The Review Garage

Rating the best and worst in cars, SUVs, trucks, motorcycles, tools and accessories.



2017 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Sport: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

To get a leg up usually helps, but the all-new and newly independent 2017 Subaru Impreza surpasses that by getting two wheels up on the competition.

For many years, Subaru has distinguished itself by making all-wheel drive standard on every one of its cars and crossover sport utility vehicles. In the current lineup, there is one exception: the BRZ rear-drive sports coupe. But that was developed with Toyota to give both manufacturers an entry in that category.

Subaru’s other distinction is that all its vehicles use horizontally-opposed engines. Also called “boxer” or “flat” engines, the cylinders lie flat on both sides of the crankshaft — unlike engines with upright cylinders or V-type engines, where the cylinders lean at an angle.

1-_2017_impreza_2-0i_sport_sedan__midIn the last century, boxer engines were ubiquitous in Volkswagen Beetles and microbuses. The other major manufacturer currently installing them — in some models — is Germany’s Porsche, the sports car specialist. The advantage of a boxer is its squished vertical profile, which contributes to a lower center of gravity.

The Impreza — Subaru’s entry in the compact sedan and hatchback class — is newly independent because it now is separate from the company’s high-performance WRX and WRX STI models, which formerly were versions of the Impreza.

For 2017, the Impreza is built on a new platform, which the company says will underpin all its new vehicles for the foreseeable future — even an expected new three-row large crossover SUV. In manufacturer-speak, a platform contains the essentials of a vehicle that can be used in multiple models.

17cl_imp_4c_af37567_032921__midThough marketed as a compact, the new Impreza, in both sedan and hatchback configurations, is classified as a midsize by the EPA based on its interior passenger and cargo space. For the first time, it will be built in the U.S., in a plant in Indiana.

It competes directly against two other outstanding new compacts—also classified as midsize cars — where it gets its two-wheels-up advantage. They are the 2017 Honda Civic and 2017 Hyundai Elantra. Both the Civic and the Elantra, like the Impreza, come in multiple versions. But the most apt comparison here involves each nameplate’s Sport models.

All three, close to 15 feet long and nicely equipped with either automatic transmissions or manual gearboxes, have similar price tags of around $23,000. The Elantra Sport is a standard four-door sedan; the Civic Sport is a hatchback. Both have front-wheel drive.

9-_2017_impreza__midThe Impreza Sport can be ordered as either a four-door sedan or as a hatchback. Alone among the three, it comes with all-wheel drive.

Of the trio, the Elantra Sport delivers the most horsepower. Its turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine is rated at 201 hp with 195 lb-ft of torque. The Civic Sport’s 1.5-liter four, also a turbo, delivers 180 hp and 177 lb-ft of torque. The Impreza’s 2.0-liter four-banger comes in third with 152 hp and 148 lb-ft of torque.

The different power ratings are reflected in the city/highway/combined fuel economy numbers: Civic 30/39/33, Impreza 27/36/30 and Elantra 22/30/25.

4-_2017_impreza_2-0i_sport__midBut power alone does not tell the tale. All three are superb choices in their own way. The focus here is on the tested Impreza Sport four-door sedan, which has a rigid chassis that makes for quiet highway touring with taut handling abetted by its full-time all-wheel drive.

The tester was equipped with Subaru’s continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), which uses belts and pulleys to deliver acceleration without shift points. Recognizing that some potential buyers might prefer the sensation of shifting, Subaru includes software to mimic a seven-speed automatic under vigorous acceleration. The CVT also can be shifted manually.

Though not quite as quick off the line as its Sport competitors, the Impreza delivers acceptably strong acceleration and confident power on the highway. It cruises comfortably and quietly, and the Sport includes automatic brake-activated torque vectoring to hustle the Impreza on curves.

8-_2017_impreza_2-0i_sport__midOf course, the Sport is not the only Impreza. There’s also a base version, Premium and Limited versions in both sedan and hatchback models. The hatchback is six inches shorter than the sedan but can carry 21 cubic feet of cargo—more if you stack it higher than the beltline—compared to the sedan’s trunk of 12 cubic feet.

For peace of mind, you also can order Subaru’s state-of-the-art Eyesight driver assist suite, which includes reverse automatic braking, adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist, blind-spot detection and rear cross traffic alert.

Even without two wheels up, the Impreza would bow to no Sport in its sector.


  • Model: 2017 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Sport four-door sedan.
  • Engine:0-liter four cylinder, 152 hp, 148 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Continuously variable automatic with manual shift mode.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 2 inches.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 100/12 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,179 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 27/36/30 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $23,615.
  • Price as tested: $23,615.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

Photos (c) Subaru.


2017 Subaru Crosstrek: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Without any modification, the 2017 Subaru Crosstrek could tie itself in NOTs. But it’s a good thing.

It’s NOT a sport utility vehicle, despite its generous ground clearance and all-wheel drive.

It’s NOT like other crossover SUVS, which come with front-wheel drive and charge extra for all-wheel drive. On the Crosstrek, AWD is standard.

It’s NOT a blazing performer, with a zero to 60 mph acceleration time of around 10 seconds.

It’s NOT what you’d call luxurious or stylish. Think serviceable.

It does NOT have a conventional engine and transmission.


None of the NOTs is a negative. Take the last item. The Crosstrek, like other cars and crossovers from Subaru of Japan, gets its power from a horizontally-opposed engine, also called a boxer or flat engine.

A boxer engine provides a low profile because its cylinders lie flat, or horizontally, feet to feet on both sides of the crankshaft, instead of standing upright or leaning as in V6 or V8 engines. That squat attitude delivers a lower center of gravity, contributing to improved handling by making the vehicle less inclined to tip.

Boxer engines were used exclusively in Volkswagen Beetles from the 1930s until the 1970s. Today, they are the engines installed in Porsche sports cars like the 911 and Cayman.


With the unconventional engine, the Crosstrek is equipped with a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), a type that is becoming increasingly popular but still is out of the mainstream.

A CVT uses a system of belts and pulleys—or, in some cases, gears—to seamlessly transfer power. There are no shift points as in conventional automatic transmissions; power simply multiplies as the engine revolutions rise.

But Subaru finesses even that. Its CVT can mimic a six-speed automatic transmission with a manual shift mode controlled by paddles on the steering wheel—not unlike those on super sports cars. It introduces a small measure of sportiness into a vehicle that deliberately eschews it.

Subaru has always displayed an uncanny knack for consumer trends. When SUVs started to take off in sales, the company jacked up its Legacy station wagon and created the Outback. After using the concept on other models, it also delivered a purpose-built crossover, the highly acclaimed Forester.

In 2012, Subaru introduced the Crosstrek as a smaller counterpart to the Forester. It was based on the compact Impreza platform and has continued largely unchanged since.

24-_2017_crosstrek_2-0i_premiumDespite increasing competition as other manufacturers have introduced subcompact and compact crossovers, the Crosstrek’s sales have increased stealthily and steadily, and are on a pace to reach around 90,000 this year.

The Crosstrek’s price starts at $22,570. Tested for this review was the top-line Limited model, which had a starting price of $26,070. With options that included Subaru’s EyeSight driver assist system, navigation, pushbutton starting, a motorized sunroof, and SXM satellite radio with travel and traffic links, the bottom line sticker came to $28,965. That’s a bump of just $125 over the 2016 model.

Standard equipment included the CVT, leather upholstery, blind spot warning and lane change assist, automatic climate control, remote locking, backup camera and cruise control.

27-_2017_crosstrek_2-0i_limitedPower comes from a 148-hp 2.0-liter four-cylinder boxer engine that delivers 145 lb-ft of torque. With the CVT, it is something of a slug when you get your foot in it off the line. But this is not a vehicle to engage in stoplight drag races.

Drive normally in modern, impossibly congested rush hour traffic, and you won’t notice much difference between the Crosstrek and, say, the Porsche Cayenne.

That’s the conundrum of this automotive era: the vast amount of anyone’s time behind the wheel will be in traffic, not joyfully hammering a sports car around curves and switchbacks on a mountain road. Soon, when driverless cars take over, even that may be a candidate for requiescat in pace.

Meanwhile, the Crosstrek is a vehicle to be enjoyed on its own terms. It has comfortable seating for four; as usual, the center-rear passenger gets dissed with a harsh perch, a large floor hump and the intrusion of the center console. Driver’s seat adjustments are manual with no lumbar support.

Out back, the Crosstrek offers an unusually large cargo area for this crossover category—a full 22 cubic feet. The second-row seatbacks fold flat for extra stuff.

With an enviable record for durability and reliability, the Crosstrek won’t win many personality contests but has the potential to be a cherished highway companion for many years.



  • Model: 2017 Subaru Crosstrek 2.0i Limited four door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine:0-liter horizontally-opposed four cylinder, 148 hp, 145 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Continuously variable automatic with six-speed manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 3 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 94/22 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,208 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined mpg: 26/34/29 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $26,070.
  • Price as tested: $28,965.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

Photos (c) Subaru.


2016 Subaru WRX Limited: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

As it demonstrates again with the 2016 Subaru WRX sports sedan, Subaru continues to refine the art of automotive alchemy—taking base metal and crafting it into something more valuable.

The Japanese company has practiced that magic almost since it started selling cars in the USA. With the WRX, Subaru has crafted a rude, ripping sports sedan from its compact economy car, the Impreza.

That’s par for the course. Back in the 1970s, Subaru wanted to market the Brat, a small pickup truck. But it faced the so-called chicken tax, a retaliatory US tariff on foreign pickup trucks.

So it designed a couple of small bucket seats and mounted them in the cargo bed. The Brat qualified as a passenger car.

Earlier, Subaru had committed to the horizontally-opposed engine, in which the cylinders lie flat, feet-to-feet, on both sides of the crankshaft. It was a design that had been proven in millions of Volkswagen Beetles and microbuses.

Horizontal engines, also called “boxer” or “flat” engines, allow a lower center of gravity for better handling. But they also make it easier to add all-wheel drive to a front-drive car by running a driveshaft off the back of the engine for the rear wheels.

15._2016_WRXToday, all Subaru vehicles are powered by boxer engines and, except for one model, come standard with all-wheel drive. The exception: the BRZ rear-drive sports coupe, developed with Toyota, which sells it as the FR-S. The only other auto manufacturer that installs boxer engines in some of its models is Germany’s Porsche.

When other manufacturers spent many design dollars to meet a developing demand for SUVs, Subaru responded by jacking up and repurposing its Legacy midsize station wagon as the Outback crossover SUV.

The same happened with its compact Impreza, which was the starting point for the WRX and the WRX STI sports sedans, both of which are the result of Subaru’s automotive alchemy. The most aggressive is the WRX STi, which this column in 2015 anointed as the best Subaru ever.

But the regular WRX, though not as powerful and less expensive, is no slouch—and in fact easily fills the bill for many enthusiasts.

Now available only as a conventional four-door sedan (the hatchback version is gone), the WRX gets its motivation from a 268 hp, 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder boxer engine, which delivers 258 lb-ft of torque. It is available either with a six-speed manual gearbox or a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT).

In the current automotive climate, CVTs are routinely bashed by critics who do not like the fact that there are no shift points. A CVT multiplies torque with a setup of variable belts and pulleys. In some installations, there’s a sensation that the transmission is slipping, especially under hard acceleration.

But the WRX uses computer software to give the driver three selectable driving modes: Intelligent, Sport and Sport Sharp. The Intelligent setting is calibrated for economical daily driving and feels sluggish off the line with engine droning sounds and vibration at low rpms.

Better to select Sport or Sport Sharp, either of which is way cool. In Sport, as soon as you get 30% into the throttle, the automatic transmission switches to a six-speed stepped shift mode. You also can shift for yourself using the paddles mounted on the steering wheel.

WRX Limited Black Leather Sliver Exterior

Move to the Sport Sharp position and suddenly you have an eight-speed automatic transmission at your beck and call. It also will step shift automatically or you can select your gears manually with the paddles. It’s all in the software and contributes substantially to the WRX’s sporting personality. Both the Sport and Sport Sharp modes also quicken throttle response.

Combine all that with the WRX’s chassis rigidity and taut suspension system, and you experience a borderline punishing ride on all but the smoothest surfaces. But add the accurate steering, yaw control and torque vectoring for the all-wheel drive, and the payoff comes in responsive handling on twisting roads that can put a grin on the face of the most serious grouch.

New to the WRX this year is Subaru’s EyeSight, a crash prevention system that is integrated with adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist and pre-collision braking. On the tested Limited model, the system included “steering responsive” fog lights, which provide additional illumination going around corners. The package also includes an electronic parking brake and a hill holder to keep the WRX from rolling backward on an incline.

This one’s a keeper.


  • Model: 2016 Subaru WRX Limited four door sedan.
  • Engine:0-liter horizontally-opposed four cylinder, 268 hp, 258 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Continuously variable automatic with six- and eight-speed manual shift modes. All-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 1 inch.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 93/12 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,450 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 18/24/21 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $31,190.
  • Price as tested: $36,858.

Disclaimer: This test drive was conducted at a manufacturer-sponsored press event. The manufacturer provided travel, accommodations, vehicles, meals and fuel.

Photos (c) Subaru

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