The new-for-2012 Subaru Impreza maintains its distinction as an all-wheel drive compact, but it’s more fuel-efficient than the third-generation model. This is due mostly in part to what could be considered a serious downgrade under the hood: The Impreza’s new, 2.0-liter, four-cylinder, boxer-style engine still delivers 148 horsepower at 145 lb.-ft. of torque, but that’s 22 fewer horsies than the outgoing 2.5.

Subaru says that because the Impreza has lost upwards of 110 pounds, depending on the style and trim, it’s actually quicker than the 2011 model. Better yet, it can achieve 36 mpg on the highway. That’s a few digits short of 40 — the new magic number for compacts — but pretty darn good for an AWD.

Following an emerging trend, the new vehicle’s five-speed stick no longer represents a mileage advantage over Subaru’s new continuously variable transmission (CVT), which comes complete with paddle shifters. The transmission you get depends on the selected trim level, and there are three for both the sedan and hatchback: 2.0i (base), 2.0i Premium and 2.0i Limited.

Available upgrades include multiple wheel, fabric and electronics packages, but the base model’s list of standard equipment still includes seven airbags, air conditioning, power locks and windows, tilt wheel and four-wheel disc brakes. With upgraded materials and clean, well-organized instrumentation, the Impreza’s interior is much improved.

The exterior borrows several styling cues from the new Legacy, most notably in the stylish-but-not-flashy grille and raised wheel arches. Subaru’s engineers lowered the windowsills by 2.5 inches, a bold move in a time when shoulder lines continue to creep toward the roof in many other cars. All that aside, the new vehicle remains, unmistakably, an Impreza.

Subaru has good reason not to disguise it. Full-time all-wheel drive, coupled with a new MacPherson strut suspension up front and double-wishbone configuration at rear, could make this car’s handling the envy of its class.

For fleet buyers who lean toward compacts but operate in snowy climates, the electronic stability control and antilock brakes, required on all vehicles beginning with this model year, will help keep their drivers and the new Impreza out of trouble. Power at all four wheels can be a major selling point, and despite all the re-engineering, the sedan and hatchback both start under $18,000.

Originally posted on Business Fleet

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