Quirky but capable
THE GOOD
  • Capable AWD
  • Comprehensive safety tech
  • Comfortable ride
THE BAD
  • Could use more power
  • Uninviting interior design
  • Average audio
2020 Subaru Impreza Review

Update (2020-08-05): An earlier version of this review stated the Mazda3 Sport hatchback is not available with all-wheel drive. The 2020 Mazda3 Sport can be optioned with AWD at the GS and GT trim levels.

With a starting price of $19,995, the 2020 Subaru Impreza sedan holds the distinction of being Canada’s cheapest vehicle to sport all-wheel drive.

Here, we look at the most expensive horse in the Impreza stable – the Sport-tech hatch that rings in at $31,695 before fees and taxes. As with all Subaru models, this is an all-in offering, meaning buyers don’t have to wade through option and package lists. The Impreza Sport-tech presents itself as an intriguing offering in the compact car segment, serving up proven all-weather capability, a comprehensive suite of safety features, and a comfy ride.

Styling: 7/10

It’s amazing what a lick of colour and a set of nice wheels can do. While the Impreza hatchback is hardly a style icon, it looks almost dashing here in Sport-tech trim with its five-spoke 17-inch alloys, black trim, and Ocean Blue Pearl paint. The tidy design is enhanced with interesting sculpting on its lower flanks and pronounced front fender arches. This fifth-generation Impreza hatch, introduced in 2017, gets a mild facelift for the 2020 model year that includes an updated front fascia, Legacy-style grill and revised taillights. LED fog lights are also new this year for all but the base trim. For those faithful to this brand – and there are many – perhaps the Impreza’s greatest styling virtue is that it’s still unmistakably a Subaru.

Safety: 9/10

While Subaru’s reputation for safety isn’t up there with Volvo, it should be. Standard on all models equipped with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) is Subaru’s comprehensive EyeSight safety suite that includes front collision mitigation with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning and assist, and lead vehicle start alert. The Sport-tech trim is also armed with blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and reverse automatic braking.

Subaru’s clever full-time all-wheel drive adds another layer of security. Should it all go south, the latest Subaru Global Platform has proven strength and carefully calculated crumple zones, as evidenced by consistent top Safety+ ratings from the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS). Factor in the Impreza’s good outward visibility and effective auto-dimming LED headlights, and you have by all accounts the safest vehicle in the segment.

Practicality: 9/10

Technically a hatchback, the Impreza five-door could be considered a small station wagon, such is its profile and functionality. The hatch opening is large, and the low load-floor height and small lip make for easy loading. By the numbers, its cargo capacity is 588 L behind the second row (with tie down hooks), and 1,565 L with said 60/40 bench folded flat – an easy one-handed operation. On one occasion, I got three adults, a mountain bike, a massive bag of laundry, various knap-sacks, and a box of scones in this Impreza. And no complaints from the passengers, either. Impressive.

There are two cupholders in the front centre console, two in the flip-down rear armrest, and each door has a storage bin with bottle holders. The deep storage bin between the front seats houses dual USB ports and a 12-volt outlet. I would like to have seen a 12-volt socket in the hatch area, handy for blowing up inflatable flamingos.

User Friendliness: 8/10

A hallmark of all Subaru vehicles is their easy familiarity. Large door openings and generous headroom make for easy ingress and egress. Once inside, drivers are presented with well-marked, logical controls that buck the current trend of multiple touchscreens. As such, we see the traditional trio of rotary controllers for HVAC functions, as well as knobs for audio volume and tuning. The console shift selector is of the mechanical P-R-N-D variety.

The eight-inch touchscreen has clear graphics and an easy-to-navigate menu system. Selecting radio stations via the tuning knob is a breeze, as is storing them into the presets at the bottom of the screen. The voice activation, meanwhile, handles most basic requests with accuracy.

Features: 8/10

The Sport-tech trim occupies the top rung of the Impreza ladder, so naturally, Subaru has thrown everything it’s got at this tidy hatchback.

In addition to the aforementioned safety features, inside we get leather upholstery with silver and red accent stitching, a heated steering wheel, heated front seats (six-way power driver; four-way manual passenger), aluminum pedals, metallic trim, proximity key with push-button start, and dual-zone auto climate control.

The Sport-tech has an eight-inch touchscreen infotainment system with navigation, CD slot, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support, Starlink smartphone integration, and an auxiliary input. Included is a three-month subscription to SiriusXM satellite radio. This all runs through a disappointing eight-speaker Harman Kardon audio system. Somewhere deep in the Subaru playbook is a missive that reads “Audio – we don’t really care.”

Also included with the purchase of the 2020 Impreza Sport-tech with is a three-year trial subscription to Subaru Starlink Connected Services which, among other things, provides automatic collision notification, SOS emergency assistance, stolen vehicle locator/immobilizer, enhanced remote functions and, for those with recalcitrant teenagers, speed, curfew, and boundary alerts.

Power: 6/10

The Impreza’s 152 hp, 145 lb-ft 2.0L naturally aspirated flat-four-cylinder gets the job done in a workman-like fashion, but on those occasions when meaningful acceleration is needed (passing and highway merging), the little Subie is found wanting. As with most CVT-equipped cars, matting the throttle causes a ruckus under the hood as the revs soar and the car plays catch up.

However, around town the Impreza is pert and nimble, helped out by quick throttle tip in.

Comfort: 9/10

A hallmark of all Subaru vehicles is a complaint ride, and the 2020 Impreza follows the script, soaking up road imperfections with calm composure. The front seats hit the right balance of support and long-distance comfort, and rear-seat passengers enjoy similarly contoured (outboard) seats with class-leading legroom. No heat for the second row, however.

At highway speeds the engine loafs along at low rpms, and with little wind noise intruding it’s a serene experience. However, on one particularly scorching day (sunny, 35 degrees Celsius with a humidex of 42 degrees) the A/C was barely able to keep up while running at full max.

Other than this blip, the Impreza proves to be one of the more cosseting and roomiest vehicles in this compact class. Additionally, the generous headroom and large glass area give the cabin a light and airy feel, and the fine outward visibility afforded to all passengers is a rarity in this compact class.

Driving Feel: 7/10

The Impreza is not a particularly sporty ride, but its handling is predictable and secure, with direct steering and decent body control. Factor in the full-time all-wheel drive and the little Subie always feels nimble and well planted.

The Sport-tech gets two drive modes for 2020 – the default Intelligent and Sport – the latter sharpening throttle response while calling up more aggressive transmission mapping that keeps the engine revs higher for quicker response. Paddle shifters are standard fare and they give drivers the ability to toggle through “virtual” steps programmed into the CVT.

Under light acceleration loads, the CVT does a decent job of imitating a regular automatic transmission. It’s just when planting the gas pedal, which can be often in this underpowered car, that the underhood ruckus does not match forward progress.

The Impreza’s brakes feel strong and progressive, with an easily modulated pedal.

Fuel Economy: 7/10

With a Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) fuel economy rating of 8.4 L/100 km city, 6.6 highway, and 7.6 combined, the Impreza is a bit thirstier than most of its front-wheel-drive competitors; chalk that up to the full-time all-wheel drive. It is, however, more fuel efficient than the only other vehicle in the segment to power all four wheels – the Mazda3.

A week of mixed driving in this tester netted 9.4 L/100 km, with an observed 6.9 L/100 km on an extended highway drive.

Value: 8/10

Despite its less-than-stellar interior and general lack of power, the 2020 Subaru Impreza Sport-tech hatch, at $31,695, offers decent value when considering its extensive safety tech, high feature count, and, of course, the clever all-wheel drive that pays dividends when the weather gets nasty in this part of the world. The Mazda3 is this Subaru’s only competitor – the top-trim Mazda3 Sport GT AWD hatchback starts at $29,200 before fees and taxes – and is a compelling option for drivers looking for more power.

The Verdict

Subaru’s steady march towards the automotive mainstream has not denied its vehicles an element of quirkiness and personality that sets them apart and endears them to the faithful. The 2020 Subaru Impreza Sport-tech hatchback marches to its own drummer, and the lure of standard full-time all-wheel drive along with a relaxed and comfortable disposition is the marque’s biggest calling card. Do we call the flat-four engine and oddball CVT automotive detriments or part of the Impreza’s charm? Can the Subie’s logical ergonomics and infotainment interface make up for its haphazard interior design and low-rent materials? For many buyers, the answers are obvious when the first snowstorm hits.

Quirky but capable 8/5/2020 6:20:00 AM

Competitors

Specifications

Engine Displacement 2.0L   Model Tested 2020 Subaru Impreza Sport-Tech with Eyesight 5-door
Engine Cylinders H4   Base Price $31,695
Peak Horsepower 152 hp @ 6,000 rpm   A/C Tax $100
Peak Torque 145 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm   Destination Fee $1,650
Fuel Economy 8.4 / 6.6 / 7.6 L/100 km city/hwy/comb   Price as Tested $33,445
Cargo Space 588 / 1,565 L seats down