Opinion: Subaru sold out dropping manual Impreza

ANKARA, TURKEY - SEPTEMBER 05: A photo shows the logo of Subaru in Ankara, Turkey on September 05, 2018. (Photo by Metin Aktas/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
ANKARA, TURKEY - SEPTEMBER 05: A photo shows the logo of Subaru in Ankara, Turkey on September 05, 2018. (Photo by Metin Aktas/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images) /

Subaru pulled the wraps off the latest Impreza at the 2022 LA Auto show. The sixth-generation car will be offered exclusively as a hatchback and features a new RS trim level with a 2.5-liter 182 hp flat-four engine, but no manual transmission option.

Now standard across all trims is Subaru’s Lineartronic CVT. Sport and RS trims reportedly feature an 8-speed “manual” mode with paddle shifters mounted on the steering wheel that allow the driver to “shift” through a series of pre-programmed ratios. However, that’s little consolation to drivers who were hoping for a three-pedal option.

The death of the manual transmission in the Impreza marks a sad day for the brand’s loyal enthusiasts, who are now left with one less choice on an ever-shrinking menu of manuals. Doubly so when Subaru decided to drop the transmission while simultaneously bringing back one of the Impreza’s most iconic models.

The original 2.5 RS helped establish the Impreza in North America as a popular option for drivers who wanted a fun yet practical sport compact with all-wheel drive traction for slippery roads. While it’s understandable that Subaru would drop the manual on some trims due to relatively slow sales, its absence on a version featuring the vaunted RS badge is a kick in the pants for the generation of fanatics that the original spawned.

Considering that decision, the revival of the 2.5 RS model seems like another obvious attempt by a global automaker to capitalize on the wave of rad-era nostalgia that is driving prices of enthusiast cars from the late eighties through the early-aughts to the moon. Without the preferred transmission option from the original model, the new version is lip service at best and pandering at worst.

Subaru is not the first carmaker to jump on the rad-wagon. After all, Acura decided to bring back the Integra nameplate to move some metal. While the reception for the latest Integra has been lukewarm, the company at least had the sense to offer a manual option for the reincarnation of their 90s icon. Acura was also justified in doing so, as 70% of the preorders for the latest ‘Teg were for the manual version.

The decision to drop the manual is even more baffling when you consider that Subaru has one of the best manual take rates in North America. Over 70% of the WRXs and BRZs sold in the US in the first half of 2022 were manuals. Even pedestrian models like the Crosstrek and the outgoing Impreza sold decently in three-pedal form, accounting for 5% of sales over the same period.

So given evidence that there is demand in the market for manual versions of rad redux models, why didn’t Subaru take the hint? The answer may be that the company didn’t want to do the development work to make the latest generation of their EyeSight advanced driver assistance system compatible with the manual box. While that system is also available on BRZ and WRX models, it can only be fitted on automatic examples.

With that being the case, Subaru’s decision to standardize the EyeSight system across all Impreza trims was likely the final nail in the coffin for a manual offering on the Impreza. But this also seems like a lame justification when the Integra offers many of the same advanced safety features as the EyeSight system across both manual and CVT models.

As a fan of three-pedal cars, I accept that the war to keep the manual alive for future generations was lost long ago and that within a few decades, only dinosaurs like me will still be rowing gears. What I refuse to accept, is OEMs who used to build engaging vehicles trying to sell watered down interpretations to capitalize on millennial nostalgia.

If all I wanted a bland appliance with a CVT, I’d buy a Nissan Sentra. Subaru’s engineers can program all the “manual” modes they want into the new Impreza’s buzz-box, but it’s not going to make the new car as engaging an experience to drive as it would have been with the correct transmission. You’re better than this Subaru, or at least you used to be.