LA JOLLA, CA – Subaru, the surging Japanese automaker, has big plans for the fifth generation of its compact sedan and hatchback, hoping to raise the car’s annual sales to 80,000-90,000, maybe 100,000 units, in the U.S.

With Subaru growing mostly by taking share from other Japanese automakers, Toyota and Honda should be worried. The new Impreza is, pardon the pun, an impressive entrant into the segment. It handles well, is reasonably fast and has lots of safety and infotainment technology (some of it standard depending on trim level). Interior material quality also is better than before, with a couple caveats we’ll address later.

Some 95% of the Impreza is new for ’17, down to even the interior door handles – Subaru’s first new door handles in 17 years, if you can believe it.

But the real story is beneath the trim and sheetmetal. The Impreza is the first to ride on Subaru’s new global architecture, which in the next five or six years will underpin all the brand’s U.S. models.

Subaru says the new platform makes the Impreza a safer, more fun-to-drive car by raising crash-worthiness and dynamic performance levels.

The Impreza’s torsional rigidity rises 70%-100%, depending on body area. High-strength and ultra-high-strength steel content is significantly higher and joints and attachments points are more robust thanks to the application of 23 ft. (7 m) of structural adhesive, a Subaru first.

Driving first the sedan, then the hatchback reveals a peppy, agile C-car. Suspension updates, such as a rear stabilizer bar attached directly to the body, curbs body roll when negotiating the extreme twisty roads east of San Diego near the Mexican border.

Unfortunately there are no competitive models on hand for comparison. But the Subie twins feel as fast and toss-able as the new Honda Civic sedan and hatch.

The higher amount of stiffer steel offsets new technologies added for ’17, so CVT-equipped models’ curb weights hold relatively steady, ranging from 3,034 lbs. (1,376 kg) in the base sedan to 3,177 lbs. (1,441 kg) in the 5-door Sport grade. That compares to 3,032 lbs.- 3,131 lbs. (1,375-1,420 kg) in similar ’16 models.

Electric power steering now feels lighter and has a BRZ-like quick 13:1 ratio, down from 16:1 in the ’16 Impreza. Subaru officials say there’s less delay to steering inputs vs. the outgoing model. Wheels turn with haste, obvious on our switchback-heavy route that requires constant re-aiming.

Curiously, the steering seems lighter in the hatch, especially at low and medium speeds. No mention is made of differences between body styles, so we’ll put it down to a pre-production quirk.

Helming the Impreza on a 40-mile (64-km) stretch of I-8 West back to San Diego proves ample opportunity to test adaptive cruise control. It works flawlessly, braking when needed and visually and audibly signaling when we lose the car we are trailing and gain a new car to track. The beeping may annoy some people, but we like the extra reassurance ACC is working. The display between the gauge cluster also is great, with our Impreza icon flashing its brake lights when our car brakes after a slow-moving Odyssey plops into our lane.

Lane-keep assist works about as well as in competitive cars, which is to say about 60% of the time it detects lane lines.

Subaru’s 2.0L naturally aspirated boxer “FB20” 4-cyl. still powers the Impreza, but it has 80% new parts. Updates include the addition of direct injection, which helps raise the compression ratio (12.5:1 vs. 10.5:1). The engine is placed 0.4 ins. (10 mm) lower in the bay, reducing the car’s center of gravity.

Buyers can choose between a CVT or 5-speed manual on the base 2.0i and 2.0i Sport grades (manuals weren’t tested here, having a later production start than CVT-equipped models). The CVT design carries over, but the unit has many new parts. The gear ratio coverage also is improved, rising to 7.03 from 6.28, which Subaru says results in better fuel economy and acceleration.

The Impreza gets a competitive 28 mpg (8.4 L/100 km) in city driving in both the CVT-equipped hatch and sedan body styles. Those models achieve a respective 37-38 mpg (6.4-6.2 L/100 km) highway, a slight improvement from ’16.

Manual fuel economy isn’t as impressive: 24 mpg (9.8 L/100 km) city and 31-32 mpg (7.6-7.4 L/100 km) highway for the hatch and sedan, the latter two figures a reduction from the outgoing model’s highway mileage.

In a morning drive of the sedan on mostly flat or downhill roads, we garner an excellent 39.3 mpg (6.0 L/100 km).

The revisions to the FB20 add just four more horsepower, with total hp rising to 152, and torque holds at 145 lb.-ft. (197 Nm), however the power peaks each are lowered by 200 rpm, to 6,000 and 4,000, respectively. The latter figure still is pretty high, so in those moments that could benefit from more low-end torque, such as a tricky uphill exit ramp to downtown La Jolla off I-5, you can be left wanting. But over the course of our time behind the wheel, which albeit mostly is downhill or on flat freeways, the FB20, paired to the CVT, is plenty robust.

Still, we wouldn’t mind more power, something like the 174 hp and 167 lb.-ft. (226 Nm) the Honda Civic’s 1.5L turbo 4-cyl. makes.