Special Coverage

New York Int’l Auto Show

Subaru is claiming the crown of the most fuel-efficient all-wheel-drive car in the U.S. with its ’12 Impreza compact sedan and hatchback, debuting at the New York auto show this week.

The next-generation all-wheel-drive Impreza should get 27/36 mpg city/highway (8.7-6.5 L/100 km), up 30% from the outgoing generation, Subaru says.

An electric power steering system and low-rolling resistance tires conserve fuel, as does a new engine.

All ’12 Imprezas, on sale this fall in the U.S., come equipped with a 2.0L 148-hp boxer 4-cyl., replacing the ’11 Impreza’s 170-hp 2.5L flat-4.

The third-generation engine, codenamed FB, introduces several new technologies, including a longer stroke that improves low- and mid-range torque without a heavy throttle input, Ward’s learned at a January preview of the new powerplant in Budapest.

While the stroke is longer, the bore is narrowed to reduce friction and boost fuel economy.

The engine in the Impreza is mated to either a 5-speed manual or new Lineartronic continuously variable transmission.

Subaru says the ’12 Impreza’s CVT is quieter and more compact than the unit found in the ’10 Legacy and Outback models. The Impreza’s CVT comes with a 6-speed manual mode and paddle shifters in Premium, Sport and Limited grades.

Some styling cues, including the car’s swelled wheel arches, are borrowed from the bigger, midsize Legacy.

The Impreza has a longer wheelbase than the model it replaces, 104.1 ins. (264 cm) vs. 103.2 ins. (262 cm), with overall length unchanged. Width also is carried over, but redesigned door panels improve hip and shoulder room, Subaru says.

The front-door opening is increase by nearly 5 ins. (13 cm) for easier ingress/egress. Visibility is improved thanks to a more steeply raked windshield, with the bottom of the car’s A pillar moved 7.9 ins. (20 cm) forward, as well as a lower, flatter instrument panel, Subaru says.

The Impreza’s IP, door trim and center console are swathed in soft-touch materials. Storage spaces are bigger and more plentiful. Door pockets now can accommodate larger bottles and compartments in and near the center console are designed to hold cell phones and MP3 players.

The Impreza’s front and rear suspensions borrow components from the Legacy and increase the car’s agile feel, Subaru says. Pillow-ball bushings are added to the double-wishbone rear setup to improve ride and straight-line stability, while new hydraulic engine mounts damp out vibration.

New safety features include a driver’s knee airbag and a passenger-seat front airbag with a center groove to limit impact force.

Standard are a tilt and telescoping steering wheel; power windows, door locks and side mirrors; multi-function display with fuel-economy information; and carpeted floor mats.

Premium-grade Imprezas have steering-wheel audio controls, including one for Bluetooth; rear stabilizer bar; and 16-in. alloy wheels.

Sport Premium 5-door Imprezas wear 17-in. alloys and have fog lights and rocker-panel spoilers.

The Limited and Sport Limited grades, the latter a 5-door model, have leather seats and a better audio system with a 4.3-in. (11-cm) display screen and standard HD Radio.

A power moonroof and navigation system are optional for Premium and Limited Imprezas. The navigation unit is new, featuring a 6.1-in. (15-cm) liquid crystal display touch-screen, voice control and iTunes tagging. XM Satellite Radio and XM NavTraffic are offered but require subscriptions.

With the current Impreza launched just four years ago in New York, Subaru hoped to gain on the car’s compact competition.

But while the brand’s U.S. volume has skyrocketed since then – to a record high of 263,820 sales last year – Impreza sales fell 4.8% to 44,395 in 2010, a tally well below that of competing compacts such as Honda’s Civic (260,218) or even the modest-selling Kia Forte (68,500), Ward’s data shows.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com