The new Impreza is better than the old one, but where’s the funk and fun?
Subaru Impreza 2.5i – 2008 Review: Once upon a time, the standard Subaru Impreza was a sleeper deal. You got a good chunk of the fun of a WRX and nearly all the funk, just with less power and a cut-rate price. With that history in mind we were initially excited to get our hands on the all-new 2008 Impreza 2.5i, so imagine our disappointment when we discovered that the little Subie is making a play for the mainstream. By many measures it’s better than the previous car, but the funk and fun that made the older car endearing is largely gone.
By Keith Buglewicz
Photo Credit: Oliver Bentley
What We Drove
Our pre-production Impreza 2.5i was about as base as it gets. With no options that we could see, the price on it would have come to $18,140 including the $645 destination charge, a sizeable chunk of change for the company’s entry-level vehicle. Admittedly, it’s well equipped with standard all-wheel drive, a five-speed manual, anti-lock brakes, an audio system with speed-sensing volume adjustment and other nice bits. The $1,500 premium package bundles alloy wheels, vehicle stability control, rear disc brakes, fog lights and leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter, while the satellite radio and nav package throws a better audio system and navigation on top of that for $3,500.
The combination of a 170-horsepower 2.5-liter flat-four engine, a five-speed manual transmission and full-time all-wheel drive sounds like a recipe for fun. However, this is a high-carb mixture thanks to the Impreza’s 3,107-lb. curb weight. The result is pokey acceleration, even though the powertrain gives it all it’s got. It’s noisy too, especially at high revs, and the five-speed’s shift action was quite rubbery. Stand on the throttle in a corner and the all-wheel drive corrects most mistakes, but you still find yourself using body English to push the car faster out of the corner.Page 4
The Impreza’s ride is very comfortable, especially for a car in the sub-20 grand class. In our daily commute, it was a relaxed partner. On twisty roads however, the suspension gets discombobulated. On one hand there’s a surprising amount of grip, and because of the all-wheel drive you can carry quite a bit of speed to a corner. But the soft springs mean lots of body roll, and the lack of power means that carrying the speed out of the corner doesn’t really happen. It’s kind of fun in a drive-a-slow-car-fast sort of way, but any tossability the Impreza once had has been, well, tossed.Page 5
Seeing out of the Impreza’s big, airy greenhouse is easy enough, with no particularly bad blind spots to speak of. The oddly shaped rearmost pillars intrude in the outward vision a bit, but only when the rear seats are folded; when up, the rear seat head restraints block the pillars. Mirrors are well sized for the car both inside and out, and the view to the side and front is also very good.Page 6
Fun to Drive
The handling is partly there, but the lack of power (or presence of weight) hinders what you can do with the car. Shorter gearing would help, as would a stiffer suspension. Of course, if you’re looking for all that, you might just want to step up to the more powerful and stiffly sprung WRX. Unfortunately, you’ll have to shell out an additional seven grand to get there, and there is currently no stiffly sprung naturally aspirated model available, and nobody at Subaru is mentioning a 2.5 RS version any time soon.Page 7
The front seats in the Impreza 2.5i are very good. Although all the adjustments are manual, there are plenty of them, including a ratcheting seat height adjustment. The cloth isn’t particularly expensive feeling, but it imparts a sense of durability, and it’s certainly comfortable. The shift handle and steering wheel in our test car were both bare urethane, and while they’re fine when new, we wonder if they’ll get slippery with age. Also, the door tops and center console armrest are both hard plastic; the only soft spot for your elbow is the small, narrow door-mounted armrest.Page 8
Tall people will find the rear seat of the Impreza 2.5i cramped, but if you’re under 5 feet 8 inches tall it should be adequate. There is good head room, and shoulder room is fine for two people; three would push the limits of personal space. There is no center arm rest at all, and the door tops are hard plastic here, as they are in front.Page 9
inexpensive cars are often noisy, but this Subie bucks that trend with an interior mostly free of annoying noises. At speed there is some wind noise around the mirrors, and there is enough road noise filtering through the car to let you know you’re under way, but neither is particularly bad. The main source of noise is the engine. Under hard acceleration the engine gets thrashy, as flat-fours tend to, and you catch a hint of that distinctive Subaru engine note as well. If you’re a fan of these cars you’ll love it, otherwise it just sounds a little odd.Page 10
Say what you want about image, but hatchbacks are darn useful vehicles. The hatch on the Impreza opens wide, and there’s a small lip to keep items from rolling out onto the ground when it’s open. There’s a little bit of underfloor space for small items, too. Folding down the seats is easy enough, but to really maximize the room you first need to unhook the center shoulder belt, which is typical for modern hatches. One odd quirk was that although the hatch can be unlocked and opened independently of the rest of the car, you must re-lock the whole vehicle after you close it again.Page 11
Our 2008 Subaru Impreza 2.5itest vehicle was a pre-production unit. We did not assess build quality, as it is our rule to praise or critique this aspect of a vehicle only when it is reflective of what consumers will find at the local dealership.Page 12
The Impreza is awash in yards of high quality hard plastic. This is a step up from the previous car, which also had its share of hard plastic, but most of it was cheap feeling. Yet this goes too far in our opinion. With the exception of the soft door armrest, there’s not one padded piece of plastic in this car. With a base price of more than $18,000, we expected at least a padded center console arm rest.Page 13
Is it a coincidence that Subaru’s styling is losing its individuality at the same time they’ve partnered with Toyota? Maybe, because this is one of the most mainstream Subies we’ve seen in a long time. The Impreza 2.5i isn’t ugly by any stretch, but it lacks the character of the previous car, especially the early versions of that model with the round headlights. The interior styling is also mainstream, with cream colored panels throughout – including the steering wheel and shift handle – that will inevitably look dingy in a few months. Also, don’t bother looking for the temperature gauge, as there’s only an idiot light.Page 14
Hatchbacks trade on utility, so we were a little surprised to find that there isn’t a lot of storage space in the Impreza. The small door pockets are at least deep, but the center console bin is small and shallow, the glove box is only moderately sized, and the two cup holders can’t hold much more than a soda can. In back storage is limited to two small door pockets, and whatever purses and man-bags your passengers bring with them.Page 15
Anybody who has driven an audio-equipped car in the past couple of decades will be familiar with the Impreza’s controls. Mounted high on the dash, it features a large display, a knob for volume and another for tuning. Presets are on the top with the CD slot beneath; the unit can read MP3 and WMA-encoded discs.Page 16
All manual, and all good. Three knobs control vent position, fan speed and temperature, respectively, with buttons for turning on fresh or recycled air, the rear defroster, and the air conditioning unit. At full blast the system moved plenty of cold air, and heat came on quickly when needed. The only minor quibble is that some of us thought the vent position and temperature controls should be swapped, with temperature closest to the driver.Page 17
The days of base models with manual crank windows and do-it-yourself mirrors are almost long gone. The Impreza’s standard equipment includes power windows and door locks, a remote key fob, and power outside mirrors. All of it is in the usual spots, and all of it is of high quality. We even detect a little bit of Toyota in the switchgear, particularly the power outside mirror switch.Page 18
The Impreza 2.5i’s competition comes from a surprising source: Suzuki. Dimensionally similar and also offering standard all-wheel drive, that company’s SX4 crossover makes a compelling case for itself. While not as large overall, and with less cargo capacity, the SX4 has a similar power to weight ratio, similar interior dimensions and a considerably lower base price. True, the Impreza does have an edge in road noise and overall refinement, but it’s not the yawning gap you might expect. Other competitors include the usual suspects – Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Nissan Sentra, Mitsubishi Lancer, etc. – none of which have all-wheel drive.
2nd Opinion – Beamesderfer
In those dark days before the WRX came to these shores, there was a bright light in the Subaru lineup: the 2.5 RS. Its single-cam motor was nice and torquey and the Rally Sport suspension gave it crisp handling. The RS was sold along side the WRX for a few years, but alas it has been dropped. Now, the 2.5i is not billed as a replacement. But somewhere in the intervening years since I drove a 2.5RS and the 2.5i, all the torque has been sucked out. Not only that, but the engine runs out of juice well before redline, requiring a downshift or two to pass.
MyRide.com Road Test Editor