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.