The Impreza has been the oddball of the economy car bunch since its inception, so it’s fitting that Subaru launched the next-generation compact at the unique and peculiar Pantai Inn in La Jolla, California.

The Pantai Inn features rooms decorated with Balinese art and other luxurious features, but those rooms lack some basics, such as digital TV reception and usable electrical outlets. Old Imprezas were similar to the Pantai Inn, with high-value features like all-wheel drive provided as standard, yet missed some staples — like fuel economy.

But this is a different Subaru, and an even more different Impreza, which the company has transformed thanks to its new Subaru Global Platform. The new car is more Kimpton than Pantai, as it still retains unique characteristics — like the aforementioned all-wheel drive — but refocuses on mainline amenities, such as fuel economy and comfort. Additionally, the new platform brings a significant change to how the Impreza drives, which provides a nice preview of what’s to come for the rest of the automaker’s lineup.

Styling cues are more reminiscent of the Impreza’s competitors and less of Imprezas of generations past. That’s no mistake. Subaru is pushing the Impreza into the mainstream — and successfully so. Sales have tripled since the Impreza’s departure from the “bugeye” generation in the early 2000s.

2017 Subaru Impreza driving, Image: Subaru
2017 Subaru Impreza

The new platform fits in well with Subaru’s new mainstream goals, as it provides a foundation for the hybrid and EV powertrains Subaru needs to survive upcoming CAFE requirements (if they happen) and to keep sales growing. Changes from the new platform are clear in the Impreza’s longer wheelbase and a longer, wider body, providing more room in the cabin.

The chassis is now 70-percent stiffer, says Subaru, which was evident after tackling the first corner. These changes come by way of improvements to how the chassis is formed, along with better connections between the subframes and the body. The new platform also brings with it a new crash structure that improves energy absorption by 40 percent.

Front sheetmetal is familiar, an evolution of the current model, and the Impreza’s sides are more prominent and sculpted while the rear takes on a shape that is a bit more generic. The taillights spread out to the trunk and take on an appearance you could easily mistake for a Camry or Accord. This part is no mistake, as Subaru is looking to keep its current sales march going; taking on a rear end look that wouldn’t be out-of-place on a Camry is sure to help.

Inside, improved materials abound while a new center stack layout makes better use of the space available. Infotainment, available in 6.5- and 8-inch screen sizes, is higher up the dash and pushes the previously top-mounted vents off to the sides. Those vents offer better airflow than the earlier Impreza and the upgraded HVAC system appears to have fixed one of my biggest gripes — a noisy blower motor. The new motor is better insulated and provides for a more comfortable experience when running at full blast.

2017 Subaru Impreza Base Interior, Image: Subaru
2017 Subaru Impreza

Quarter windows are still present and, along with thin A-pillars, continue to offer an open and airy experience. The third brake light has been moved from the package tray to the top of the rear window, which opens up more visibility when looking back. The Premium trim we tested was very plain on the inside, with lots of black in immediate view and beige on the upper pillar trim and headliner. The dash felt right for the class, but the center console felt harsh and scratchy. The Sport trim was better, with some red accents thrown in on most panels and red stitching marrying the seat fabrics.

2017 Subaru Impreza Sport Interior, Image: Subaru
2017 Subaru Impreza

Seats were comfortable in all models and the expanded center console offered midsize sedan utility without cutting into knee room. Rear seat leg and head room are plentiful, even for someone of my 6’2″ stature. Higher trim levels offer keyless ignition with push-button start — a nice convenience, surely — but instead of producing a unique steering wheel trim panel for these models, Subaru decided to create a plug to go over the space where the ignition cylinder resides on the lower trim models. It stands out and looks a bit tacky.

2017 Subaru Impreza Steering Wheel Trim, Image: © 2016 Bozi Tatarevic
2017 Subaru Impreza

My other gripe with most Subaru models is Starlink. The system in my WRX is slow and likes to lock up every so often. It appears Subaru has finally gotten the message and improved all the systems. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard on all trims. Even the base 6.5-inch unit is faster and better looking than any of the current Starlink solutions. A larger, optional Harman Kardon unit is nicely designed and produces better sound, but I don’t personally find value in the upgrade.

Eyesight is available on all models minus the base 2.0i trim, and worked well in our test. Adaptive cruise is responsive and works well in traffic, and Subaru continues to offer emergency braking, now with a newly added feature that allows it to work in reverse. Lane Keep Assist was true to its name, but it had a ping-pongy effect as it bounced from line to line until the car was manually centered. The Eyesight system, while a worthwhile safety and convenience feature, takes up significant real estate at the top of the windshield for its camera.

Steering feel is sharp, but its 13:1 ratio electric assisted system is far from sporty. An updated 2.0-liter horizontally-opposed four-cylinder, named FB20, is now fueled by direct injection and runs an increased compression ratio of 12.5:1. You would expect direct injection and an increased compression ratio would bump up the Impreza’s output, but the new motor only sees a 4 horsepower increase (to 152 horsepower) and torque remains unchanged at 145 lb-ft.

Instead, Subaru must have tuned the new FB20 for better fuel economy; the Impreza is sluggish off the line but rated for 28 mpg city and 38 mpg highway when teamed with its continuously variable transmission. Both trims offered by Subaru during the launch drive returned slightly over 30 mpg as I navigated my way on curvy roads over changing elevation. Once the car is moving, there’s enough power for a reassuring ride and the CVT is quick to respond. Those looking for small kicks to the backside will be happy Subaru’s CVT features seven simulated gears, though I didn’t find much use for the included paddle shifters. While fairly noisy when spinning at higher revs, the CVT is compliant and quiet at low speeds. The other transmission option, a five-speed manual, was not available during the launch, but don’t expect the high fuel economy returned by the CVT thanks to it being down a cog versus most of its competitors.

2017 Subaru Impreza Engine Bay, Image: © 2016 Bozi Tatarevic
2017 Subaru Impreza

Handling is better than average for its class, and some of the improvements — such as moving the rear sway bar from the subframe to the body — are noticeable. The Sport model handled a bit better than the Premium trim, but that’s likely more a result of 300-treadwear-rated tires than the improved dampers on the Sport. Braking capability is a more than enough for this package and did not fade or overheat even as we descended down a few thousand feet of elevation. Most trims continue on with 10.9-inch front rotors and dual-piston calipers while the Sport trim receives Crosstrek-sized 11.6 inch rotors.

Pricing starts at $19,215 with destination for the 2.0i manual model, but the Premium sedan trim I tested came in at $24,000 due to the inclusion of the $1,400 Eyesight/Moonroof package. The Sport hatch model aimed higher, with a price hovering around $27,000 as tested with the Moonroof/Eyesight/Harmon Kardon package. All models are available in both body styles and the hatchback is a bargain coming in only about $500 over the sedan in most trims. The manual transmission will not be tied to the base model, as it’s also standard kit for Sport-trimmed sedans and hatchbacks.

The new platform is expandable, so we’re likely to see a hybrid or EV powertrain coming soon, and we can also expect to see the WRX and STI make the move to the new platform during its next product cycle update in 2020.

The Impreza can now stand toe-to-toe with its competitors when it comes to fuel economy and interior quality, while still maintaining its unique position by retaining all-wheel-drive. Sales will surely show it.

[Images: © 2017 Bozi Tatarevic, Subaru]

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