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Subaru ImprezaSubaru Impreza PZEV - surprising fun despite lack of oomph

By Jim Bray
July 10, 2015

It's no STI - or even a WRX, but the 2015 Subaru Impreza PZEV can still be a reasonably compelling drive despite its uninteresting power plant. 

(Click here or on the image to open a slideshow)

The PZEV moniker means it's a "partial zero emissions vehicle," and though I know they're trying to differentiate themselves from "dirtier" engines, you could say that every other car that isn't all-electric is also a "partial zero emissions vehicle" - because "partial" does not mean "is" zero emissions. In fact, Subaru describes PZEV as producing "zero evaporative emissions, offering extremely clean emissions" and making "the most of every drop of fuel" and the company claims the car can get up to 8.5 L/100 km in the city and 6.4 L/100 km on the highway, even with its all-wheel drive configuration.

I can only imagine how much fun it would be to drive in a manner conducive to getting those figures…

Suffice it to say the engine is clean. But so's every other engine these days compared to the ones from a couple of decades ago. Heck, today's engines have been mandated to be so clean that mother Gaia shouldn't need to worry about her future (well, not from vehicle exhaust, anyway), so this emissions stuff has now become just so much marketing hype, flowery descriptions meant to snag the low information crowd who still believe that such paragons of virtue as Al Gore and David Suzuki, and, oh, yeah, Neil Young are telling them the truth. Politicians and celebrities. Is there anything they don't know?

What I came to believe the PZEV designation meant when I first got behind the wheel of this Impreza was that it was a "Practically Zero Enjoyment Vehicle," because until I warmed up to it later in my review period the car's gentle acceleration really rubbed me the wrong way - especially in a car that handles so well and which "sports" a wonderfully tuned suspension. And which includes in its history the abovementioned WRX and STI.

The leisurely performance happens because the 2015 Subaru Impreza has had a two litre four cylinder engine inflicted upon it, an engine that "sports" the "horizontally-opposed" boxer configuration that can help lower a car's centre of gravity, thus aiding handling. The problem is that it oozes its 148 horsepower (@ 6200 rpm) and 145 lb.-ft. of torque (@ 4200 rpm) onto the road very reluctantly. Heck, I drove the new Mazda CX-3 SUV a couple of weeks after this, which claims nearly identical hp/torque specs (146/146), but its torque comes on much earlier (2800 rpm) and would therefore blow the Impreza away if you were silly enough to drag race them. That's right; the little family hauler would beat the sporty Subaru off the line.

Bicyclists probably would, too…

And what's with the noise? Tromp the gas on this beastie (which, I got the impression, the car doesn't like very much) and the sound emanating from it is reminiscent of a 1960's-vintage Volkswagen bus!

Fortunately, Subaru chose to equip the test car with a manual transmission! It's a pretty good one, too, though the feel's a tad rubbery. Then there's the issue of five speeds in a marketplace where six speed manuals are becoming the mainstream choice, and with good reason. So the five speed seems a tad atavistic in 2015.

That said, thank goodness Subaru offers the manual! The other transmission choice is a CVT automatic - and even with the paddle shifters you can get it's a far cry from a good old manual - or even a good, new automatic.

Naturally, the Impreza comes with Subaru's famous symmetrical all-wheel drive, which comes on every one of their cars except the BRZ - and it would probably be pretty cool there, too (as well as helping differentiate the BRZ from its twin, the Scion FR-S). Besides adding weight and complexity - which usually adds price and subtracts fuel mileage - all wheel drive makes the car feel stuck to the road like, well something to do with organic waste as it adheres to a famous Canadian retailer's bed covering. And it's no different here. I took the Impreza out to one of my favourite driving roads and, once it got up to speed, it was quite enjoyable.

The suspension helped here, too, feeling the car feel more sporty and planted than I expected (and than it deserves, with that engine). Drop a V12 into this baby and you'd have something! Or even a decent four.

The 2015 model year saw the Impreza get stuff like a new chrome grille and WRX-style exterior mirrors - as if the best way to mimic your performance car is to stick on fancy mirrors!. It also got a new rear bumper and a little spoiler. Inside, they've upgraded the infotainment stuff - though to call the sample's stereo weak and muddy is being kind - including better connectivity. There's also a rear view camera, though for some reason it never showed a view of my rear so it may have been flawed - or perhaps it's merely capable of discretion.  

The company says all 2015 Imprezas get an upgraded seat fabric, and though the sample's was attractive enough it was no better at avoiding pet hair than other Subarus I've driven (and other cars that aren't Subarus, too, unfortunately). A friend of my wife passenged up front seat and even though she'd left her dog at home, it was all I could do to get the hair out when I took the car back (I ended up tearing out my own instead!). You can order leather if you want, which should correct this problem. Or you could just get rid of the dog.

Imprezas are available as four door sedan or five door hatchback models (the sample was the hatch) and have flat-folding rear seats to facilitate loading stuff. You can also get an enhanced safety package that includes stuff like adaptive cruise control, pre-collision braking, lane departure warning etc. 

The 2015 Impreza will probably please Subaru's loyal fan base - and there's really nothing seriously wrong with the vehicle despite the fact that its lack of oomph rubbed me the wrong way. But its work in the marketplace is cut out of it, competing as it does against such cars as the Mazda3, Ford Focus, VW Golf, Toyota Corolla, Kia Forte, Hyundai Elantra etc. etc. etc.  Subaru's advantage is its all-wheel drive demeanour, of course, if that's an advantage to you. It's the only one of the competitors named above that offers awd as standard equipment (if at all), though I'm not sure that alone is enough to make the Subaru outshine the other stars in this particular market firmament.

The Subaru Impreza starts at $19,995 Canadian, which is a pretty good deal for an all-wheel drive vehicle. The top of the line five door 2.0i Limited with the Technology Option starts at $30,295.

Copyright 2015 Jim Bray

Jim Bray is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada. His columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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