Thursday, October 13, 2011

2012 Nissan GT-R

Starting MSRP $89,950–$95,100

Rarely is one afforded the opportunity to pilot a car that can reach speeds of nearly 200 mph and hit 60 from a dead stop in the 3-second range. Doing so changes the way you think about modern transportation, given the rest of it goes by so slowly in comparison.

That the 2012 Nissan GT-R costs less than $100,000 while achieving performance that usually costs at least twice that boggles the mind — and being able to drive it so easily blew my mind. For 2012, the GT-R has received a number of updates, both performance and cosmetic.

Nissan has created a performance machine that is stunning for two significant reasons.

The first is the car's sheer ability. Its all-wheel-drive system puts the twin-turbo V-6 engine's 530 horsepower to the pavement superbly. Teamed with an independent rear suspension and the grip of 20-inch high-performance summer tires, the all-wheel drive made cornering at the limits mere child's play.

There's no highway off-ramp this cart can't take like a racetrack carousel (absent other traffic, of course).

That sublime handling comes in second, though, to the sheer acceleration. I told everyone I met during my test drive — countless people stopped to ask me about the car — that it wasn't the zero-to-60 time that was so impressive, it was zero to 80 or 90. The GT-R launches so powerfully that your mind cannot fathom the speed — or likely even register it — before you hit 60. The real feat is slowing down before any legal ramifications are enacted on you.

Your head snaps back with enough intensity to cause whiplash as the GT-R easily hits 1 g of force shifting hard from 1st to 2nd gear using titanium paddles behind the steering wheel. How can you tell it's a full g of force? Handy display screens show acceleration, braking and cornering forces.

Luckily, the massive 15.4-inch brake rotors up front and 15-inch rotors in the rear slow the GT-R down precisely.

Of course, with this much handling and performance ability, there has to be a sacrifice somewhere, and that's in ride comfort. Thanks to the rigid setup, drivers will feel every road imperfection, hear every pebble they kick up and curse any concrete highway they're forced to travel.

There's a switch labeled "comfort" placed amid settings that can adjust the transmission and stability control system. Unlike the other two options, I don't believe the comfort setting accomplished much. Driving in comfort mode, I was still painfully aware of every crack in the road, like a kid playfully calling out about breaking your mother's back. Which you might do if she's riding shotgun in the GT-R.

During the first few days of my test drive, I thought the ride quality would sour me on the rest of the experience. I generally prefer a good mix of performance and comfort, as you'll never wring out the abilities of a car like the GT-R on anything but a track.

By day six, though, I had nearly talked myself into buying a GT-R despite the abusive ride. There isn't anything I desired south of $200,000, except maybe an Audi R8 GT, and that car is nearly $50,000 more than the GT-R. Plus, while more exotic, it doesn't have the Nissan's velocity.

You could go an entire day before being able to run the GT-R full tilt — and even then it will likely be just for minutes, or even seconds — but the exhilaration is well worth the wait. Fuel economy is rated 16/23 mpg city/highway, which is rather impressive when you consider this car's performance. However, during a week of testing both around town and in bumper-to-bumper commutes, I averaged a rather unsettling 13 mpg.

Being the most expensive Nissan ever to go on sale in the U.S., the $89,950 GT-R could easily be seen as overpriced. However, if the performance value weren't enough to warrant the price tag — and I assure you it is — the leather-appointed interior exudes upscale performance. The dash is wrapped in black leather, and the light gray leather seats are soft to the touch but extremely supportive and comfortable.

There aren't a lot of adjustments for the seats or lumbar support, but I got used to them over time. However, my shoulders did exceed the reach of the seat's back. It's not a car that will be uncomfortable for average-sized drivers like myself, but nor will it be a fit for everyone.

Most of the buttons and readouts are similar, if not identical to, those used on other Nissan products, but they don't look out of place in a $90,000 model. Navigation is also standard, and the 7-inch display has not only the same maps and excellent multimedia system as other Nissans, but also a computer that allows you to survey the GT-R's performance as it moves.

In addition to the g-force readouts I mentioned, there are customizable screens so owners can pick what they want to monitor.

Also standard is an 11-speaker Bose stereo with a USB iPod input. I found the sound to be best with bass-heavy selections at high volumes. Clarity is not the system's strong suit.

My only concern was the lack of a head-up display or larger digital speed display in the gauge cluster. One is available, but only as part of the trip computer — a small readout wedged under the tachometer. So instead of seeing the average mileage — mine was about 13 mpg — you could see your current speed.

When your eyes are peeled and fixed on the road as you accelerate, it would be helpful if you could check your speed without too much eye movement.

Rated at just 8.8 cubic feet of cargo volume, the trunk sounds small, measuring about the same as a Camaro convertible I recently tested that had one of the tightest confines I've ever seen. But, in fact, the GT-R's cargo hold seems rather cavernous and deep.

There's only one option package for the GT-R, for cold weather, and it includes all-season tires and a special coolant mix for extreme temperatures.

There's also a special Black Edition GT-R for those who don't think the base model is enough. It sports a black paint job, lightweight black wheels, and a red and black interior with a dark headliner. That will set you back an additional $5,150.

The GT-R has not been crash-tested by either the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

It features driver and front passenger frontal airbags, as well as seat-mounted side-impact airbags and side curtain airbags.

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2012 Volkswagen Beetle

Starting MSRP $18,995–$24,950

There is an undeniable appeal to a nostalgia ride, whether it be a Mini Cooper, a new Fiat 500 or the car that really started it all: the Volkswagen New Beetle.

Now, the 2012 VW Beetle has received a much-needed update. The result is a more sophisticated coupe that's also a better daily driver.

Though the Beetle — dropping "New" from its name — is high on style and comfort, the engine is particularly loud, disrupting an otherwise pleasant driving experience.

There is perhaps no car more iconic than the Beetle. Maybe the Jeep Wrangler is as identifiable, but no other car has been so loved that it spawned a childhood pastime like slugging a sibling in the arm at the sheer sight of one on the road.

The 2012 is a seamless transition from the New Beetle that debuted to wide acclaim in 1998. Hard edges now replace rounded shapes on the front bumper; a steeper windshield adds more blockiness; and a higher belt line means narrower windows and a sleeker profile. The rear is still as curvy as ever, though, with wild taillights finishing the look.

VW makes no apologies for the sharper design, saying it is deliberately more masculine.

Inside, the integrated flower vase is gone, but it won't be missed in the high-style layout. A typical two-tone interior color scheme, like tan seating with a black dashboard, is accented by piano black along the doors and dash. That trim can be replaced with white or red lacquer accents — to match the exterior color — on certain trim levels.

The elegantly done gauge cluster is unique to the Beetle. The three gauges fit the shape of the car better than the wider, two-gauge cluster found in the Jetta and Passat. Materials quality is definitely appropriate for the car's price; it's much more akin to the new Passat's higher-caliber interior than to the Jetta's, which aims at entry-level buyers and costs thousands of dollars less.

The front seats are comfortable, with plenty of support, but I found them a bit narrow for my back and shoulders. I assume smaller occupants will be more comfortable. You'll also have to be smaller to enjoy the tight confines of the backseat. This is to be expected in most coupes, though, and while the specifications don't suggest it, there certainly seems to be more room inside the Beetle than you'll find in tinier competitors like the Fiat 500 and Mini Cooper.

If you're buying the Beetle for its style but want affordability, you'll want to opt for the 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine; that version starts at $20,895 with an automatic. It's a competent powertrain, but the engine buzzes loudly, intruding into the cabin even during modest acceleration. The six-speed automatic transmission is simply adequate. A manual base model will be released in 2012 and will start at $18,995.

The base engine's 170 horses get you to highway speeds with assurance but not exhilaration, while steering is a bit vague. The brakes are above average. Does this sound like a ringing endorsement? It shouldn't to performance fans, but most buyers will appreciate the Beetle's very comfortable ride, airy cabin, and lack of road and wind noise — especially considering the wind was extreme most of the time I tested this car.

The 2012's addition of more than 3 inches of width means there's more stability when taking sweeping off-ramps, along with more room between front occupants. But it doesn't feel nimble like a Mini, which is 5 inches narrower.

The biggest negative is the loud engine and subpar mileage, rated 22/29 mpg city/highway with the automatic. The Mini Cooper gets 28/36 mpg with an automatic, while the Fiat 500 gets 27/34 mpg.

Upgrade to the Beetle Turbo versus the 2.5L and you'll be making an investment in driving enjoyment. For the extra $3,600 — no small sum — the turbocharged, 2.0-liter four-cylinder offers spritely acceleration, snappier handling, a Sport mode that actually feels sporty, and a warbling engine noise that sounds welcoming. (It's still too loud, though.)

The 200-horsepower turbo doesn't seem like much of an upgrade on paper, but teamed with a dual-clutch six-speed automatic transmission, this car far outpaces the base model.

The Turbo doesn't even give up much ride comfort for the added fun quotient, and it gets better mileage: 22/30 mpg.

Performance junkies still won't find the Beetle Turbo to be enough for them, despite its limited-slip differential for better handling. That's why VW sells a GTI version of its Golf hatchback. For those interested in the Beetle mystique, the Turbo delivers just enough.

A diesel Beetle will be released sometime in 2012, with estimated mileage of 29/40 mpg.

Features & Pricing
The base Beetle, with a starting price of $18,995 with a five-speed manual transmission, won't go on sale at the model's launch, and VW is not advertising it yet; it's expected next year. When 2012 Beetle sales begin this fall, the least expensive version will be the next higher trim level, called the Beetle L, at $19,795.

When they arrive in 2012, base Beetles will come with 17-inch alloy wheels, power windows with one-touch up and down, cloth seats, cruise control, 50/50-split folding rear seats, a trip computer and an eight-speaker stereo.

The L adds leatherette (faux leather) seating, heated front seats, a second glove box, Bluetooth and a media interface for digital accessories like iPods and smartphones. Automatic-transmission models start at $20,895. A base Mini Cooper with an automatic is $20,750.

Instead of separate options, VW creates trim levels. The next one up, the 2.5L with Sunroof, goes for $22,295 with the manual, $23,395 with the automatic. It adds a large panoramic sunroof that makes an already bright cabin even more open. It also includes a center armrest, a leather steering wheel with controls for the trip computer and stereo, keyless entry, push-button start, a touch-screen radio and three months of Sirius Satellite Radio.

The Beetle L with Sunroof, Sound and Navigation is $24,095 with the manual and $25,195 with the automatic. It adds 18-inch wheels, a navigation system and a premium Fender stereo.

I tested the Fender system with my iPhone, streaming music from Spotify, and it worked well. Sound quality is good, and there's plenty of bass when you want it. The navigation system and interface are a tad quirky, and there will be a learning curve if you're coming from another system. Even though it looks like a portable Garmin nav system, the inputs and controls are very different.

A similarly equipped automatic Mini Cooper is $25,750, and it can be had only with 17-inch wheels.

The Beetle Turbo starts with the features of the Beetle L at $23,395 with a manual and $24,495 with the DSG automatic transmission. It adds 18-inch wheels, alloy pedals, fog lights, gloss-black exterior mirrors, glossy black interior trim, sport seats with upgraded cloth, and a leather shift knob.

The Turbo's uplevel trims vary slightly from the L's. Next up is a Beetle Turbo with Sunroof and Sound that goes for $26,395 with the manual, $27,495 with the DSG. It gets the same extras as the L's Sunroof package, plus the Fender premium stereo.

The top trim is the Beetle Turbo with Sunroof, Sound and Navigation, which mirrors the L options but adds real leather seats and leather trim on the doors and dash. It costs $27,995 with the manual and $29,095 with the DSG.

At this time, the 2012 Beetle has not been crash-tested by either the federal government or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

The Beetle comes standard with four-wheel-disc brakes, stability control and side curtain airbags for front and rear passengers.
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2012 Hyundai Veloster

Starting MSRP $17,300

On the heels of the redesigned Elantra compact and Accent subcompact, the new 2012 Veloster adds a coupe to Hyundai's burgeoning small-car offering (see them compared). The distinctive Veloster is a true three-door hatchback: It has a liftgate, two front doors and a single rear door on the curb side for easier backseat access. By Hyundai's estimation, the Veloster competes with the likes of Honda's CR-Z hybrid and the Scion tC and might be cross-shopped with the Fiat 500, Mini Cooper and Volkswagen Beetle.

The 2012 Hyundai Veloster is a distinctive, high-mileage sport coupe that hints at the excitement to come in future variants.

Hyundai simplifies things by offering just one Veloster trim level starting at $17,300, distinguished only by three interior color schemes, which include gray, black and a red-and-black combination. The interior choices depend on the exterior color chosen. Options include an automatic transmission for $1,250 and two feature-filled packages. With currently known options, the Veloster tops out at $23,310.

Exterior & Styling
Somehow Hyundai has managed to design another car that looks unique and stylish without being overly polarizing (or just plain ugly). Available in seven colors, including bold yellow, orange and green, the Veloster stands out as something entirely new.

Seventeen-inch alloy wheels are standard. The optional Style Package, for $2,000, includes 18-inch wheels, fog lights and a chrome grille surround with piano-black highlights, along with interior feature upgrades. Different 18-inch alloy wheels with body-colored spokes join additional features in the Tech Package, which requires the Style Package, adding another $2,000 (for $4,000 total).

The Veloster also introduces Hyundai's first exterior graphics options, which include stripes and other designs. They're available when ordering or at the dealership.

I've called out handling as an area in which Hyundai needs improvement overall. For example, though the new Elantra is more than capable enough, it doesn't match the athletic Ford Focus or Mazda3, or maybe even the Chevrolet Cruze. I also find the Genesis coupe too skittish. The Veloster's dynamics and roadholding are among the best Hyundai offers — when equipped with the optional 18-inch wheels.

My chief complaint about the Veloster is its steering, which feels numb on-center and tends to wander at low and medium speeds, improving somewhat on the highway. Beyond the steering issue, the Veloster is exceptionally light — starting at 2,584 pounds with a standard manual transmission — and it feels that way. As important, it manages its weight well, with admirable balance for a front-wheel-drive car and minimal body roll.

The optional 18-inch tires showed no evidence of the automaker's quest for fuel efficiency, as some low-rolling-resistance (aka traction-resistant) tires on small cars do. The Kumho Solus KH25 all-season tires, rated P215/40R18, are well matched to the Veloster.

Note that I didn't drive the standard 17-inch tires, which are Nexen Classe Premiere CP671s rated P215/45R17. Though they're ostensibly all-season tires, these give me pause. The same models proved inferior in the cold and snow earlier this year on a 2011 Kia Optima, on which they were also standard equipment. Hyundai says the Veloster's tires use an updated compound and construction and should perform better. Pay extra attention to these tires if you test drive the Veloster, even if it's not cold out, and consider the 18-inchers if you have any concerns. If we test the 17s ourselves, we'll report back. 
Handling can't be divorced entirely from engine power, because there has to be enough oomph to pull the car out of a corner, and here the Veloster's modest power comes into play. Shared with the Accent is a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine that generates 138 horsepower at 6,300 rpm and 123 pounds-feet of torque at 4,850 rpm. Thanks to direct injection and variable valve timing, the little four-cylinder offers pretty broad torque delivery across the rev range. The six-speed transmissions make the most of it, launching the Veloster quickly when needed.

Taking on hills and powering out of sharp turns demands lower gears, keeping the driver — or the automatic — busy. The manual is a competent player with a forgiving clutch and a relatively short shifter equipped with a foolproof button for entering Reverse gear, to the left of 1st. (Why don't more automakers use this design?)

The more impressive choice is the automatic, a six-speed EcoShift DCT, standing for dual-clutch transmission — Hyundai's first. The dual-clutch automated-manual design means little to the average driver but can feel different to the more attuned operator. While DCTs are usually touted for their fast shifts, the overriding goal is lower weight and greater efficiency, and Hyundai's version takes it a step further by using a dry clutch system rather than a hydraulic design. So far, the only dry-clutch DCTs we've experienced come in the Ford Fiesta and 2012 Focus, which have their detractors.

When in Drive mode, the DCT behaves like any other automatic transmission. You can also slide the lever to the right and then shift up and down sequentially, or use the standard shift paddles on the steering wheel.

I'm impressed with the DCT. It performed nicely over a couple of miles of stop-and-go city driving. When I let off the brake at a stop, it would begin to inch forward after minimal delay. I noticed none of the balkiness or vibration we experienced just a week ago with the 2012 Ford Focus SFE. The transmission shifts up through the gears smoothly and without drama, and it doesn't downshift too conspicuously as you slow to a stop. It also downshifts reasonably quickly when it's time to pass. Hyundai engineers erred on the side of comfort, opting for smoother shifts rather than quick, hard transitions — a wise decision. They say it shifts faster when in manual mode, but I found the difference to be minimal.

There's no automatic sport mode, but there's an Active ECO button on the dashboard that intrigues me more than similar modes from other brands. Rather than change the shift behavior directly, it affects the accelerator pedal — not making it less sensitive but instead damping out sharp changes in position, smoothing the engine response and improving efficiency, Hyundai says, by up to 7 percent. What this does is make the regular Drive mode more responsive than in some cars, because of their manufacturers' pursuit of higher mileage. The transmission also reacts quickly to sharp jabs of the accelerator pedal, kicking down one or more gears for passing power.

The Veloster is no rocket, but thankfully it pays off in EPA-estimated mileage: 28/40 mpg city/highway for the manual and 29/38 mpg for the automatic. Both have a combined rating of 32 mpg.

Some shoppers are sure to conclude that the Veloster's styling makes promises the drivetrains don't keep. Perhaps they just need to wait for a more powerful version, perhaps a turbocharged one. The most Hyundai officials will say is there's no technical reason the car couldn't get a turbocharger. Beyond that, industry publications predict a turbo version for the 2013 model year, and unmistakable wide-mouthed-Veloster test mules have been spied on several occasions. I'd count on it; Hyundai established a risky direction with the midsize Sonata, maximizing efficiency with a platform that supports smaller engines rather than high cylinder counts, relying on charging to eke out more power. The Veloster, which shares elements of the Accent and Elantra platforms, could follow the same approach.

For now, the base Veloster should satisfy many buyers. The transmissions make the best of the available power if you don't mind frequent shifting — or the noise that sometimes accompanies it. There's a substantial ratio difference between 2nd and 3rd gears, so when you drop down, especially with the DCT, you hear a lot of engine noise.

Hyundai says it targeted its noise treatments at high-frequency sounds, and here they've done pretty well. Even at high speeds, a front passenger and I were able to converse without raising our voices. The overwhelming sound was a constant rumble from the tires, which might stem from the exceptionally coarse pavement around Portland, Ore., where Hyundai held the Veloster's national introduction. I'm withholding judgment because the tires went silent, if only for a moment, every time we crossed a short patch of smooth blacktop or concrete — and also because a ride in a Lexus LS 460 L featured the same soundtrack on Interstate 84.

The low-profile tires provided reasonable ride comfort for a car of this type, even after a full day of driving. Ditto for the Veloster's seats and cabin overall, which features contemporary cloth upholstery and nice enough materials. The Style Package adds a panoramic moonroof, leather on the steering wheel and shift knob, faux leather seat bolsters and door trim, alloy pedals and a one-touch feature for the driver's power window. The package also includes a stereo upgrade, but the standard Veloster has loads of connectivity: Bluetooth cellular and streaming audio, an auxiliary input, an iPod/USB port and an RCA cable that lets you play video on the dashboard screen when the car is parked.

The Tech Package adds keyless access and push-button start, a 115-volt outlet, automatic headlights, sonar backup sensors, a backup camera and a navigation system. Even without the system, Turn-by-Turn Navigation is available through the standard Blue Link, which is similar to OnStar.

Through the Third Door
Unlike the Mini Cooper Clubman, Saturn Ion coupe and a few other recent models, the Veloster's single rear door is forward-hinged, so it can be opened via a handle without first opening the front door. It's executed so nicely, people tend to see it as a big plus … rather than focus on the fact that the car shorts you one door on the other side. For ease of entry on that side, the driver's seat has a swing-away shoulder-belt guide and an additional lever to tilt the seat forward. Points for going the extra mile, Hyundai.

Once inside, I found the backseat surprisingly workable, at least for a short trip. Legroom comes at the generosity of front occupants, who typically have some to spare. At 6 feet tall, my head just cleared the ceiling — though it's not the ceiling so much as the rear window, and that's likely to be more of a problem if you run over a bump.

As an all-new model, the Veloster hasn't been crash-tested as of this writing. It includes six airbags: the frontal pair, front-seat side-impact airbags and side curtains that cover all the side windows. As federally mandated of all 2012 models, the Veloster has antilock brakes and an electronic stability system.

Equipped with Blue Link, the Veloster carries a GPS receiver and cellular telephony, which provides additional safety features, including Automatic Crash Notification when an airbag is deployed, along with operator supported one-touch SOS and roadside assistance. Subscription fees apply.

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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

2012 Subaru Impreza

Starting MSRP $17,495–$22,595  

The redesigned 2012 Subaru Impreza's most compelling attributes are evident before you even start the engine. Take a glance and you'll see more mature styling in both the sedan and four-door hatchback. Get inside and you'll find excellent sightlines, roominess and improved quality. Look at the specifications and you'll see impressive mileage for a car in the compact class — especially for one with Subaru's signature standard all-wheel drive: 27/36 mpg city/highway. If you like what you see so far, driving the Impreza probably won't deter you, but it won't close the deal, either. 

The 2012 Subaru Impreza undeniably has broader appeal than ever before, but there are still downsides associated with its standard all-wheel drive, not just in terms of price.  

Both body styles come in three trim levels: 2.0i (base), 2.0i Premium and 2.0i Limited. The hatchback, which Subaru calls the "5-door," adds two more levels: the 2.0i Sport Premium and 2.0i Sport Limited.

Subaru has discontinued the Outback Sport, a butched-up hatchback modeled after the larger Outback SUV. The turbocharged WRX and WRX STI versions continue as they were in 2011; they're 2012 models but not redesigns. All new Imprezas hit dealerships in November.  

To the outside observer, little distinguishes the Impreza's various trim levels. The base side mirrors are black-colored and fold, and the door handles are body-colored. Fifteen-inch steel wheels with wheel covers are standard. The hatchback includes a spoiler atop its liftgate.
The Premium trim level adds 16-inch alloy wheels and body-colored side mirrors. The Sport Premium hatchback adds fog lights, rocker panel extensions, black roof rails and 17-inch gunmetal-gray alloy wheels. Two-tone body color is optional.
The Limited trim level adds chrome accents to the fog lights and grille, and the Sport Limited hatchback incorporates silver grille accents instead.

Behind the Wheel 
I believe the greatest obstacle facing Impreza shoppers is the car's power. The new, smaller engine is less powerful than the previous generation's power plant. Though the base car has shed 165 pounds and the new automatic transmission manages to shave a few tenths off the 2011 model's zero-to-60-mph time, it remains just under 10 seconds. Major competitors beat that by as much as 3 seconds. This is what you might expect from a highly efficient new take on an existing model, but the even more efficient Hyundai Elantra – winner of our recent Shootout — is about a second quicker. What's behind this? The additional weight of the Impreza's standard all-wheel drive certainly plays a part.
I'm no horsepower freak. Cars that some deem underpowered I instead call modestly powered. Still, if you load up the 2012 Impreza and/or take to the hills — especially at higher altitudes where the air is thinner — the normally aspirated 2.0-liter four-cylinder will have its work cut out for it. Subaru says the regular Impreza won't get a turbocharger. That's left for the WRX and STI, which come at a substantial premium.
On the upside, when the Impreza's horizontally opposed engine is earning its keep, it sounds quite good — by no means quiet, but deep and refined when compared with the frenetic whine or gravelly rasp many small four-bangers emit.
Replacing the previous generation's optional four-speed automatic is a continuously variable automatic transmission. It's standard on the Limited trim level and optional on all others for $1,000.

As of its launch, the 2012 Impreza's starting price is unchanged at $17,495 for the sedan ($500 more for the hatchback in all cases), but a comparison shows a few things have been sacrificed — most notably cruise control. Standard features on the 2.0i include power locks, side mirrors and door locks with one-touch up/down operation for the driver. Also included are air conditioning, 65/35-split folding backseat, a driver's seat height adjustment, floormats, auto-off headlights, 15-inch steel wheels, a locking glove compartment, dual visor vanity mirrors, a tilt/telescoping steering wheel and variable intermittent wipers. The hatchback includes a rear wiper/washer as well.

The standard AM/FM/CD stereo on both body styles offers no connectivity for portable players. The only option at this level is the automatic transmission.

The Premium trim level ($18,795 for the sedan) adds 16-inch alloy wheels, cruise control, body-colored side mirrors, fog lights, chrome interior door handles, a sliding center armrest, a rear stabilizer bar and, for the hatchback, a retractable cargo cover. The stereo adds a USB port and analog auxiliary jack along with iPod connectivity and Bluetooth for audio streaming and hands-free cellular. Audio controls join the cruise control buttons on the steering wheel.

The sole individual option for the Premium is the automatic. Various packages allow you to add 17-inch alloy wheels, a leather steering wheel and shifter knob, and a stainless-steel tailpipe for the sedan. The All-Weather Package has heated front seats and side mirrors and a wiper de-icer. The Premium is also eligible for a voice-activated navigation system, whose 6.1-inch touch-screen display also supports iTunes tagging, text messaging and XM Satellite Radio and Navtraffic (subscriptions required).

The 2.0i Sport Premium hatchback ($20,295) comes with gunmetal-gray 17-inch wheels, rocker panel extensions, black roof rails (cross-bars sold separately), fog lights, sport cloth upholstery and the All-Weather Package.

The 2.0i Limited sedan ($21,595), hatchback ($22,095) and Sport Limited hatchback ($22,595) add the automatic as standard equipment, along with 17-inch alloy wheels; chrome on the door handles, grille trim and fog lights; leather upholstery; automatic climate control, a backseat armrest; auto-on/off headlights; and the All-Weather Package. The stereo gets a 4.3-inch LCD screen, though it's replaced if you choose the navigation system, which is packaged with the moonroof.

A loaded Impreza Sport Limited hatchback tops out at $25,345 including the $750 destination charge.

Missing features found elsewhere in this vehicle class include keyless access and push-button start, automatic locking and any type of parking assist. 

As of this writing, the all-new Impreza hasn't been crash-tested. The WRX retains its Top Safety Pick designation from the Insurance Institute for Highway safety, having earned top scores of Good in all the tests, but its results don't represent or foretell the redesigned Impreza's crashworthiness.

The Impreza has seven airbags: the frontal pair, seat-mounted side-impact airbags for the front occupants and side curtains that cover the front and rear door windows. The seventh is a new driver's knee airbag.

Four-wheel disc brakes are standard. As is federally mandated for all 2012 models, the Impreza also has antilock brakes and an electronic stability system. The front seats have active head restraints that also adjust forward and back across five positions. 

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