By Shari Prymak

2015 Subaru Impreza - The Subaru Impreza, in my view, has always been a tough car to love. Somehow it just felt a little too small, too chintzy, and too ugly for its own good. The fact that it has always been on the pricier end of the small car segment didn’t help either. It seemed as though, at the end of the day, the only real case you could make for buying one was the fact that it came standard with all-wheel drive.

Well that doesn’t appear to be the case anymore. For its 2012 redesign, and updated again for 2015, Subaru reworked the Impreza into a truly competitive compact car. Much of what made the old Impreza a good car remains: the standard all-wheel drive system, the availability of both sedan and hatchback body styles, and the superb build quality. But the total package is now much more substantial.

First off, there’s the design, which is finally now handsome enough to go head-to-head with the acclaimed designs of competitors such as Ford and Hyundai. Not only that, but the new styling stretches over a space which now provides reasonable room for four passengers and their cargo, especially in hatchback form. If there is any shortcoming, it would be with the interior instrument arrangement which, though very intuitive and user-friendly, is a little on the dull side styling wise.

Subaru has also improved the new Impreza by equipping it with new, more fuel efficient, boxer engine. It’s a 2.0L 4-cylinder unit which produces 148hp and 145lb-ft of torque. I found it to be plenty powerful and, as a bonus, it returned excellent fuel economy, upwards of 7.0L/100km on the highway. What I wasn’t too crazy about was the CVT automatic that my test car was equipped with. As is typical of many CVTs, it exhibited the unpleasant surging and sounds that seem to be as much a part of the CVT design as its single-gear configuration. The everyday driver likely won’t be bothered by it, but personally, I’d have the issue-free manual transmission.

As mentioned beforehand, the Impreza’s real selling card is its standard all-wheel drive system. Compared to the typical front-wheel drive layout that you’d find in most cars of this class, all-wheel drive provides added security by making best use of the available traction, which is especially useful in poor road conditions. That being said, you do pay for it, both immediately in the form of a higher purchase price, and in the long-term in the form of higher running costs. If your goal for the winter is to increase your car's level of traction and reduce sliding and brake distances, then what you really need is a set of winter tires, regardless of which wheels are being propelled.

The Impreza has a starting price of $19,995, which makes it approximately $2,000 more expensive than a typical competitor with comparable options. My choice would be the next up Touring Package model, which adds in heated seats, a 6-speaker sound system, 16” alloy wheels, and automatic headlights, all for an extra $1,700. The Impreza may not be as well-rounded and sporty as my top compact car choice, the Mazda 3, but it did strike me as a genuinely good all-around car, and one absolutely worth putting on the small car shopping list.