Imprezive Performance: Subaru Impreza 2008
Think Subaru, and images of a bright blue Impreza sedan flying through the air on a special rally stage come to mind. From its roots as a cult favorite among farmers and residents of the American “snow belt,” Subaru has built a more dynamic brand image on the rally circuits. The Impreza is all but inseparable from its exploits as piloted by the likes of Colin McRae and Petter Solberg.
Just when we thought we knew what to expect from an Impreza, Subaru pulls out a radical redesign for its core model. The most controversial change is the switch from the unabashedly boxy sedan body to a sleeker hatchback design. The change has supposedly something to do with hatchbacks being more competitive in rally racing, and that may be true, but we surmise it’s really to expand the appeal of the Impreza to a more mainstream audience.
There is some attempt at style, with curved grille, scalloped sides, sharply cut headlamps, LED tail lamps, and a rear spoiler. Another change is the presence of window frames on the doors, to improve the car’s stiffness and reduce noise levels. We lament the transformation of the Impreza from an unpretty but definitely interesting car to something more palatable but blander as well.
What is welcome is the marked improvement in cabin space and comfort. The Impreza hatchback is some 40 mm shorter than the previous sedan, but a longer wheelbase and wider body pay off by providing more room inside the cabin.
The driver faces a modern instrument panel, a neat arrow of switches, and a meaty three-spoke leather steering wheel with audio controls. The three large gauges do an aircraft-type sweep when the car is switched on. The huge fuel gauge is an effective reminder to drive efficiently. Thanks to the large red needle, any small dip in the fuel level is easily rendered.
Not that the Impreza is particularly thirsty. We recorded about 8.33 km/liter in city driving (oddly the same figure with both automatic and manual transmission). The five-speed manual is not quite up to the standards of the latest manuals from Honda, but at least the clutch is very easy to engage. For extra traction in slow and sticky situations, there’s even a low range engaged via a lever beside the handbrake. Farmer Johns take note: this is probably the only passenger car in the market with a set of low range gears. Meanwhile, the automatic does away with the low-range gear and receives an active torque-split system in its place. The four-speed is smooth and there’s even a ‘Sport’ mode that can be engaged by sliding it in-between the +/- mode BMW-style. With a gearing limited top speed of 187 km/h for the automatic, we’d wish there’s an extra gear to play with.
The car is well equipped for its price. It has 17-inch alloys, HID headlamps, power-folding mirrors, ABS with EBD, stability control, and three-point seatbelts for all passengers. The high-mounted audio head unit can take six CDs or aux input and feed it to a ten-speaker system.
Two Subaru trademark features distinguish this car from its 2.0-liter class competitors: a boxer engine and symmetrical four-wheel drive. The boxer configuration is inherently smoother than an inline engine as pistons mounted 180 degrees opposite each other can cancel out vibrations without the need for a balance shaft. The Impreza’s engine is one of the smoothest in the category, with no palpable vibration even up to redline. A subtly snorty engine sound is an added bonus. Theoretically, the boxer configuration also aids handling as it can be mounted lower.
This wouldn’t be a proper Subaru without four-wheel drive. The R has a full-time system with the capability to dispense torque to individual wheels according to the available grip. The symmetrical designation means that major components are mounted along the vehicle’s center line, to improve balance. Equal-length driveshafts, for instance, help to quell torque steer.
The four-wheel drive system pays off immensely when the weather turns treacherous. There’s an extra measure of sure-footedness to the Impreza. The normally aspirated engine delivers 150 horsepower and 196 Nm, certainly competitive with its rivals.
So is the new entry-level Impreza a tamer, watered-down experience? It’s certainly not a hardcore sports car experience as a star turn with Russ Swift would have led us to expect. It does provide precise and excellent handling, but the ride from the all-independent suspension is surprisingly plush. The Impreza absorbs ruts and potholes with a soft and uncomplaining
In 2.0 R guise, the Impreza is still a sporty car, with plenty of provisions for transporting the family and various gear. One shouldn’t lament the loss of the trunk. The rear luggage compartment looks shallow and not too wide, but it can swallow a couple of full-size airport suitcases with some room to spare.
As for wanting a wilder drive in an Impreza, the turbocharged thrills of the WRX and STi are just an upgrade away. Just bear in mind that you can also order the 2.0 R in blindingly bright blue.
By Jason K. Ang | Photos by Ulysses Ang