The first thing you notice about the new 2008 Subaru Impreza sedan is its conservative styling. Unlike many who took the time out to point that fact out, I liked it. No, it doesn’t jump out and demand attention, rather it’s like a well-tailored suit – it is noticeable for its lack of ostentation. Subaru says this styling approach was taken because they hope to attract a wider audience. The five-door hatchback model, on the other hand, has a sporty flare with its arcing roofline that flows into the rear spoiler and a pronounced body crease that sweeps upwards and into the top of the clear-lens tail lights – it is, for want of a better description, a clone of a five-year-old car (the Mazda3).
There are three versions of the Impreza: a 2.5i, 2.5i Sport Package and WRX. The 2.5i sedan is priced at $20,695 (add $900.00 for all hatchback models), the 2.5i Sport Package is $23,195 and the performance-oriented WRX starts at $32,995. The optional four-speed automatic transmission (with a manual mode) will set you back $1,100.
The base 2.5i Impreza comes with lengthy list of standard features, including power windows, locks with keyless entry, heated mirrors; air conditioning; cruise control and tilt steering. Additionally, there are anti-lock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution (EBD), 16-inch steel wheels, and an AM/FM/CD/MP3/WMA audio system that’s also compatible with either Sirius or XM Satellite radio.
The 2.5i Sport Package (Canada only) brings an upgraded audio system, electronic stability/traction control, 16-inch alloy rims, rear discs brakes, ground-effects body kit (5-door models only), hill-hold system for the manual box, heated front seats, wiper de-icier, fog lamps, leather-wrapped shift knob and steering wheel-mounted audio and cruise controls.
The Impreza now rides on a completely new platform that is 95 millimetres (3.7 ins) longer and 50 mm (2.0 ins) wider than its predecessor. A new rear double wishbone suspension replaces the previous rear strut setup. This design means improved ride comfort and handling. In addition, to further improve agility, Subaru eliminated the front sub-frame and dropped the engine 10 mm (almost half an inch), which lowers the centre of gravity.
Like all model of Subarus, the Impreza comes with a standard full-time all-wheel drive. Models equipped with the manual transmission use a viscous-coupling to lock the centre differential. When closed, it splits the power 50/50 front to rear. The all-wheel drive system that comes with the automatic transmission is the better design – it is proactive, as it monitors the available traction and transfers power accordingly.
For this road test, I drove the Impreza 2.5i sedan equipped with the automatic. The heart of the car is Subaru’s famous flat-four boxer engine. With 170 horsepower and 170 lb-ft of torque, the modified 2.5-litre motor provides adequate, but not thrilling, performance. To get the best out of this engine you have to keep the revs north of 2,500 rpm. For the most part, the engine sounds coarse and noisy unless you’re cruising. The smooth shifting four-speed automatic (with Subaru’s Sportshift manual mode), works well with the engine and delivers pretty good fuel economy – a test average of 30 mpg (9.3 L/100 km).
The stiff body structure provides a solid foundation for the independent suspension. This equates to a car that handles very well. Body roll is well controlled, even during spirited cornering. The ride is firm, but is still comfortable, smoothing out uneven pavement with minimal pitching or bouncing. All Impreza now uses the quicker ratio steering from the WRX model – it is precise, responds quickly to inputs and the turning circle is tight at 11.8 metres (34.8 feet). Stopping power is good and the firm pedal provides good feel and easy modulation.
Inside, the Impreza is attractive and functional, featuring a legible instrument cluster with analog gauges and three round climate controls that are large enough to operate with a gloved hand. There’s also an obvious emphasis on ergonomics – all major controls are placed with in the usual line of sight and fall within easy reach. The front seats provide decent comfort and there’s plenty of head- and legroom.
The interior also benefits from the extra 50-mm in the wheelbase. This increases rear seat legroom, which means the rear seat passengers no longer need to suffer as they did in the previous car. However, the Impreza is still very much a four-passenger ride, as the seat is not wide enough to hold three adults. Access is also better – the rear doors open to wide 75-degree angle. The trunk’s liftover is at bumper level and the compact rear suspension brings more usable cargo space. The split 60/40/split/folding rear seat increases versatility. Finally, wind noise is now down to an acceptable level thanks to the new framed windows. This also improves body rigidity.
Regardless of which camp you fall into on the exterior styling debate, the new Impreza2.5i, be it in sedan or five-door format, offers decent value for the money. With its healthy helping of standard equipment, safety features and Subaru’s renowned all-wheel-drive, it should be on your shopping list if you are in the market for a compact family car.