(Images from a recent session for a Bring A Trailer listing.)
In a crowded compact hatchback segment, the normal Impreza has some challenges.
Subaru has some long-standing credibility among two very distinctly different owner bases, helping it enjoy success for decades. If you’re the enthusiast driver who wants to hit the canyons, autocross, or track, the Impreza WRX and STi variants have had your attention. Should you be the outdoorsy type who loves to hit your local farmers market and explore hiking trails, Subaru offers a handful of models in varying sizes to meet any demands you have.
The Impreza has been a decent car that ticks lots of boxes for Subaru drivers, offering affordability, practicality, reasonable size, and all-weather drivability. In this RS trim, the Impreza gets cool badges, sportier black-painted exterior trim, and dark gray wheels while the interior is treated with cooler black and red seats, aluminum pedals, and trim accents in gunmetal and simulated carbon fiber. Sadly the Impreza STi is gone for now, but the WRX is still in the lineup for drivers who want a quicker Subaru.
With an all-new Impreza rolled out for 2024, Subaru has made a full slate of updates to its popular compact model, with hatchback competitors including the Honda Civic and Mazda 3 in its sights. How does it compare?
The Main Figures
Under the 2024 Subaru Impreza RS’ hood you’ll find a familiar 2.5-liter direct-injected 4-cylinder boxer engine which produces 182 horsepower and 178 lb-ft of torque. With a CVT as the only available transmission in the Impreza, which is definitely the natural choice for its owners, and like all Subaru models, the Impreza RS has standard symmetrical all-wheel-drive. The base Impreza gets a 2.0-liter, 150-horsepower engine, so the RS gets a nice bump, and the WRX gets 271 horsepower if you crave more juice and a manual transmission option. EPA fuel economy estimates for the Impreza RS are 26/33/29 (city/highway/combined).
The Honda Civic hatchback (depending on trim level) has a choice between a 2.0-liter naturally-aspirated motor (with 158-horsepower and 138 lb-ft of torque) or a 1.5-liter turbo (punching up to 180-horsepower and 177 lb-ft). The Mazda 3 hatchback’s standard N/A 2.5-liter produces 191 horsepower and 186 lb-ft, and the 2.5 turbo in the Mazda 3’s top trim bumps up to 227 horsepower and and 310 lb-ft on regular unleaded while pushing out 250 horsepower and 320 lb-ft of torque on premium unleaded. Honda only offers front-wheel-drive in the Civic, and the Mazda 3 is equipped with FWD too, except in the Premium Plus trim that comes with all-wheel-drive.
Pricing for the 2024 Subaru Impreza begins at $22,995 for the base trim, and the quicker RS starts at $27,885. After adding options including a power moonroof, Harman Kardon audio system, and premium Oasis Blue paint, this Impreza RS I tested hit a total MSRP of $31,045 after destination. This price puts the Impreza RS in-line with upper hatchback trim levels in the Honda Civic and Mazda 3 depending on which interior creature comforts are important to you.
The Grocery Getting Hatchback You Expect
For city duty, the new 2024 Subaru Impreza RS gets the job done. The 2.5-liter boxer engine isn’t quite quick, but it’s fine as a daily driver. The Honda Civic provides similar power from a much smaller engine, and Mazda’s standard 2.5-liter feels more robust, and it’s turbocharged version blows the segment away. If you need more power from your Impreza, the WRX is the way to go. The Impreza’s CVT isn’t helping win this enthusiast driver over, tuned more for economy and smoothness than fun. Mazda uses conventional gears in the 3, and Honda still makes the best CVT out there (even if I still loathe those ‘boxes).
Suspension tuning is good, with a ride that’s responsive but not overbearing while avoiding any dullness. Subaru gave the steering a bit more weight than I expected from a compact hatchback, which isn’t a bad thing. Although that steering feels a bit artificial at low speeds. Subaru’s all-wheel-drive gives it a bit more rotation than ordinary compact hatchbacks, but the Mazda 3 holds a serious advantage in the dynamics department, and the Civic is in between them both.
Compact enough to squeeze into any parallel parking spot, the new Impreza isn’t bloated, and the visibility out of the cabin is good at any angle, which is refreshing in an age of oddly thick C pillars on hatchbacks. The Impreza RS’ cabin gets sportier black seats with thicker red bolsters that did a good job of keeping me comfortable on a trip to Houston and back while sticking me in place when I tossed it around a twistier road. On a quick dinner run with friends, the Impreza’s back seat was fine for them, but you’ll want to only stuff your kids back there for longer drives.
A low floor of the Impreza’s cargo area makes loading up your groceries or camping gear easier, the hatch has a simple cargo cover to hide your belongings, and there’s a small storage bin concealed beneath the trunk’s floor. The back seat folds 60/40, in case you have a ton of things to stash in the Impreza. Deep cupholders keep your drinks steady, the door pockets have big spots for reusable water bottles, and the center armrest has a bunch of space for small belongings to be tucked away.
Subaru redesigned the interior of the new Impreza, and the upgraded infotainment system option quickly grabs your attention. Now boasting an 11.6-inch screen, the Impreza moves into the current area of tech-heavy cabins. This Impreza RS tester was upgraded with the Harman Kardon audio system, which is impressive for a car in this segment.
Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto can be managed from the screen in a massive vertical display, while some menu selections have shortcuts at the bottom. The Impreza definitely has a bigger screen than both the Honda Civic, which has a slightly smaller touchscreen, and the Mazda 3 that still relies on a puck to control its screen and system. A wireless charing pad is concealed beneath the infotainment panel, with aux, USB-A, and USB-C ports above it for additional devices.
Not Quite The Adventurer
Despite the impressions you’ve got from Subaru over the past couple decades, not every owner is a camping, farmer’s market shopping, animal hugging hippie. Those buyers will still enjoy the Impreza having all-wheel-drive and decent practicality for getting to an outdoorsy adventure. At least the AWD system will come in handy when the weather sucks.
Just don’t try to attack the trails with the Impreza RS. This is a street car fitted with all-season tires and ordinary ground clearance. It’ll get you to the hiking trailhead, but it’s not blasting over a gravel rally course. Should you crave the great outdoors and choppy off-road terrain behind the wheel of a new Subaru, opt for a Crosstrek or Forester instead. Even more enthusiastic adventure drivers should check out Subaru’s Wilderness lineup.
The Good And Not Great Things
As compact hatchbacks go, the new Impreza RS has some good looks. Edgy in the right ways, the reshaped exterior looks good. I definitely appreciate that the lower level Impreza didn’t get the extra body cladding that makes the WRX look oddly cheap. The RS’ black exterior trim pieces and dark grey wheels look cool, and give this Impreza a bit more style. The extra few hundred bucks on this Oasis Blue paint is a worthwhile spend too.
I appreciate that Subaru’s interior still uses knobs and switches for volume and climate controls, which is something I demand from a new car. Same goes for the plethora of buttons on the steering wheel, partially because they’re carryover components from previous Subaru models. The aluminum pedals and red stitching add that rally look a Subaru should have too.
For all the things Subaru does well in the new Impreza, there are some things that need to step up. Fit and finish in the Impreza’s cabin aren’t great for a $30,000 car in 2023, with both the Honda and Mazda doing a considerably better job with materials and design. Dated switchgear for the heated seats and windows aren’t great either.
I appreciate the larger optional infotainment display Subaru offers in the Impreza, but the iconography and font selection looks like some stuff thrown together by a junior front-end dev that was designing their first iOS jailbreak theme in 2010. The huge app buttons and low-resolution display don’t help this theme either.
An Improved Impreza, But It’s Not Enough
After a week behind the wheel of the all-new 2024 Subaru Impreza, I can’t figure out why someone would by this trim level and spec. Subaru made several of improvements over its predecessor, but this car still feels like it’s from 2017. There is nothing the new Impreza does exceptionally well, the cabin is filled with dated components, and there are lots of “meh” moments behind the wheel. If you want a more fun Subaru, there’s always the WRX, but that is definitely more expensive, has a CVT as the automatic transmission, and adds unattractive body cladding.
Subaru has some loyal buyers, but they need to head over to a Honda, Mazda, or VW dealer. A loaded Mazda 3 hatchback has all-wheel-drive and a considerably more powerful 2.5-liter turbo engine for a little more money. If AWD isn’t a requirement, and you don’t need a hatchback that’s focused on fun, the Civic’s Sport Touring trim level is a great option at the same price as the Impreza. At the end of the day, the VW GTI is definitely the hatchback I’d drop my cash on, continuing to lead the field as the fun to drive, pleasant to look at, and practical to use hatchback.
Long overlooked as a basic little crossover, Kia gives the new generation a big upgrade.
Kia’s Sportage started its life in the late 1990s as a pint-sized SUV, fitting modest budgets while offering some sort of cute-ute looks. Back then, it was a cheap little car that your high school daughter would beat up for a few years before maturing to a better car to take care of. Over the years, Kia has moved the Sportage up in segments at a slow pace, but for 2023 it is all new and grown up. Same goes for the brand itself, with a new design language and a trendy–almost confusingly futuristic–new badge.
Proportions have certainly increased, with the Sportage now in the same range as a Kia Sorento. Lots of tech and comfort improvements have also been added, making the Sportage a contender against the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, and Mazda CX-50 (which I recently reviewed). With those competitors enjoying sales success for quite some time, is Kia’s upgraded crossover worthy of stealing some market share? Time to find out.
The Key Specs and Updates
It’s easy to do a double-take with the 2023 Kia Sportage, thanks to its all-new exterior which employs that Kia calls its “Opposites United” design language, part of Kia’s global brand transformation and tagline “Movement that Inspires.” Agency-heavy copywriting aside, the new look is cool, sporting sharper and more muscular lines, edginess that isn’t overdone, and headlight housings that employ boomerang-shaped daytime running lights. Built on Kia’s third-generation N3 platform, the Sportage Hybrid’s chassis is stronger and lighter than before, aimed at better driving dynamics and safety.
Now seven inches longer overall, the 2023 Kia Sportage boasts a wheelbase growth of three inches, while only increasing its height and width by half an inch. In stretching the wheelbase, there’s more interior volume for people and their stuff, enabling the Sportage to now offer a class-leading 41 inches of rear legroom while also providing 39 cubic feet of rear cargo space. Loads of insulation have been added to the new Sportage, to reduce wind and road noise, and to give its occupants a more luxurious ride.
Powertrain upgrades are welcomed, with the somewhat tame 1.6-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder benefitting from a 44kW permanent magnet electric motor that produces a combined 227 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. In standard form, the Sportage hybrid is fitted with front-wheel-drive, which boasts 43 MPGs (same EPA ratings for city, highway, and combined) and over 500 miles of cruise range, and the tester I was supplied was upgraded to all-wheel-drive, which slips to 38 MPGs.
In its modest LX trim, with front-wheel-drive, the 2023 Kia Sportage starts at a base price of $27,490, the middle EX model starts at $31,190, and the range-topping $36,190 Prestige AWD I tested added Shadow Matte Gray paint, a cargo mat, cargo net, cargo cover in the batch, and carpeted floor mats (somehow still an option on a car over $30k) to hit a total MSRP of $38,530 after $1,295 for destination. Compared to a similarly-equipped Honda CR-V hybrid, the Sportage has a considerable power advantage combined with the expected price break Kia usually has over its rivals.
Family Hauling Goodness
Ignore the badge when you slip into the Kia Sportage, and you’ll think you’re in a more premium class of car both when you look at the cabin and when you hit the road. On the handling front, the all-new Kia Sportage is certainly more pleasant than I expected from a mid-sized crossover, but nothing in this segment can outdo the slightly more expensive new Mazda CX-50 that’s fantastic to drive. That said, Kia did a great job with the dynamics, making the Sportage much more appealing to drive than many crossovers in this segment. Ride smoothness is great too, when middle-child crossovers typically get suspension calibrations that are jittery at best.
All-wheel-drive probably helps the Kia’s agility, in a world where boring FWD crossovers reign. The steering feel is a bit over-boosted in the hands of this enthusiast driver, but the ordinary motorist will appreciate the ease of steering inputs over any city streets and while parking at the supermarket. Unless you live in a climate with extreme winters and a long gravel driveway, where you’ll appreciate the Prestige trim’s heated windshield, skip the all-wheel-drive option to not only save a few bucks, but to extend your fuel economy.
The Sportage certainly feels like a bigger crossover, which depending on your family’s needs might be a bit too much. If you’ve only got two small kids, maybe the Honda HR-V I recently tested is a better fit. Should your family include teenagers who have active extracurricular lives, you’ll appreciate having a ton of space for their long legs and gear to stuff in the back. Especially when your hands are full, and you kick your foot under the bumper to engage the Sportage’s hands-free power tailgate.
Kia has certainly stepped up its cabin quality, and the seats for all five occupants are big and plush. The 2023 Sportage benefits from cooler features including a massive single screen that actually holds two 12-inch displays for the instrument cluster and infotainment screen, with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto installed. While my iPhone 14 Pro was plugged into the USB-C port, it was quick to overheat and stop charging, which wasn’t ideal when the wireless charging point required precise placement to activate (something that was difficult to manage, when the surface was prone to allow my phone to slide about).
I like the 360º camera system that neatly integrates into the infotainment screen, paired with the remote parking assist, making sure that any curb rash or dings of neighboring cars are definitely your fault and not the car’s. The Kia Access App allows access to features like remote climate control and door lock/unlock when synced with your Apple and Android-based smartphone or smartwatch.
The upgraded insulation is a noticeable improvement in the 2023 Kia Sportage, and the wind and road noise are at levels I’ve experienced in nicer models from Mercedes and BMW. Climate controls are easy to reach, with buttons for the controls that matter, and there’s a stylish puck for the transmission selector. Upgraded Harman Kardon audio is a nice feature in the Prestige trim too.
The Highs and Lows
While a big shift in the design department, I appreciate Kia’s attempt to catch the attention of buyers who want a cooler look from their crossover. There are certainly lots of angles, but unlike the design language on lower level family of Hyundai offerings (which I loathed in the new Elantra sedan I reviewed), the Kia styling is cool without pushing too hard. The floating grille and angular lighting assemblies stitch together nicely, and the theme carries well from front to back of the Sportage’s body.
Angles aren’t too wild inside the Sportage’s cabin either, and I like the shapes used for the climate vents that are flanked by a cool metallic trim. Kia gave the Sportage lots of smart interior features like blind spot camera displays that neatly incorporate into the instrument cluster when using your indicator, coat hangers that are sculpted into the front seats’ headrests, and USB-C charging ports placed high into the side and edge of the front seat so that rear passengers don’t waste cable length for charging and using their iPad or Nintendo Switch on a road trip.
There are a couple small complaints I have with the 2023 Kia Sportage, but they aren’t big hangups. While trying to look a bit cooler than the other moms’ crossovers, I am not a fan of using matte paint on the Sportage. Save that finish for properly performance-focused cars and bodies. I spotted a fellow Sportage driver on the road during my test week, and a normal metallic shade looked good on this Kia.
Integrating digital displays for the instrumentation and infotainment was done with a lesser screen, and the lower-resolution gauge cluster isn’t great to look at. Same goes for the climate control panel, which uses digital controls that look like buttons, and washes out in bright daylight. Particularly while wearing polarized sunglasses. Adding a bunch of pixels would help these features move up in class considerably.
While leading its segment in rear cargo volume, the new Sportage’s boot could have a bit more storage solutions to offer than a simple small concealed bin under the floor. For growing families, and all their things, crossovers need to offer versatility and better solutions for packing away your belongings in a stable manner. Triple-digit highs during a Texas summer don’t help the ventilated seats nor climate control system’s attempt to keep you cool, with the Sportage’s seats barely feeling like the fans were on and the A/C struggling to cool the cabin when at its coldest setup.
A Massive Improvement, Doesn’t Lead The Pack
Kia did a good job with this all-new Sportage, giving it a reasonably powerful drivetrain, loads of space inside, and a big stack of the tech features crossover buyers demand. The added efficiency of the hybrid powertrain boosts driving range and MPGs, giving the Sportage an advantage over its competition while still offering an engine that doesn’t suffer to deliver those EPA figures (looking at you, Honda CR-V). Even with my tiny complaints, I think the Sportage is a good crossover to consider. Over a RAV4 or CR-V, the Sportage is certainly a solid option.
I applaud Kia for moving the Sportage up in class, giving it a styling theme that is more appealing than most other boring crossovers, and for providing a cabin experience that feels more expensive. The challenge is that, at the price point of a loaded Sportage, I’d rather spend the money on a nicely-equipped Mazda CX-50 I reviewed that has even nicer appointments in its upper trim, looks great inside and especially outside, and provides a considerably more enjoyable driving experience.