Mountain Wheels: Sophisticated handling and details in the reconfigured Subaru Impreza |

Mountain Wheels: Sophisticated handling and details in the reconfigured Subaru Impreza

Andy Stonehouse
Mountain Wheels

With all of these long-awaited dumps of snow in the High Country, it's a fitting moment to turn to the Colorado-approved all-weather solidity that is the Subaru family.

Despite its full-fledged family credentials and its symmetrical all-wheel drive, we've tended in the past to pay less attention to the entry-level Impreza, the smaller and more affordable place where so many Suby fans get their start.

But an entirely new 2017-year model for the Impreza might be the move to change that, and help to bring even more young drivers and families into the mix.

The fifth-generation Impreza, available as a four-door sedan and five-door hatchback, is a radical transformation from previous models, with a longer, lower and wider stance that produces not only much better handling but also results in an unbelievably cavernous interior.

A huge effort on upping the interior quality details has also produced a very pleasant and competitive vehicle, one that still starts at just over $18,000.

We got the opportunity to head out to San Diego to run the new Imprezas through mountains and desert just a few feet north of the Mexican border, and the results demonstrate a pliable, fun-to-drive little car that will be equally capable of handling the most intense of Colorado winter weather.

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A nice part of the story, given these convoluted political times, is the fact that the Impreza will be built at Subaru's factory in Indiana, which recently hired 1,400 new employees and got a $1.3-billion investment from the company's Japanese owners.

That team is turning out some pretty impressive products, given Impreza's much-improved ride and its updated looks and details.

Aesthetics get a major overhaul with sculpted body lines, stronger wheel arches and a narrower and wider grille; as part of the company's huge emphasis on safety, visibility from the inside is also even better than before, with large aircraft-style glass in front of the side mirrors and a commanding view of the road. Thicker glass and lots of work on cabin sound insulation make it amazingly quiet on the inside; aerodynamic work on the mirrors and hood also mean the car produces practically no wind noise, even at 75 mph.

Safety starts on the inside and the Impreza's frame, built on a new modular platform that will be shared with all new Subaru products (even a new three-row SUV set to replace the Tribeca), uses additional high-strength steel — but includes details such as an engine-surrounding crush box that can be unbolted and replaced for less-expensive repairs in the case of a crash.

Overall rigidity of the vehicle has been practically doubled and even the most basic Impreza now offers a ride and turning that feels as solid as a WRX racer. Cornering is smooth and precise, with a steering setup adapted from the BRZ; the wobble and bobble that past Imprezas sometimes exhibited over bouncy pavement is almost entirely gone. Braking and brake response have been improved as well, with the whole package now much more pleasant to drive.

Power is still a slight issue for mountain drivers — there's been a slight increase to the Impreza's one engine choice, a 2.0-liter four-cylinder Boxer engine that now puts out 152 horsepower — but in general usage it should be fine.

Most Imprezas will be shipped with the also-improved electronic CVT transmission, which now includes a seven-speed simulated manual mode and updates allowing more immediate power and reaction at highway speeds. The CVT helps the car get as much as 38 highway MPG; manual fans can also get a six-speed in certain models, if they'd like.

That wider and longer chassis means a larger cargo area and additional room for you and your passengers, with improved rear legroom; a huge improvement is the gigantic widening of the rear cargo access, allowing you to slide in boxes or Home Depot purchases you might not have been able to load before.

For extra storage for all those lifestyle-oriented Subaru activities, all of the Impreza family now comes with either roof rack systems or at least mounts to allow them to be installed.

Electronic safety aids have been updated and offerings include an automatic braking feature connected to the rear cross-traffic scanner — great for getting out of parking spots without getting plowed into — plus the EyeSight collision-avoidance and lane-departure warning system.

2017 Subaru Impreza

MSRP: $18,395 and up

Powertrain: 152-HP 2.0-liter four-cylinder, CVT or six-speed manual transmission

EPA figures: up to 38 MPG highway