New Car Review: 2012 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Premium

Front 3/4 view of 2012 Subaru Impreza on rural road
The 2012 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Premium.

It's the #1 question asked by someone meeting an automotive journalist:

"What's the best car?"

Now, of course, that can only be answered with a question (or more accurately, a series of questions).

"What for?"

"What kind of driving do you do?"

"How many people do you need to carry?"

"How much stuff do you need to carry?"

"What's your budget?"

Occasionally, I'll find myself talking to someone who's really trying to choose between the Audi R8 and a Porsche 911. But 9 times out of 10, it's someone who's looking for something reliable to get to and from work that gets good gas mileage, although sometimes, they'll take their spouse and 1.7 kids on a road trip for a few days.

For many years (a couple of decades, in fact) the Honda Civic was my default, no-risk recommendation. More recently, it's been the Mazda 3. But for the past seven days (and likely for some time to come), there's a new favorite compact car here at TireKicker World Headquarters.

Rear view of the 2012 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Premium.

The Subaru Impreza has long been high on the list of alternatives. But with the new 2012, it leaps to the top. Styled like a small hatch, but with the interior room and comfort of a car a full size class larger. Built solidly, with good materials...you get the sense that it'll be a long time before you hear a squeak or a rattle.

Starting price is $19,595 (non-Premium sedans can be had in the 17s, but it's the Premium 5-door we drove and are talking about here)...with the 148 horsepower 2.0 liter Subaru boxer engine, 16 inch wheels, cruise control, tilt/telescopic steering column, power locks, windows and mirrors, multi-function trip computer, 6-speaker audio system, air conditioning and of course, all wheel drive (it's a Subaru).

The 2012 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Premium interior.

Our tester added the All-Weather Package (heated front seats, heated side mirrors, windshield wiper de-icer), Alloy Wheel Package (17-inchers, with a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob), navigation system with LCD touchscreen and a power moonroof for an all-in-one price of $3,000. The way most automakers price their sunroofs and nav systems, that's like getting the all-weather and wheel packages for free.  And ours also had the Continuously Variable Transmission for $1,000.

With $750 detination and delivery charges, the final tab was $24,345...or $150 less than the Mazda 3 Skyactiv that we tested recently. There's a bit of a tradeoff in gas mileage (the Subaru's EPA estimate is 27 city/36 highway to the Skyactiv's 28/40), which isn't surprising given the Subaru's all wheel drive, but that you might want to factor in. And even though the Subaru isn't the mileage champ here, it does qualify as a PZEV...Partial Zero Emission Vehicle.

But at the wheel, the Subaru just feels more of a piece...a lot of that no doubt owing to being a brand new design, while the Mazda has been on the market for a while. And that's where, if we were making the choice with our own checkbook, we'd make the decision.

The Subaru Impreza impresses us enough to be our go-to compact car recommendation...and it earns itself a spot on TireKicker's Top Ten Cars.