the felonious STI.

I struggled to hear them in the new Impreza.

The Impreza is a bit smaller, a little lighter (63 pounds lighter, according to Motor Trend) and considerably better looking.

The last Impreza, I think, was designed by the winner of a charity raffle in Japan.

Unfortunately, the new model also got a downsized two-liter engine with 148 good-little-boy horsepower, a continuously variable transmission and much-improved fuel economy of 27 miles per gallon city, 36 highway (compared with 20 and 26 mpg in the old car).

The old car, incidentally, had a 2.5-liter flat four with 170 horsepower.

So besides being more attractive, the new Impreza is more efficient, greener and probably eats carrots regularly. If it had brilliant white teeth and a good dark suit, we could run it for president.

I'm not so sure I'd vote for it.

Don't get me wrong. There is much to like about the Impreza — particularly the fact that it is the most fuel efficient all-wheel-drive passenger car in the U.S. and, with a base price of $18,245, one of the least expensive.

My maroon Premium sedan offered a longer wheelbase than the previous car with shorter overhangs.

Consequently, it had more interior space and rode a little better.

Big headlamps on either side of a contemporary horizontal Subaru grille also looked pretty good. Even better were the big doors with prominent character lines down low, smaller shoulders over the front and rear fenders and the chiseled, slightly raised hood.

Spoked 17-inch wheels fitted with 205/50 tires kept the car from looking like another, uh, federalized, fuel-efficient compact. (I could provide a more colorful, politically charged description, but if I did, my editors would beat on me, and I'm lumpy enough now, thank you.)

But Subaru was less successful with the Impreza inside — though I guess we shouldn't be too hard on them considering the car's $22,545 window sticker.

Black cloth interior completed the car I had recently — more or less. If you have kids or carpool, you'll appreciate the generous leg- and head-room in back.

Both are features you don't often find in 2,900-pound economy sedans. But you'll also have to accept lots of hard surfaces.

A textured black plastic dashboard washed around to black plastic door panels with black cloth inserts. The dash was OK, with white-faced gauges on the instrument panel beneath a hood and an attractive black center stack.

Although the black cloth seats had patterned centers and were nicely supportive, they were sort of offset by a rental-car gray headliner.

Still, I could accept the interior's abundance of "average" if the Impreza were more fun to drive.

Sleepy, solid and safe

Subarus generally employ horizontally opposed four-cylinder engines that are flat, with two cylinders lying parallel to the street on one side, offset by two on the other. (Most in-line four-cylinder engines, of course, are vertical.)

The engine's low center of gravity, in conjunction with grippy all-wheel-drive, can produce exceptional handling.

Though hardly an STI, the Impreza turned into corners pretty eagerly and with the sort of basic grace you don't typically find in an econo-box.

While body lean was fairly well controlled, the car tended to squirm some even in moderate-speed corners — probably because of the economy-grade tires.

The steering, however, was quick, lively and unusually light for an all-wheel-drive sedan, giving the Subie a flingable feel.

But I just never really warmed to the car's sleepy engine-CVT combination. Smooth and fairly responsive at low speeds, the two-liter motor was far less impressive (Imprezive?) under full throttle.

The engine got coarser past 5,000 rpm. And under full throttle, the CVT and its constantly changing pullies make sure the braying engine note never wavers.

It was sort of like driving a large weedeater. You can savor it while waiting for the car to hit 60 mph — a process that takes a hybrid-like 9.4 seconds, according to Motor Trend.

Look, the Impreza offers good value and is a solid, safe car I wouldn't mind seeing my daughter and grandchildren in.

But it makes you wonder what it would be like — how much more fun the Impreza might be — if fuel economy hadn't been such an overarching priority.

In fact, if you're really curious, go drive a 2-year-old Impreza.



Type of vehicle: Front-engine, five-passenger, all-wheel-drive sedan

Base price: $17,495

Price as tested: $22,545

Fuel economy: 27 miles per gallon city, 36 highway

Weight: 2,911 pounds

Engine: Flat two-liter four with 148 horsepower and 145 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: Continuously variable automatic

Performance: 0 to 60 mph in 9.4 seconds

Safety rating: Unrated

SOURCES: Subaru of America; Motor Trend


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