2012 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Sport Premium Hatchback Manual (2023)

Months in Fleet: 13 months
Current Mileage: 41,099 miles
Average Fuel Economy: 28 mpg
Average Range: 406 miles
Service: $812
Normal Wear: $0
Repair: $0
Damage and Destruction: $5747

2012 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Sport Premium Hatchback Manual (1)

If John Deere were to make cars, we’re confident they’d be as trustworthy and straightforward as our long-term 2012 Subaru Impreza 2.0i hatchback was during its year in our care. We’re not saying that driving the Impreza was akin to plowing the back forty—far from it—but the deliberate nature of its handling and performance and the directness with which road, wind, and engine noise were transmitted into the cabin took us back to a simpler time.

Are You Sitting Down?

The Impreza may be Subaru’s smallest car, but it’s surprisingly commodious, the space all the more accessible in our as-tested hatchback body style. (It’s for this reason we chose it for long-term evaluation rather than the sedan.) One driver took a double bass, a bass amplifier, a fiddle, microphone stands, two overhead-bin-size roll-ons, and assorted boots and hats to Nashville and back. Clearly, the ease of loading stuff via the hatch was a big plus. The reasonably spacious back seat was appreciated as well, a pleasant surprise in Subaru’s least-expensive offering, whether it was used to ferry folk to folk concerts or folded down to do an impromptu impersonation of a cavernous crossover.

The Subie’s front seats fit almost every one of our drivers well, and they racked up a long list of compliments. One description said they were “as comfortable as pajamas and as supportive as a cupped hand.” However, another driver commented that seat comfort was okay initially, but his lower back started to ache on stints longer than 100 miles. Top praise was reserved for the Impreza’s seat heaters, which were “strong enough to leave griddle marks.”

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Still, the Impreza’s mission of anchoring not only our bottoms, but also the bottom of Subaru’s U.S. lineup, became more obvious with continued use. By the time the odometer hit the 40,000 mark, the sport-cloth seat fabric was pilling across the more highly trafficked portions of the front seats like lint balls on an old sweater. And the driver’s seat began squeaking like a cheap motel bed. Any shifting of weight—to shift, brake, accelerate, or reach for something—set it off.

About That Noise

(Video) Quick Test Drive-2012 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Base 5 Speed Manual

We’re not sure if the car’s downmarket feel is a result of weight-reduction measures or pernicious cost cutting—it’s tough to make a profit when your least-expensive car is produced in a country with high labor costs and a strong currency—but driving the 2012 Impreza is a bit like visiting the old neighborhood. Back in the 1970s and 1980s, when America was getting to know Subaru, plucky DLs and GLs were unstoppable, with great dependability and four-wheel drive, but were also noisy and slow and quirky—yet nobody complained. Consumers and the industry have moved on, however, and our long-term Impreza’s logbook filled with comments about the car’s aural cacophony, which made conversing with passengers or listening to the audio system a challenge while cruising at speed. At least the noise covered up the seat squeaking.

Subaru engineered the 2012 Impreza with an eye toward improving fuel economy. Weight was reduced, says Subaru, by up to 165 pounds, and a 148-hp, 2.0-liter boxer four replaced the previous model’s 170-hp 2.5-liter. EPA fuel-economy estimates did improve markedly to 25 mpg city/33 mpg highway for the 2012 five-speed manual model compared with 20/27 for the 2011 Impreza with a stick. And, in fact, our long-term car achieved an average observed fuel economy of 28 mpg, respectable for an all-wheel-driver in enthusiastic hands.

But performance took a hit compared with the outgoing car’s, not unexpected with 13-percent-less horsepower and 15-percent-less torque but only about 5-percent-less mass. Just about everyone who drove our long-term Impreza commented on the horizontally challenged nature of the smaller horizontally opposed four-cylinder. One described its character and performance as “a big pile of meh.”

At least it was consistent: Our Impreza turned in the same 0-to-60 and quarter-mile results at both ends of its stay—8.0 seconds and 16.3 at 84 mph—placing it solidly midpack among its compact-hatch competition. It’s just that with the 2.0-liter’s lower torque output, our Impreza felt less responsive to part-throttle inputs. The five-speed manual transmission didn’t help matters, as its widely spaced cogs let engine speed drop off more than a six-speed would, further conveying the feeling of sluggishness. Then there was the whirligig sound of Subie’s boxer four itself, an acquired taste we wouldn’t rank with audio tracks composed in Stuttgart or Maranello. Some drivers never got used to the way the engine rocked and shook on startup or during shifts, either.

Cognizant of a Missing Cog

Along with additional sound deadening, another forward cog would have helped. One tester noted that he couldn’t often find a gear he liked at highway speeds. The rough engine drove him to upshift, but the lack of torque put him back in the lower gears. And even though we always prefer manuals to soupy CVTs, the Impreza’s clutch had a tricky, abrupt engagement that could stall the engine if not released just right. The notchy shifter never felt like a willing partner, and reverse gear sometimes got shy and resisted selection.

Nevertheless, our long-term Impreza racked up its 40,000 miles with little hassle. Besides the seats, its cushy suspension tuning took Michigan’s underfunded and pockmarked road surfaces in stride. Some drivers who might have been irritated with the Impreza’s grittiness might have taken the surprising grippiness for granted. Rolling on the Impreza Sport Premium’s standard 205/50-17 all-season rubber, braking performance was deceptively good, the Impreza stopping from 70 mph in 164 feet (two shorter than at the beginning of the test), an amazing 20 feet shorter than a 2012 Honda Civic EX sedan and 19 feet shorter than a 2012 Mazda 3 i Touring we tested. Likewise, our Impreza’s 0.87 g of lateral grip (0.85 g during initial testing) compared favorably with the 0.82 g of the Civic EX and 0.81 g for the 3 i.

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Trusty and Dependable

When the snow started flying, we swapped the all-season treads for Bridgestone Blizzaks. Compared with the all-seasons, they cut steering precision, allowing the car to wander some within its lane; made it more sensitive to crosswinds; and increased understeer on dry pavement. But the winter rubber also made the car’s impressive traction even more formidable, with the little Subie pressing on through piles of the white stuff even as others wagged and spun and slid off the road.

Aside from $5534 worth of body damage suffered in a spring hailstorm and $213 to replace a tire holed by a random chunk of semi-truck tread, our long-term Impreza required little professional attention. The Impreza received regularly scheduled oil changes and tire rotations at 7500-mile intervals and only saw the local Subaru dealer’s service bay twice for unscheduled reasons, once for a rattle in the gauge cluster and another time for a random engine miss. The former was fixed under warranty, whereas the latter couldn’t be duplicated by techs, as it occurred quite sporadically—although it once backfired so hard at 60 mph that the exhaust banged against the floor. After a couple thousand miles, the miss went away and never returned. There was no addition of oil required between scheduled oil changes. The Impreza’s general reliability reinforces memories of sturdy Subarus of yore and somewhat tempers concerns we had after more checkered tests of a 2010 Legacy and 2008 WRX STI.

(Video) 2012 Subaru Impreza Premium 5-speed manual owner review

The Turtle and the Hare

Few liked the dated-feeling interior infotainment and dash layout, but several editors warmed to the Impreza Sport’s quirky exterior design, likening it to “an upside-down turtle.” If we had good weather and a curvy stretch of high-speed pavement, we wouldn’t grab the Impreza’s ignition key for a little head-clearing romp, but mix in degraded roads or deteriorating atmospheric conditions, and the little AWD Subie would be instantly more desirable. Ultimately, our Impreza inspired little love, but everyone came to respect it, given our base in the heart of the Snowbelt. Nothing runs like a John Deere, sure, but nothing runs through bad weather like a Subaru.

Date: October 2012
Months in Fleet: 9 months
Current Mileage: 21,787 miles
Average Fuel Economy: 28 mpg
Range: 406 miles
Service: $185
Normal Wear: $0
Repair: $0
Damage and Destruction: $5534

Our favorite Impreza logbook entry so far: “It’s like going to the grocery store in your sweatpants.” This analogy is apt. The car is roomy, comfortable, oddly enjoyable at times, but not necessarily something you want to experience on a daily basis.

Twelve-Wheel(s) Drive(n)!

Roominess was confirmed when your author was able to fit twelve tires and a set of 14-inch wheels into the Impreza, with only one of the rubber circles riding shotgun. This deceptive capaciousness is the result of a huge back seat and a pretty ample cargo hold behind it: a great reason to opt for the hatch over the sedan.

We noted the car’s comfortable seats when it was introduced to our fleet. They continue to receive handwritten props, although some drivers don’t fit between the bolsters as well as others. Along with the seats, the suspension tuning has been called out for its coddling state of tune. Just imagine how reposeful you’d be if you drove this car to the grocery store while wearing sweatpants. Frighteningly, we think.

What we don’t find comforting are the sounds the Impreza makes at highway speed. There’s a whistling of some sort coming from, well, somewhere; a drivetrain whine that one staffer’s musical spouse has identified as an F-sharp; and tire noise that only gets worse as speed builds. It seems that perhaps some of the weight trimming done from the last generation to this one involved reducing sound-deadening materials.

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Back Up a Second

Many have noted that the Impreza doesn’t like to go into reverse. Sometimes it takes a couple of jabs to get the shifter to slide into the gate, and when it does pop in, it’s usually accompanied by a clunk and some gear gnashing. It’s most difficult to engage when the car is cold.

On the subject of the transmission, we’ve had another logbook entry call for another forward gear. The five-speed would benefit from a sixth pal on the highway. Plus, the ratio spread is such that low-speed parking-lot maneuvers and some slow turns require a downshift to first. And some patience. Often both. That said, you won’t hear us complaining about the Subaru’s fuel economy; somehow, our running average has ratcheted up from 25 mpg to 28.

As long as we’re picking nits: There’s no latch on the center-console lid, just an armrest that flops down over the opening. It looks as though it were designed for one, as the bin surround has what appears to be a cutout that would accept a latch hook—it might be included in different markets, or it’s a vestigial remnant from a last-minute design change or cost-cutting move.

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(Video) Subaru Impreza Review | 2012-2016 | 4th Generation

You Might Have Noticed a Pattern

Hail damage. Lots of it. Several of our long-term cars—the Focus and our now-departed Countryman, among them—got caught in a serious storm one afternoon in our parking lot, and the Impreza was right there with them. It wins the prize for Most Damaged by Frozen Water—between the dent removal, some body-panel replacement, and a new windshield, we spent $5534 to put the Impreza back to normal. That’s a little over a quarter of the car’s price when new.

The Impreza, being a car, requires service occasionally. We’re on a 7500-mile schedule, so it has been to the dealer two times for an oil change and tire rotation. Aside from our weather-related mishap, the car has needed no other professional attention.

One staffer, who drove the Subaru about 2400 miles in a few days (he happens to be the only one to have done anything so ambitious in the Impreza), concluded that the car is itself almost a nonentity. The engine doesn’t love to rev, nor does it hate it. It handles okay, and the ride is great. At the halfway mark, we struggle to find anything exceptionally negative or positive to say about the car—all praise seems to be tempered. That might not be such a bad thing for someone looking for simple transportation. We’ll look to the second half of the test to sway us one way or the other.

Months in Fleet: 3 months
Current Mileage: 5256 miles
Average Fuel Economy: 25 mpg
Range: 363 miles
Service: $0
Normal Wear: $0
Repair: $0

Subaru’s latest Impreza is familiar to small-car buyers in one way—it offers standard all-wheel drive—and fresh in another: It actually boasts competitive EPA fuel-economy ratings. Our manual example (what, did you think we were going to order one with the CVT?) is pegged by the EPA at 25 mpg in the city and 33 on the highway, which compares very favorably to the previous manual hatch’s 20/27 ratings. (With the CVT, the 2012 five-door fares even better, returning 27/36 versus 20/26 with the old four-speed automatic.)

So far we’re averaging 25 mpg, which is decent for a Subaru. Some of the newfound efficiency comes courtesy of a new engine. A 148-hp, 2.0-liter version of Subaru’s new FB architecture, producing 145 lb-ft of torque, has replaced the last-gen Impreza’s 2.5-liter. And even though the interior is more spacious, Subaru says it managed to trim as much as 165 pounds from the car. It also trimmed power, however, as the new engine is down 22 hp and 25 lb-ft on the 2.5.

Comfortably Underwhelming

The new engine sounds as coarse as the old one did, and the drop in output isn’t completely made up for by the weight loss; in its initial test, the long-term Impreza hit 60 mph in a merely acceptable 8.0 seconds. We’re glad we chose the manual transmission over the CVT, but the shifter leaves something to be desired, namely, feel. Its action is rubbery and vague—even the knob itself is rubbery and bland—and the lack of a sixth forward gear has some of us wondering whether Subaru could have done more in its efficiency push.

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As for the rest of the experience, one constant in logbook comments has been praise for the comfortable seats. Our car has toasty seat heaters—they are universally loved—that were frequently deployed this past winter. The cabin’s aesthetics are completely forgettable, though, with a lot of black plastic broken up by a little bit of dark silver plastic. The materials themselves and the execution are somewhat improved over those of previous Imprezas, however.

What’s Inside, What’s Not

The only substantial options missing from our Impreza are navigation, satellite radio, a sunroof, and leather. Unfortunately, ordering those items would have forced us into a less desirable car, at least by our standards. To get the nav, satellite, and sunroof group, you have to step up to one of the leather-upholstered Limited or Sport Limited models, but they’re saddled with a standard CVT.

(Video) Top 5 MODS FOR SUBARU IMPREZA 2.0i 2012 2013 2014 2015

The Sport Premium model includes 17-inch wheels, “sport” cloth for the seats, a standard all-weather pack (the aforementioned heated seats, heated side mirrors, and a wiper de-icer element in the windshield), fog lights, roof rails, and different rocker panels. The upsize wheels are the only truly sporty part of the package. The CVT is the only factory option on the Sport Premium and would add $1000. We did spec the $69 rubber floor mats, which are a port-installed add-on, bringing the bill to $21,114. A total-stripper manual Impreza hatch starts at $18,745.

Watch this space for reports covering the remaining 35,000 miles of our test. In the meantime, we’ll see if we can keep ourselves entertained with the mpg readout.


VEHICLE TYPE: front-engine, 4-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 5-door hatchback

PRICE AS TESTED: $21,114 (base price: $21,045)

ENGINE TYPE: DOHC 16-valve flat-4, aluminum block and heads, port fuel injection

Displacement: 122 cu in, 1995 cc
Power: 148 hp @ 6200 rpm
Torque: 145 lb-ft @ 4200 rpm

TRANSMISSION: 5-speed manual

Wheelbase: 104.1 in
Length: 173.8 in
Width: 68.5 in Height: 57.7 in
Curb weight: 2997 lb

Zero to 60 mph: 8.0 sec
Zero to 100 mph: 25.5 sec
Rolling start, 5-60 mph: 9.5 sec
Standing ¼-mile: 16.3 sec @ 84 mph
Top speed (redline limited): 120 mph
Braking, 70-0 mph: 166 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.85 g

Zero to 60 mph: 8.0 sec
Zero to 100 mph: 26.5 sec
Rolling start, 5-60 mph: 9.3 sec
Standing ¼-mile: 16.3 sec @ 84 mph
Top speed (redline limited): 119 mph
Braking, 70-0 mph: 164 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.87 g

EPA city/highway driving: 25/33 mpg
C/D observed: 28 mpg
Unscheduled oil additions: 0 qt

3 years/36,000 miles bumper to bumper;
5 years/60,000 miles powertrain;
5 years/unlimited miles corrosion protection;
3 years/100,000 miles roadside assistance

(Video) Subaru Impreza LONG TERM Review after 9 YEARS and 138,000 MILES


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