Underpowered but rather practical
THE GOOD
  • Full-time all-wheel drive
  • Comfortable interior
  • Smooth handling
THE BAD
  • Needs more power
  • Noisy CVT
  • High-tech safety with CVT only

2021 Subaru Impreza Hatchback Review

The 2021 Subaru Impreza is advertised as the most affordable all-wheel-drive vehicle in Canada, but there are at least a few other reasons to have a look at the company’s smallest offering.

It’s available as a four-door sedan, but I had the five-door, more commonly called a hatchback. The 2021 model pretty much carries over from last year, other than the base Convenience trim gets automatic headlights and halogen fog lights, and the Touring gets a heated steering wheel.

Pricing starts at $22,670 for this hatch; the sedan is $1,000 cheaper and starts at $21,670. The Convenience, Touring, and Sport all get a five-speed manual transmission to start, though an automatic continuously variable transmission (CVT) can be optioned. Do that, and you also get the brand’s camera-based suite of advanced safety technologies. I had the top-level Sport-tech, which comes only with CVT and that safety suite, for $33,470 before taxes.

Styling: 9/10

I’ve always liked the look of the longer nose and shorter rump of a hatchback, and the Impreza is a crisply styled version of it. I like the body line that curves down on the front door and then sweeps up to the rear, tying the head- and taillights together. The Sport-tech package adds 18-inch alloy wheels, which measure 16 and 17 inches on lower trims (the base model comes with steelies and plastic wheel covers). My tester’s coat of Ocean Blue Pearl paint set it off nicely, too.

The interior is put together handsomely as well, with simple, straightforward controls. The metallic trim and contrast stitching are unique to the Sport-tech, as is the leather upholstery, while both the Sport and Sport-tech get aluminum pedals.

Safety: 8.5/10

The United States National Highway Safety Administration (NHTSA) gives the Impreza its top five stars in every category (overall, front crash, side crash, and rollover), while the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) marks it a Top Safety Pick – but only with optional front crash prevention. That’s part of the safety-assist system, which can’t be added to cars with a stick shift. Blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert are included only on the Sport and Sport-tech. All trims get the back-up camera that’s mandatory on all new vehicles.

The camera unit Subaru’s system uses sits behind the windshield over the rearview mirror, so it’s less likely to be affected by bad weather like radar-based units that can be disabled by snow on the exterior sensors. The package includes adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, pre-collision throttle management and brake assist, emergency front braking, and lead vehicle start alert.

Features: 8/10

Both the sedan and hatchback are equipped similarly by trim. The base models include air conditioning, automatic headlight, heated mirrors, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, cruise control, 60/40 folding rear seats, touchscreen infotainment, and a rear-seat reminder, while auto-equipped models add those safety items.

My top-line Sport-tech included all items from the trims below it, such as push-button start, heated steering wheel, wiper de-icer, cargo cover, sunroof, adaptive LED headlights, power driver’s seat, and eight-inch touchscreen infotainment system. Beyond that, the Sport-tech further adds 18-inch wheels, dual-zone climate control, navigation, leather upholstery, unique interior trim, active torque vectoring, and a surprisingly under-impressive eight-speaker audio system.

User Friendliness: 8/10

I like easy-to-use vehicles, and the Impreza fits that bill. Everything is within reach and simple once you get there. The infotainment system has hard buttons to bring up the main menu, and the touchscreen icons are big and intuitive. The climate control functions use buttons and dials, but if I were to change anything, it would be how they’re displayed. The mode and temperature controls are at the bottom of the centre stack, while the actual numbers and mode icons are in a small screen at the very top. There’s disconnection as you look down for the button, and then up for what you’re doing with it.

The overall user-friendliness continues with easy in-and-out for the front and rear seats; a low liftover into the cargo compartment; and rear seats that fold flat for extra cargo space.

Practicality: 8/10

Hatchbacks are practical for cargo, and even more so when that hatch is on a smaller vehicle, rather than a tall sport utility, because everything’s easier to reach. You get 588 L of cargo volume with the seats up, and 1,565 L with them down. On top of that, you get the inherent practicality of a compact car’s easy-to-park size, and with good visibility all around.

Comfort: 8.5/10

Despite its smaller size, the Impreza is roomy, both for front- and second-row passengers for legroom and headroom. The front seats are well-sculpted and supportive, while the rear chairs are nicely cushioned, and not as hard and flat as some can be in a manufacturer’s entry-level model.

The heated seats have high and low settings, and are conveniently operated with buttons on the centre console. There’s a heated steering wheel – my new favourite feature – on all but the base Convenience trim, and it’s also button-operated, tucked in at the bottom of the steering wheel.

Power: 6.5/10

The Impreza may look sports-minded, but it doesn’t have the juice to back that up. It’s powered by a horizontally opposed four-cylinder engine that makes 152 horsepower and 145 lb-ft of torque, and that’s not really a lot in the real world. The CVT further heightens one’s perception of the lack of urgency, and engine and transmission drone when they’re asked to perform with a heavier right foot.

Even so, this shouldn’t be a dealbreaker; this Impreza isn’t a WRX and doesn’t pretend to be. Acceleration is smooth and linear from a stop, and it’ll keep up at highway speeds. It’s an everyday commuter car, not a hot hatch.



Driving Feel: 8/10

As with every Subaru save the BRZ, the Impreza has so-called symmetrical all-wheel drive. That sounds like each wheel gets an equal amount of torque, but not necessarily (and Subaru doesn’t say it is true, but also doesn’t mind if you think it is). Instead, it refers to the symmetry of the engine and transfer case on either side of the axis. The manual-equipped Impreza splits the torque 50/50 front-to-rear, while CVT-equipped models like my tester are 60/40.

Even so, all wheels are driven all the time, unlike with many systems that primarily drive the front wheels, and only send power to the rear if there’s slippage. I like the Impreza’s sure-footed stance, its responsive steering, and smooth ride. The Sport-tech exclusively gets active torque vectoring – not a mechanical system, but it momentarily brakes the outside wheel to tuck the car in tighter around corners. The Impreza might not have sporty power, but it’s still a fun little car to drive.

Fuel Economy: 8/10

The Impreza with CVT is officially rated by Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) at 8.4 L/100 km in the city; 6.6 on the highway; and 7.6 L/100 km in combined driving. In my cold week with it, I averaged 8.7 L/100 km. Should you opt for the stick-shift, the combined rating is 9.0 L/100 km.

That official 7.6 L/100 km is pretty good, especially considering that you’ve got full-time all-wheel drive. By comparison, the tiny Chevrolet Spark is rated at 7.0 L/100 km, and the Honda Civic hatchback at 7.3 L/100 km, and those are both just fractional improvements on front-drivers. The all-wheel-drive version of the Mazda3 is more powerful than the Impreza, but it’s rated at 8.5 L/100 km.

Value: 8/10

The Impreza hatchback starts at $20,995, but that doesn’t include the $1,675 Subaru charges for freight, bringing the price to $22,670. At the other end, my top-of-the-line Sport-tech rang in at $31,795, or $33,470 with freight but before tax. The only available add-ons are accessories, such as a bike carrier or splash guards. Unlike with several automakers, there’s no extra charge for colour. On a few vehicles, my car’s eye-catching blue would have added a few hundred dollars. [The teal-like hue is, however, exclusive to the top trim on the hatchback; it can’t be had on any other configuration. – Ed.]

While it could use a bit more power, and some compacts throw in extra niceties like heated rear seats, my tester’s price was reasonable if not spectacular, given that all-wheel-drive platform under it. About the only close competitor is the Mazda3 Sport (hatchback) with optional all-wheel drive, but it’s considerably more powerful, and ranges from $27,500 to $37,100.

The Verdict

Canadians love sport-utes, and the Impreza is vastly outsold in its company’s lineup by models like the Crosstrek and Forester. But for many drivers, the Impreza is the right size; it’s roomy and comfortable; it handles well; and while its engine isn’t the strongest out there, it’ll still handle the daily commute. Give it a look before you automatically head over to the sport-ute side of the showroom.

Underpowered but rather practical 3/10/2021 6:30:00 AM

Competitors

Specifications

Engine Displacement 2.0L   Model Tested 2021 Subaru Impreza 5-Door Sport-Tech
Engine Cylinders H4   Base Price $31,795
Peak Horsepower 152 hp @ 6,000 rpm   A/C Tax $100
Peak Torque 145 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm   Destination Fee $1,675
Fuel Economy 8.4 / 6.6 / 7.6 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb   Price as Tested $33,570
Cargo Space 588 / 1,565 L seats down  
Optional Equipment
None