Aleks Bracken, Contributor. Photography by Alexander Choate, Media Editor.
The 2014 Subaru Impreza is the middle point between Bro Culture and Dad Culture. Bro Culture consists of things such as “track day”, gains and Walmart parking lot drifting. Dad Culture, on the other hand, is made up of family values, reliability, dinnertime lectures and good gas mileage.
The Impreza was originally a car designed to reflect Subaru’s success in the world of rally racing by bringing four-wheel drive fun to the average Joe at a reasonable price. By 2014, it had evolved into a compact car with a lot of interior space and good winter performance. However, despite being a more “grown up” and “matured” version of its former Bro self, this model of Impreza still has a glimmer of childish charm.
To understand this vehicle’s impact on car culture, it is important to examine the similarities and differences between this generation and the previous ones. Redesigned in 2012, the Fourth Generation Subaru Impreza was the first to sport the FB20B motor: a 2.0 litre flat four that makes 148 horsepower and 145 foot pounds of torque. Although this may sound confusing and overly specific, the technical jargon is extremely important to Bros as they love discussing Subaru Boxer engine specifics between reps of “curls for girls”. This engine also has dual overhead cams, direct fuel injection and variable valve timing. These components sound great for performance but in reality have been tuned and tweaked in order to improve emissions and fuel economy, something that the Bro hates but the Dad loves. This is also the first engine to have equal length exhaust headers, which means that the classic Subaru “gurgle” is essentially gone. The car is no longer screams “witness me brothers” whenever the driver gets on the throttle, like with the older EJ engines. This is nice for Dad as he can hear NPR a little bit better on the highway but is bad for Bro as he can no longer affirm his masculinity at stoplights.
This specific Impreza delivers power through a CVT automatic transmission, making it impure in the eyes of the Bro. If you are not familiar with CVT transmissions, let me break down how they work: you press the peddle, your RPMs increase until you hit the speed that the car thinks you want to be going, and then the revs drop down into a sort of cruising range. If you need power, you just step on the gas and have it in a few seconds. Subaru refers to it as a “stepless” transmission because there are no physical gears to speak of and therefore no “steps” in the acceleration process. The car also has a “six speed” manual mode that creates artificial gears, which, despite making you feel like an F1 driver, gives you slower acceleration than the automatic mode. Subaru Bros and JDM (Japanese Domestic Market) fanboys HATE the CVT transmission and will look down on anyone who brings an example of this sacrilegious gearbox to a car meet. Dads like it because it gives a smoother driving experience and makes the commute a little easier.
So why would Subaru adopt this type of transmission? It is mainly because they want to get away from the stigma that the brand has suffered for its entire existence: bad fuel economy. The combination of the Flat Four engine (which is an intrinsically inefficient engine design) coupled with all-wheel drive makes for a four cylinder that drinks gas like a V6. The CVT transmission is supposed to offset the thirsty engine and drivetrain setup by using less fuel when accelerating. In theory, the car is supposed to do 5.5L/100km on the highway and 7.0L/100km in the city. However, in practice, you need to drive like a like a little old lady in order to meet these numbers because as soon as you get on the power, economy goes out the window. In addition, this is the first model to come with all time all-wheel drive. Older models had a button that you could press in order to switch from front wheel drive to all wheel drive in order to save on gas. Why Subaru decided to change this when their goal was to create good fuel economy is beyond me.
This new drivetrain does have its benefits though. The Symmetrical All Wheel Drive system (which is only available on the automatic version of the car) will send more power to the rear wheels if traction control detects slippage. This means that, in the right conditions, the car will go into a controlled oversteer and make you feel like a rally driver. In addition, the car has independent rear suspension and very direct steering, which means that you have more control going into corners. This system, along with an engine that makes its power between 3000 and 5000 rpm is coaxing even the diver to push it to the limit. It wants you to have some fun because the car has a pretty sturdy safety net. Speaking of safety, this car has a gazillion airbags, full rollover protection, and a five star crash rating. This is a combination that Dads love.
But what has made Subaru distinct in the past has been the outward aesthetic of the car. To reflect its rally heritage, the Impreza has always looked weird with big bug eyes and giant spoilers. Bros have loved this aspect of the car as their brain’s dick thought that it would attract members of a certain gender. In reality, though, only other Bros were looking. If a buyer, let’s say a Dad, wanted a more subtle and practical car, he would likely have gone with a Legacy, Forrester or Outback. The 2014 Impreza’s aesthetic is the best physical representation of the midpoint on the “Bro-Dad” spectrum. Since the mid 2000’s, the Legacy and Outback have become bigger and more expensive in order to compete in the crossover and SUV markets. This means that the Impreza had become the most viable option for someone who was looking for a smaller and more practical automobile. By the 2012 redesign, the styling reflected this new role. To me, the car looks like a fat cat: from the front it seems aggressive and unpredictable but from the side it’s round and safe. The interior of the car, at least for the five door model, is spacious with a trim composed of “black” and “plastic.” This is about as much as you can expect from a Subaru of any generation or price point. Essentially, the car has stopped looking weird overly masculine in order attract a wider market. This is why Subaru purists, in general, look down on this generation. Dads, however, are indifferent.
But if we strip away all the nuances of Bro Culture and Dad Culture and look at the car from an objective standpoint: is it a good car? Yes, I would say that it is. It is easy to drive, fun, spacious and the drive-train and suspension of the car give you a true sense of confidence when driving in bad conditions. But car culture and brand recognition are almost as important, if not more so, than the specifications of the car. Subaru is trying to appeal to its loyal Bros while at the same time attempting to playing for the Dads who want something well-built and reliable. The 2014 Impreza is just that: a strange median between the two cultures.