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The Age / Tech - Game

2012-2016 Subaru Impreza used car review



While the world’s eyes have been on the turbocharged WRX version of Subaru’s Impreza since the 1990s, the more prosaic versions of the Impreza have trundled along, making friends and earning sales.

There’s never really been anything too exciting about the bread-and-butter Imprezas over the years, but they have proven to be reliable and have refused to scare the horses. Which is precisely what a lot of second-hand car buyers are looking for. In fact, the basic Impreza package has long been held up as a great used-car buy, mainly for the brand’s reputation for reliability and going the distance.

So when a new model arrived in 2012, we were all ears.

The GJ model arrived in early 2012 as both a sedan and a hatchback layout, the latter proving more popular for its greater degree of practicality. It was more or less the same size and weight as the model it replaced, but the big news was a new engine dubbed the FB20 which replaced the older engine from Subaru’s EJ series of powerplants.

But it was a more impressive looking vehicle with a prominent grille and a bit more pizzazz to the overall presentation. The interior plastics were a step up on the quality ladder, too, something that had been a Subaru bug-bear for many years.

Like all Australian Subarus, the Impreza featured all-wheel-drive which is a great safety measure for slippery conditions, even if it means the cars can use a little more fuel than a two-wheel-drive equivalent.

In the manual version of the Impreza, that system amounted to a set-up that split the torque evenly between the axles with variations on that as the system detected wheel slip at either end.

The CVT version of the car used a slightly different set-up that made it behave a little more like a front-drive vehicle under most conditions but, again, it could spread its torque around when tyre grip became an issue.

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On the passive safety front, the Impreza got seven airbags, and the full suite of braking and stability aids. Unfortunately, if you want Subaru’s lauded Eyesight safety package of active cruise control and autonomous braking, you won’t find it on this model.

A facelifted version of the car was released in 2015 which, as well as some new convenience tech, brought with it lower pricing which tended to knock the stuffing out of the retained values of the first version.

That’s great news for used-car buyers now.

Another piece of nice news is that Subarus have an enviable reputation for reliability. The caveat, however, is that they won’t (like a lot of modern engine designs) tolerate poor servicing and maintenance.

The Subaru engine design has fairly small oilways throughout, and if there’s any dirt or filth in the oil, this can block-up and destroy the engine very quickly. When inspecting cars, always try to start a Subaru engine from cold and listen for ticking from the top of the engine. If it’s present, we’d be looking at a different car, as this noise is the first indication that wear has started to occur.

There was also a manufacturing glitch that affected some of these engines, and that was a habit of consuming their own lubricant at a frightening rate. Some owners have had warning lights appear on the dashboard, checked the oil and discovered that the level was off the dipstick.

Possible causes have been put forward, including premature wear of the piston rings as well as poor honing on the cylinder wall. But other specialists we spoke to reckon the problem is an increasingly common one across the board (not just with Subaru) and is a function of lighter, thinner piston rings aimed at reducing friction and improving fuel economy. Combine that with the equally common problem of sludge forming on the piston rings (an ever-bigger problem as engines move to direct-injection) and you suddenly have an engine that burns oil.

Either way, if you wind up with an engine with this problem, only expensive and extensive engine work will put it right. Because of that, an independent check at a Subaru specialist is pretty good advice in this instance.

The CVT transmission in two-pedal Imprezas has also come in for criticism. But it’s possible that this is largely due to drivers not being familiar with the characteristics of a CVT unit.

That said, some owners have reported delays in the time taken between selecting a gear and actually having drive available. A reflash of the on-board computer can sometimes reduce this delay, but it’s worth remembering that a CVT feels unlike any other type of transmission and initial driver-reactions to it are not always positive. The bottom line is that you should take any CVT Impreza for a drive to make sure you can live with it before making any purchasing decisions.

On the recall front, the 2015 model-year Impreza we’re talking about here was recalled to replace a starter-motor pinion-gear which could prevent the car from cranking and restarting (especially critical when you consider this model had a stop-start function).

Earlier versions of the Impreza were also recalled to fix a wiring harness problem which could see a wire contact a metal plate, causing a short-circuit.

Our rating: 3.5 stars

Nuts and bolts

Engine/s: 2.0 4-cyl

Transmissions: 6-man/6-CVT

Fuel economy (combined): 6.8 litres per 100km (CVT)/7.1 litres (6-man)

Safety rating (courtesy of www.howsafeisyourcar.com.au): 5 stars

Likes:

  • All-wheel-drive grip is often handy.
  • Good build quality.
  • Sensible packaging.
  • Big inside.

Dislikes:

  • Some engine concerns.
  • Not as sexy as its WRX cousin.
  • CVT won’t be for everyone.
  • Last model before Eyesight safety package.

Competitors:

  • Toyota Corolla – No small-car discussion can be had without including the Corolla. Reliable, solid and you money’s safe come trade-in time as there’s plenty of demand for them. CVT in most of them is an acquired taste, but the rest is comfort food. 4/5
  • Mazda 3 – Mazda had really improved on the 3 concept by this stage. SkyActiv technology was saving fuel and making for a better drive while the sedan and hatch bodies were better equipped and quieter. 4/5
  • Ford Focus – Focus from this period was a clanger with a DCT transmission that was failing all over the place. Unless you’re buying a manual, the pre-2015 Focus should be given a wide berth. 1.5/5

What to pay (courtesy of Glass’s Guide):

Model                   Year       New      Now

2.0i sedan           2012       $26,490   $10,700

2.0i hatch            2012       $26,490   $10,700

2.0i-L sedan        2012       $29,490   $11,900

2.0i-L hatch         2012       $29,490   $11,900

2.0i sedan           2013       $26,490   $11,900

2.0i hatch            2013       $26,490   $11,900

2.0i-L sedan        2013       $29,490   $13,500

2.0i-L hatch         2013       $29,490   $13,500

2.0i sedan           2014       $25,990   $13,400

2.0i hatch            2014       $25,990   $13,400

2.0i-L sedan        2014       $27,300   $15,300

2.0i-L hatch         2014       $27,300   $15,300

2.0i sedan           2015       $25,490   $14,400

2.0i hatch            2015       $25,490   $14,400

2.0i-L sedan        2015       $26,800   $16,400

2.0i-L hatch         2015       $26,800   $16,400

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