The Subaru Impreza, now in its third generation, has been the entry point to the brand’s North American lineup for almost twenty years now. The Impreza has also been the machine upon which Subaru built its high-performance go-anywhere image, thanks to its success in the World Rally Championship. But in its most stripped down form, the Impreza is meant to be an economical compact vehicle with the added benefits of all-wheel drive. And that’s exactly what we’ve tested, a base model 2.5i sedan with a 5-speed manual transmission, which has provided an interesting opportunity to evaluate the most basic and fundamental characteristics of the chassis and drivetrain.
FRESHENED UP, BUT STILL NOT A BEAUTY QUEEN
|1. Power comes from a 2.5L flat-four Boxer engine with 170-hp and 170 ft-lbs of torque.
2. Fuel economy is rated at 20/27-mpg with the 5-speed manual, and drops to 20/26-mpg with the 4-speed automatic.
3. The Impreza 2.5GT model with 224-hp is no longer offered.
4. Vehicle Dynamics Control (VDC), Traction Control (TCS) and continuous all-wheel drive are standard.
Changes for 2011 include a Power Moonroof Value Package that also now includes a TomTom Nav system. In addition, all models except our 2.5i get an upgraded audio system with six speakers, an auxiliary jack, Bluetooth, iPod control, a USB port and XM Radio capability.
2011 Also saw massive changes for the WRX (gaining the STI’s wider stance) and a long list of upgrades to the STI model. The mid-range Impreza 2.5GT has, however, been retired.
The updates have given the hawk-eyed Impreza a slightly more attractive face, but compared to the cleaner sheet metal of some of its rivals, we’re not ready to crown the Impreza Belle of the Ball just yet. Not that the Impreza is hard on the eyes – it’s front fascia could even be called handsomely aggressive thanks to the new headlights, but the rear end proportions and taillights lack the same appeal. Lets be honest – few buyers are likely to plunk down their hard-earned cash on an Impreza because they’ve been seduced by its styling. And with Subaru not currently involved in the World Rally Championship, there isn’t even that “descended from a gravel-spitting, fire-breathing racecar” allure any more either.
NOT YOUR TYPICAL ECONOBOX
So if the looks aren’t likely to win you over, will the driving experience? Well, at first our answer would have been “probably not.” Suspension tuning, though improved in 2010, is still quite soft. This allows a fair bit of body roll, which in a compact sedan feels somehow out of character. Normally we’re accustomed to cars in this class providing a firmer and sportier ride quality, a feel that has no doubt helped sell a lot of Honda Civics and Mazda3’s during the last few years. As fans of this type of agile and nippy handling, we were turned off by the Impreza’s softness at first.
But then something changed. We began driving the Impreza a little more like a rally car and a little less like a darty little econobox. And that’s when the Impreza’s suspension tuning started to make a lot more sense. Rather than slowing down for curbs or manhole covers, we were now blasting over them and enjoying the way the Impreza’s suspension soaked up the bumps and asked for more. We were also impressed by how effectively it put the power to the ground and cornered in wet conditions, where the soft suspension tuning and all-wheel drive system really showcased their value to the fullest. In the end, we were left with the feeling that there’s still some rally car DNA in the Impreza after all.
SPACIOUS BUT DARK INTERIOR
Inside the Impreza there’s ample legroom and headroom front and back, and the base model 2.5i’s cloth seats are both comfortable and well proportioned for larger North American drivers. The steering wheel’s clean design and sporty proportions, combined with the 5-speed manual gearbox, does give the driver a small taste of the Impreza’s once glorious racing heritage.
Subaru’s wave-shaped faux aluminum trim running across the dash and onto the front door liners adds some much needed interest to the interior, as does the aluminum-like finish used around the audio and HVAC controls and on the steering wheel. But thanks to its black cloth seating, black carpets, and a predominately black or dark gray dash and plastics, the Impreza doesn’t feel as bright or airy inside as many other cars in its class.
Its soft suspension tuning won’t be everyone’s cup of tea and its styling isn’t going to wow the judges on America’s Next Top Model, but the 2010 Impreza 2.5i does offer an intriguing combination of all-weather and all-road capabilities along with a sportier driving experience than we first thought.
The 170 horsepower 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine has strong torque down low in the rev range, giving the Impreza plenty of jump off the line and the distinctive flat-four Boxer growl pleases the eardrums as you rev it out.
With a starting price of just $17,495, the Impreza has actually gotten cheaper than it was just a few years ago. Fuel economy (20-mpg city, 27-mpg highway) isn’t as strong as many of its FWD rivals and drops even further to 20/26-mpg with the out-dated 4-speed automatic. And while that factor is really holding the Impreza back from being a mainstream competitor, the added grip and all-weather capabilities of Subaru’s legendary AWD system will more than make up for the extra gas for buyers living in four season climates. It’s also worth noting that Subaru’s interior finish and overall build quality make it a solid choice in the affordable AWD sedan category.
In a segment full of FWD appliances that’ll get you safely and boringly from Point A to Point B, the Impreza really does offer something different, and for us that’s quite refreshing.
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