Let’s begin with a disclaimer: I love Subarus. For the money, it’s hard to beat their durability, all-weather capability or utility.

A Subaru is for someone who can appreciate the charms of a slobbering Labrador retriever — like the lovable canine, the Impreza will never be a beauty queen, but it will be there when you need it.

With its entry-level model, however, Subaru is pitching the $20,695 Impreza 2.5i Sedan and $21,595 Impreza 2.5i five-door as a bona fide alternative to its well-equipped Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic, Mazda 3, and Ford Focus rivals. At the low end of the market, the Impreza’s rally-proven heritage and tough mechanicals are a tough sell if you really want Bluetooth, leather and a sunroof.

I sometimes think Subaru engineers really just want to drive fast, so when they get assigned to design a more mundane part of the car they engineer it beautifully then forget about how it looks.

Inside, the Impreza, if you’re used to the interior of a Mazda3 or Civic, looks at first glance like a grey plastic spatula. Look closer, though, and its charms begin to show. The four-speaker stereo has speed-adaptive volume, auxiliary input and is satellite radio-capable. The steering is speed-sensitive with steering wheel-mounted cruise controls. The air-conditioning controls fall readily to hand and feature ducts to the rear seat. The seats are supportive and feature whiplash protection while power windows, locks, and (heated!) mirrors are standard.

Safety-wise, there are ABS brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution (to maintain maximum stopping power with the wheels that have traction), dual-stage front airbags, dual side airbags and dual curtain airbags.

Mechanically, all Imprezas are all-wheel-drive — meaning in any driving condition the vehicle remains surefooted. The centre of gravity is low, which allows for nimble handling.

Its “flat-four” (boxer) engine layout is unique — the only other carmaker who uses flat motors is Porsche — because the pistons move side-to-side instead of up and down. Why does it matter, you ask? Flat engines are naturally balanced and generally smooth, they’re typically light for their size and pretty simple to maintain.

In short, the Impreza is hard to beat if you’re looking for function over form, substance over style, and toughness over technology. It’s priced similarly to the competition but is an entirely different animal. Not unlike a Labrador, actually ... completely lovable and built to last.

Latest From ...