Compact Subaru edges toward mainstream appeal
Subaru has often played in the fringes of the passenger-car market, with its most popular vehicles being the Forester and Outback crossovers. But the company’s long-running Impreza compact car just saw a redesign for 2017, bringing this vehicle more in line with competitors’ in-car technology, fuel efficiency and overall refinement – while retaining the existing qualities of a roomy interior, excellent safety record and class-exclusive all-wheel-drive system.
As before, the Impreza is available in two configurations: a four-door sedan and a five-door hatchback. The latter is the vehicle sampled in a brief test at Herb Gordon Subaru in Silver Spring, and it gives up about 1 mile per gallon in favor of a handy roof rack and ample cargo space. This Subaru also has plenty of space in the front and rear seats for four adults, despite being a compact car that competes against the Honda Civic or Mazda3.
A user-friendly dashboard is another Impreza highlight. The Mazda adopts an unconventional approach to its dashboard controls, while the Civic’s layout is simply ill-conceived in all but its base model – you need to use a touchscreen for every audio function. Subaru also provides a touchscreen, but also big, well-labeled buttons and knobs. The Impreza doesn’t have much flash to its exterior or interior, despite its redesign, but it avoids quirks that are likely to offend.
The Impreza is also pleasant to drive, with decent power from its 152-horsepower 2.0-liter engine and composed ride and handling. Buyers looking for a fun-to-drive car might prefer the Mazda or Honda, but they shouldn’t count the Subaru out either – at least based on the short drive, it’s still more of a driver’s car than a Hyundai Elantra or Toyota Corolla.
A defining characteristic of Subaru is that it includes an all-wheel-drive system standard on nearly all of its cars, not limiting it to crossovers or SUVs like most carmakers. The Impreza doesn’t have the high ground clearance or high seating position of a crossover – the Crosstrek version, still based on the old Impreza and due for a redesign soon, takes care of that niche – but it still provides outstanding traction on slippery or muddy surfaces.
While AWD typically reduces acceleration and fuel economy, the Impreza is competitive on both fronts, if not class-leading. With an automatic transmission, the Impreza sedan is rated for 32 miles per gallon in mixed driving while the tested hatchback drops to 31 mpg.
AWD is also typically associated with a price premium. While the Impreza doesn’t undercut its competitors, it’s still competitive. Prices start at $19,215 for the sedan and $500 more for the hatchback. The tested well-equipped Limited model, with leather seats and other premium features, runs $25,330.
Shop the Impreza if you’re looking for a roomy, pleasant compact car if you favor user-friendliness over excitement and aren’t looking for a screaming bargain – or if you want the only all-wheel-drive economy car.
Acura crossover is more family-friendly than luxurious
Honda’s luxury brand, Acura, has struggled lately in most market segments to distinguish itself from the outstanding competition. Its most successful product is the MDX, which was the first high-end seven-passenger crossover when its first generation debuted in 2001. The current model, freshly updated for 2017, retains significant family-friendly appeal – but lacks the exquisite luxury found in some of its competitors.
The MDX is essentially a luxury version of the outstanding Honda Pilot. These roots ensure that this Acura has a spacious, versatile interior with three acceptably sized rows of seats. Like in the competition, the third row is best left for children, but adults can squeeze in better than in an Audi Q7 or BMW X5. Acura has also stuck with a smooth, powerful V6 at a time when many competitors are switching to four-cylinders.
However, although the MDX has a nicely finished cabin, the driving experience doesn’t match the luxury you’d find in the Audi or BMW. Nor is there the extra elegance found in a Volvo XC90 or the new Land Rover Discovery. Acura used to distinguish the MDX from the Honda Pilot with extra-sporty handling, but that’s dulled of late. From behind the wheel, there isn’t that much that feels different from excellent mainstream models – including the Pilot.
That said, Acura does bring a roomy interior and lots of features for less money than most premium-brand competitors. Prices for the 2017 MDX start at $45,025, and the tested Advance model hits $57,340. That puts it as a half-step between a Pilot and an Audi or Volvo, providing a taste of luxury through generous feature content, a well-finished interior and some extra style.