The flow of technology from the elite, ultra-pricey class of cars to those that the rest of us can afford is happening at a quicker rate...

The flow of technology from the elite, ultra-pricey class of cars to those that the rest of us can afford is happening at a quicker rate than we’ve seen before.

Features like those that have brought many of today’s cars to the brink of becoming fully autonomous driving machines were fresh and exciting on a few very special (and expensive) cars only a couple of years ago. Today much of this technology is showing up on very affordable cars all in the interest of making our lives as drivers safer and easier.

Those same high-end brands have been embracing another technology lately – one that’s not so new, but has become the overwhelming preference of Canadian consumers shopping in the luxury-car market: all-wheel drive. AWD provides extra traction in wet or slippery driving conditions, making it seem like a necessity here in the Great White North. What’s more, it provides drivers with peace of mind and added confidence, for better or for worse (all-wheel drive won’t help a car stop any quicker when driven beyond the laws of physics in a snowstorm without proper winter tires).

For Subaru, putting all-wheel drive in their full line (BRZ sports car notwithstanding which is a step-child from a fling with Toyota) is just another day at the office.

It’s strange then that all-wheel drive hasn’t become as prolific on affordable cars as some of the other features.

For Subaru, putting all-wheel drive in their full line (BRZ sports car notwithstanding which is a step-child from a fling with Toyota) is just another day at the office. It was more than a decade ago the folks at Subaru decided to ditch the entry-level front-wheel-drive offerings from their product lineup in favour of AWD all the time. It gave the company a unique marketing proposition that has resonated well with consumers as shown in the dramatic increase in Subaru’s sales in North America.

Subaru’s Impreza has enjoyed the distinction of being Canada’s lowest priced all-wheel-drive car for a couple of years, and for 2015 that continues with the base four-door Impreza coming in at $19,995. For that price, frugal buyers are getting good value with not only solid mechanical components (Subaru has a reputation for durability on par with the other top-tier Japanese car makers), but also necessities like power windows, cruise control and air conditioning. It even comes with an infotainment system featuring a 6.1-inch touchscreen, rear camera display and requisite smartphone connectivity, all as standard equipment.

Our test car represents the other end of the Impreza spectrum with a fully loaded hatchback model dressed in Limited trim and featuring upscale accouterments like leather seating and dual zone automatic climate control. The leather helps make the Impreza’s cabin a slightly more luxurious place, but there is still a lot of shiny, hard plastic to cheapen the overall impression.

Visibility out of the Impreza continues to be excellent, with an expansive greenhouse and wing mirrors mounted to the door instead of the corner of the window to give a better view. Those mirrors have been reshaped for 2015 to provide an even better view, which has seemingly helped reduce wind noise as well.

Subaru has made several other significant updates, including thicker glass and a lot of additional insulation to help keep the Impreza’s cabin hushed.

Limited trim cars also feature an infotainment system with a larger 7-inch, high-resolution touchscreen display and an easy-to-use navigation system. If there is one area Subaru had fallen woefully behind the competition, it was with their infotainment systems. Luckily, this excellent unit, introduced earlier this year for the Legacy, puts the Impreza back in the hunt.

At long last, Subaru has also implemented a one-touch-equals-three-flashes turn signal feature, too. It may seem like a small detail, but if you’ve lived with it in the past, it’s hard to give up.

What really sets this swankiest of Imprezas apart from lesser models (and indeed from the competition) is the Technology Package with Subaru’s EyeSight active safety suite. By utilizing a pair of cameras mounted near the rearview mirror, the Impreza can “see” and even react to potential driving hazards. EyeSight enables adaptive cruise control, pre-collision braking and lane departure warnings, all of which help the Impreza earn an IIHS Top Safety Pick+ rating.

The engine for all Imprezas is a 2.0-litre horizontally opposed (boxer) engine that puts out 148 horsepower and 145 lb-ft of torque. These figures are on par with directly competitive models from Toyota and Honda, though short of the spritely little Mazda3 and Volkswagen Golf. It’s enough power to satisfy most daily driving needs around town and merging on to the highway without becoming an obstruction, but it’ll never be considered exciting.

A five-speed manual transmission is standard fare on the Impreza, with a CVT available as a $1,300 option. Subaru has been praised recently for making the CVT a much less objectionable transmission choice, offering a system in the new Legacy, Outback and WRX that mimics the stepped gear changes of a traditional automatic, effectively reducing the annoying ‘mooing’ most CVTs elicit from the engine bay.

Subaru has made some adjustments to the Impreza’s CVT as well, enabling a “manual” mode whereby the driver can utilize the paddle shifters found on the steering wheel of upper-trim cars. The simulated shifts work well in manual mode, but left in “D”, this CVT still moans and revs in a way that feels unnatural to those raised on traditional automatics.

Ultimately the industry shift toward CVTs is in the interest of improving fuel efficiency. For this reason the CVT is the better choice over the manual. The Impreza with the CVT is rated at 8.5 L/100 km city and 6.4 L/100 km highway and a combined figure of 7.6. This is within 0.5 of the best of class, a difference that could be offset by how much junk is in the trunk (figuratively or literally). If you have been worried that the Impreza’s AWD system makes it fuel thirsty, your fears are unfounded. During my time with the Impreza it delivered mid-8s with mostly city driving and that was with snow tires and only 300 km showing on the odometer.

Aside from the surefootedness Subaru’s excellent full-time all-wheel-drive system provides, the suspension on the Impreza is also really well tuned to balance both ride comfort and handling prowess. The Impreza is legitimately fun to drive around corners without resorting to an overly stiff ride. It’s a level of suspension tuning sophistication usually associated with expensive European cars, and is very welcome here.

Thanks to its capable, all-weather mechanical components and the continued availability of sedan or practical hatchback, Subaru’s Impreza carries on as the best all-weather choice in the class. The addition of a dramatically improved infotainment system and the industry-best EyeSight active safety system should prompt consumers shopping this category to give the 2015 Impreza a careful look.

Warranty:
3 years/60,000 km; 5 years/100,000 km powertrain; 5 years/unlimited distance corrosion perforation; 3 years/unlimited distance 24-hour roadside assistance

Competitors:
Ford Focus
Honda Civic
Hyundai Elantra GT
Kia Forte5
Mazda3 Sport
Toyota Corolla
Volkswagen Golf

Specifications

Model Tested 2015 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Limited Package with Technology Option, 5-door, CVT   Destination Fee $1,595
Base Price $30,295   Price as Tested $31,990
A/C Tax $100  
Optional Equipment
None