If it matters at all, I sold Ford, Lincoln, Mercury, Mazdas for a while before I took my current job. I passed up the employee discount for the Subaru.
For me it was between the Mazda3, Ford Focus, and Subaru Impreza. I absolutely couldn't stand driving the Focus any time I had to take one between dealers. The dynamics were just terrible. I had reservations about the interior fit and finish on the Mazda.
The Subaru may be a bit spartan, but that's exactly why I like it. There's nothing fancy on it, but it is very well put together, and overall looks great.
Going back, I would probably consider the Mazda3 a bit more carefully, but a lot of that I think is this past winter was so mild I didn't even bother to put on snow tires. We had almost 3 snow events, 2 inches here, 3 there, 6 one time (oh no!).
I did consider the worth of AWD for snow, but in the end it didn't come down to it's use in snow for me, but how valuable it is in wet conditions.
A minus for the Focus is the 40mpg is ONLY on the SFE package, only available on a sedan. I hit 40.2 mpg on my Minneapolis trip, and even though I get mid 20s in the city now that it's warmer, I'm still quite happy.
Those are just a few more random thoughts. If you want AWD, it's really an easy choice. The issues you mention with the Subaru seem minor, and for the most part, you can remedy them.