For a start, have been looking out for a reasonable automatic family hatch with good dynamics that is also reliable and practical at the same time. Have been looking at a couple of options, like the Golf TSi and the Focus DuraTec, as well as the Honda Civic hatch. Golf was a great little car, but the thought of the DSG giving troubles in the long term was a bit scary considering this was going to be a daily driver. Same thing with the PowerShift transmission in the Focus (which I noticed has more chatter than the Golf...), and for the Honda Civic hatch, well, it's not bad, but the new facelift wasn't here yet and the VTI-S was quite expensive considering it doesn't have much difference with the Subaru on paper. I didn't really consider the Subaru initially since it was with a CVT, but decided to give it a shot and it was a pleasant surprise.
For a start, one of the attractive things about the Subarus is the fact that they come standard with Boxer engines. Seriously, it just has that different feel to it, compared to say the Focus, Civic etc. Of course being a non turbo, one of the issues is that you do need to rev it up a bit to get a move on, unlike in the Golf where you ride on the wave of torque that seems to keep coming at you. Having said that, the Boxer is not very trashy so I'm not too worried about it.
The CVT transmission has been a big surprise though. I have tried some cars with CVT transmissions, like in the newer Hondas and they are fine when you are ambling around the city, but when you nail it, it really starts to drone and wail. Plus the rubbery feel in some setups are just... absolute disasters. The Lineartronic in this is surprisingly good really. It's not too bad when you nail it, as it holds it just right, and the paddles ease the noise a bit, though being a belt driven transmission with no real gears, the paddle induced "shifts" are not that real. Still having them is better than in the newer Hondas with a CVT (like on the City but that's another story...). I would say by far, the Lineartronic is as good as the Audi Multitronic CVT which is one of the best I have tried in recent times.
Thanks to the Symetrical-AWD (S-AWD) system, the Impreza feels like you are driving on rails. Point and it just goes. Not to mention the dampers are set up just right, not too soft and floaty yet not too firm at the same time. Body roll is very well contained which is really nice. Interior space is pretty good as well, which the rear being pretty comfy, as well as the reasonably large boot. Rear seats fold flat, just in case you need a bigger boot. Interior wise I would say the Impreza goes for a more simple design as opposed to a more "exciting" design in the Civic. This isn't an issue really, even the Golf does this as well, but it really is well screwed together, and that's what counts in my books.
In terms of technology, the Impreza isn't too bad really. An interesting touch is the rear USB ports to charge up - great to keep the rear passenger's devices all juiced up. Bluetooth and touchscreen audio comes as standard which is nice to have, and the touch screen itself feels really responsive so far, much better than MyFordTouch that is coming in the upcoming Focus (tried it out in the Mondeo, and the Focus uses the similar version I believe).
It's not all lovely roses for the Impreza though. For a start, the handbrake handle for the Impreza is rather oddly placed, in the sense that it's slightly angled and is very close to the driver's seat. It would have been best to have an electronic parking brake as then Subaru could have done an auto hold system like on some of the Euro rivals (which I have gotten used to).
Oddly though, there isn't any option for keyless entry, automatic lights and wipers, or EyeSight intelligent safety system throughout the range. Probably due to the age of the car, that EyeSight is too expensive to engineer but keyless entry, automatic lights and wipers aren't really difficult to implement. Considering other cars in the same segment have it at least on higher models, it's quite a surprise the Subaru doesn't. That's the main reason why I didn't see the point of going for the slightly more expensive midrange specification. Not having a reversing camera too is a surprise really.
I do find the instrument clusters a bit unclear compared to the competition that have a more clearer readout. Also, the central display doesn't really tell much which is a shame really. It would have been nice to see things like say a digital speedometer as well which would make it easier to see at a glance what speed you are doing.
While the engine has adequate power, the naturally aspirated motor doesn't feel as responsive as the turbo competition, mainly cause you have to wait a while before you have access to all the torque to pickup. Having said that, you aren't really going to nail the loud pedal that often, so for city use and cruising, as well as a quick twisty blast it's not bad.