Behind the Wheel

I believe the greatest obstacle facing Impreza shoppers is the car's power. The new, smaller engine is less powerful than the previous generation's power plant. Though the base car has shed 165 pounds and the new automatic transmission manages to shave a few tenths off the 2011 model's zero-to-60-mph time, it remains just under 10 seconds. Major competitors beat that by as much as 3 seconds. This is what you might expect from a highly efficient new take on an existing model, but the even more efficient Hyundai Elantra Ц winner of our recent Cars.com Shootout Ч is about a second quicker. What's behind this? The additional weight of the Impreza's standard all-wheel drive certainly plays a part.

I'm no horsepower freak. Cars that some deem underpowered I instead call modestly powered. Still, if you load up the 2012 Impreza and/or take to the hills Ч especially at higher altitudes where the air is thinner Ч the normally aspirated 2.0-liter four-cylinder will have its work cut out for it. Subaru says the regular Impreza won't get a turbocharger. That's left for the WRX and STI, which come at a substantial premium.

On the upside, when the Impreza's horizontally opposed engine is earning its keep, it sounds quite good Ч by no means quiet, but deep and refined when compared with the frenetic whine or gravelly rasp many small four-bangers emit.

Replacing the previous generation's optional four-speed automatic is a continuously variable automatic transmission. It's standard on the Limited trim level and optional on all others for $1,000.

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