Subaru Impreza enriched by platform savings

Money is reinvested to produce a more refined interior

The new Impreza grows in every dimension.

LA JOLLA, Calif. -- To find out what Subaru did with all the money it saved by putting the 2017 Impreza on a modular platform, just get inside -- and close the door.

Like nearly every manufacturer with shareholders to please, Subaru has ventured down the road of modular. The redesigned Impreza is the first of its vehicles to use the new flexible underpinnings, known as the Subaru Global Platform.

Eventually, everything Subaru makes -- short of the rear-wheel-drive BRZ sports car -- will use this architecture, including plug-in hybrid and EV versions. That means future iterations of the WRX, WRX STI, Outback, Legacy, Forester and whatever Subaru ends up naming its forthcoming seven-passenger large crossover all will ride on the same underpinnings.

It doesn't take an MBA to know all this sharing saves considerable cash. And when Subaru was looking to reinvest some of these savings back into the 2017 Impreza -- now in its fifth generation -- the first place it looked was the interior.

The new platform allowed Subaru to build an Impreza that's 70 percent stiffer, larger in every dimension and safer. It's also more refined, addressing a weakness that Subaru acknowledges.

The improvement is noticeable. Hard plastics largely have been banished; the doors close with a satisfying thunk; there's little wind, road or engine noise to speak of; there's tasteful stitching across the dashboard; and the various buttons, switches and knobs feel satisfyingly substantial. Even the door handles are new for the first time in 17 years. 

2017 Subaru Impreza
Subaru's redesigned Impreza is new from the wheels up for 2017. While the brand expects similar sales numbers for the popular 5-door hatchback, Subaru's real aim is to boost Impreza sedan sales. Here's how it stacks up against the Honda Civic sedan.
 2017 SUBARU IMPREZA PREMIUM SEDAN2017 HONDA CIVIC EX SEDAN
Wheelbase105.1 in.106.3 in.
Length182.1 in.182.3 in.
Width70.0 in.70.8 in.
Height57.3 in.55.7 in.
Curb weight3,073 lbs.2,799 lbs.
Passenger volume99.8 cu. ft.95 cu. ft.
Cargo space12.3 cu. ft.15.1 cu. ft.
Engine2.0-liter 4-cyl. Boxer2.0-liter 4-cyl. Inline
Horsepower152 @ 6,000 rpm158 @ 6,500 rpm
Torque, lbs.-ft.145 @ 4,000 rpm138 @ 4,200 rpm
EPA mpg28 city/38 hwy.31 city/40 hwy.
Price*$22,015$21,975
*Includes shipping  

Also on Subaru's to-do list was boosting the vehicle's size relative to competitors, another acknowledged weakness. The redesigned model grows in every dimension, creating more space for front and rear passengers and cargo behind them, and putting the Impreza sedan and five-door hatchback at the top of the class for passenger volume. 

The company also wanted to make it look cooler than the current version, according to Masahiko Inoue, senior manager on the Impreza project, at the Impreza's media launch here. Thus, the outside is sleeker and more mature than earlier generations, and it loses some of the funky shapes and body lines that have been common on many Subaru models throughout the years.

Subaru hopes to keep hatchback sales strong.

Subaru hopes these changes spell big sales growth for the sedan model while keeping hatchback levels the same or slightly higher than they are now. In a crossover-driven market, that could be tough, especially against other models in the Impreza's segment. 

Honda's redesigned Civic and Toyota's Corolla each gobble up more than 17 percent share of the compact segment and have sold 335,445 and 346,999 units through November. 

The outgoing Impreza managed 50,112 sales through November, giving it a 2.6 percent share. 

Hard plastics inside largely have been banished, and buttons and knobs feel substantial.

The car also will have to lure in buyers on the premium end of the segment without offering them a premium engine. Unlike the Civic, Ford Focus, Hyundai Elantra and Volkswagen Jetta, the Impreza is available with just a single engine: a naturally aspirated 2.0-liter four-cylinder -- no optional turbocharged engine is available. 

Nevertheless, Subaru is confident it can challenge the big boys of the segment with the new Impreza -- so confident that upcoming ads for the car will mention by name the Civic, Corolla and Focus, which Subaru says can't match the new Impreza's safety features. 

For a brand that typically emphasizes love in its marketing, that's a strong statement.

You can reach David Undercoffler at undercoffler@crain.com -- Follow David on Twitter: @autonews_west

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